Personal finance is often defined as the principles and strategies used to manage the financial affairs of an individual or family. But it can be confusing — especially if you’re somewhat new to personal finance basics — to know exactly which principles and strategies you should focus on (beyond platitudes of “spend less, save more”).
And while there are plenty of personal finance tips out there — nearly 12 million pieces of online content have been devoted to the topic of personal finance — sometimes it’s best to seek trusted authorities on the subject to help guide you in your personal financing quest.
Here are five key personal finance principles, as shared by some of the most renowned experts in the field:
Secrets Of The Personal Finance Experts
1. Budget before you spend (not after)
We’ve all been there: the money comes in, but at the end of the month we’re not sure where the money went (or why). Bestselling author, radio talk show host and financial expert, Dave Ramsey, believes the trouble is many people use budgets to track expenses, instead of using a budget to guide financial decisions.
As Ramsey reiterated on his radio show: “The money is gone and then you’re trying to look back and see where it went…instead you need to tell it where to go before it leaves.”
There are many different budget organization methods available, and the key is to find one that that suits your needs. But whether you use an Excel spreadsheet, or the most expensive form of accounting software, use your budget as a map for where your money will go (and, chances are, it will follow the lead of your healthy financial habits.)
2. Track spending (the old-fashioned way)
If you’re interested in getting a grasp of where all your money goes, forget scanning your bank and credit card statements. Instead, as financial author Clark Howard points out, it can be more instructive to write down your spending, as it happens.
And Howard believes this path to a real-time view of how you’re spending your money is best done with a simple notepad. As he told U.S. News & World Report: “Take a spiral notebook…and write down everything you spend money on. The debit card has become the enemy of the person who doesn’t know where their money goes. This will help.”
By jotting down every expenditure you make, regardless of size, you’ll become more conscious of your spending, and start to make better financial decisions.
3. Move your credit card balance
Nothing throws financial viability into a tailspin quite like unsecured credit card debt (especially with interest rates “north of 15%” ). It doesn’t even need to be an enormous debt amount to put a stranglehold on a budget and destroy what personal finance savings you’ve accumulated.
As financial guru Suze Orman states, if you qualify for a balance transfer card, you can move your existing debt to a “new card” and pay off your debt much faster than usual. As she told Oprah Magazine, “Every time you pay off a card with a 15 percent interest rate, you get a 15 percent return on your money. Doing so will make you and your family stronger and happier — forever.”
4. Realize the difference between price and value
Billionaire investment superstar Warren Buffett might be the most influential voice in the finance world. He might also be one of the most frugal. A Jedi master (of sorts) amongst the financial expert set, Buffett believes a big source of personal finance misery for most folks is their inability to distinguish between price and value. Just because something is “cheaper” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s “better.” Attempting to “save a buck” can actually harm your finances in the long run.
To illustrate this, Buffett shares a lesson he learned from his mentor many years back: “Long ago, Ben Graham taught me that ‘Price is what you pay; value is what you get.’ Whether we’re talking about socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down.”
In summary, don’t let the price tag you see be the only motivation for your spending. Know what an item is worth, and do your best to get it at a price below that. (And never above.)
5. Save, even if just a little
Putting aside money each month can be difficult in the best of circumstances, let alone when scraping together enough for the essentials. And the idea of saving, when you’ve got little financial padding each month, can seem pointless.
But according to financial author and blogger, Whitney Johnson, in an issue of Inc. Magazine, emphasized that perseverance matters almost more than the number being saved.
Johnson points out saving just a few dollars a month over the course of many years results in a “surprisingly large amount.” The key is to “save, no matter what.”
It might appear gradual, at first, but it can add up rather quickly — not to mention give you an emergency fund in case something unexpected happens.
The Secret To Financial Success
Personal finance basics go far beyond spending less than what you earn. It’s about using tools — whether budgets or 0% credit cards — to provide a simple, clear path to the realization of your personal finance goals, and utilize the wisdom and insights of those who’ve been down this same road. If you’re able to pay less for a pair of quality socks, like Warren Buffett, all the better.