Simple Ways to Improve Personal Finances
(Family Features)--As more Americans make strides towards responsible spending and debt management, there are still ways to improve the control of family finances.
According to a survey recently conducted by Bank of America, which asked respondents about their credit card usage, balance and rewards, less than half of cardholders always pay their entire credit card balance. With more than half of individuals carrying credit card debt, Jason Gaughan, card products executive for Bank of America, said to think about personal spending before taking on a credit card.
"Credit cards provide consumers an efficient and protected way to make purchases," says Gaughan. "They are more convenient than cash and they are incredibly useful in an emergency. The key to successfully managing your credit card account is to understand your budget and stick to a plan that works for you when borrowing. You want a card with a rewards program that fits your lifestyle and how you manage your finances. If you typically carry a balance, look for a card that has low interest and reinforces good payment practices."
Along with these practices, there are other ways to promote good spending and personal finance habits, such as:
Limit Number of Credit Cards
According to the survey, three out of 10 respondents carried four or more credit cards. Limiting the number of cards you own can help limit your spending and increase the likelihood you can pay above the minimum balance. Before you start cutting up your plastic, remember having more than one credit card can have merits. If you need money for an emergency, the immediate buying power of a credit card can be a lifesaver. Try a card with no annual fee and a generous credit line to cover unexpected expenses. One idea is to have three cards: one in a safe place at home for emergencies and two with you at all times.
Reap the Rewards
With so many rewards programs available for credit card holders, it's important to do your homework so you can cash in on things your family really needs. While some credit cards will offer rewards to use at your favorite hotels and airlines, others will give you special discounts for the purchases you make on a frequent basis. The most popular of these programs is cash back for spending. Some cards let you earn more cash back where you spend the most money, like gas stations and grocery stores.
Track Spending Habits
Now—if you've been lax about keeping track of your spending, take the first step towards tracking as soon as possible. Include info on where you spend, when you spend and how much you spend. Making note of all of those little purchases—a cup of coffee here or a gift store trinket there—will help you see how quickly they add up. Whether you're the old-fashioned, pen-and-paper type, or if you prefer a more modern, digital form of tracking, the importance is in the act itself.
Evaluate All Debts
Many carry debts beyond credit cards, including student loans, car payments and mortgages. While some may consider these types as necessary debts, it is important to keep track of the balance due for each as well as the interest rate you are paying. According to the survey, when respondents were asked what they would do with $1,000, nearly half (44 percent) revealed they would pay off debt. Evaluate your debts and decide which ones have the highest interest rates. Making it a priority to pay down these debts first will save you more money in the long run.
Create a Budget
It's never too soon to put yourself in control of your money and stop letting it control you. A budget will give you financial peace of mind and it can help you stretch the income you have. First, write down the financial goals you want to achieve in the next few years and the ones you want to accomplish for the long term. Then, gather all of the purchasing information for the household and categorize each type of spending. Divide your expenses into fixed expenses (those that stay the same from month to month, such as a mortgage payment or cable television bill) and variable ones (those that may change, such as fuel bills or entertainment). Be sure to also set aside some money for personal savings and an emergency fund. Once you've calculated your income and expenses a month ahead of time and set your budget, you can focus on the most important part -- adhering to the plan. Find ways to decrease spending. Adopt just one new way of trimming expenses each week and you'll find your overhead shrinking fast. Though you may not be on-point every month, the simple act of tracking and communicating your family's finances will be a huge step forward in your quest towards responsible spending.