Whether you're an expert investor or just taking your first steps toward financial independence, you can always do more to make the most of your money.
But especially when times are tough, it's hard to know where to focus your attention to do the most good. The worst thing you can do, though, is to let doubt about whether your actions will bear fruit keep you from doing anything about your money. To try to give you a place to start, here are 10 things which everyone can benefit from in their financial lives.
1. Figure out where you stand.
When the worst of the bear market hit last year, many people couldn't even bring themselves to open their account statements. Now that things are getting better, it's time to pull your head out of the sand. By listing both everything you own and everything you owe, you'll have a good idea of where you are and how much work you have to do to get your money in order.
2. Get a handle on debt.
Debt can kill your finances. But even if you're not in a position to get rid of your debt, you can still take steps to get it under control. For instance, many card issuers, including Citigroup
3. Stop living paycheck to paycheck.
If you struggle waiting for your next payday, you know that unexpected expenses can destroy your finances and your peace of mind. If you can set aside even a few hundred dollars of emergency cash, you'll be amazed at how much it can save you in things like bounced-check charges and unnecessary stress.
4. Start planning your investments.
After you have a safety net in place, start thinking about tomorrow. What are your most important financial goals, and what will it take to reach them? Think about your priorities, and then consider how to make your dreams a reality.
5. Start saving for retirement.
If you haven't started making contributions to your 401(k) or IRA, don't wait another minute. The earlier you start, the more your money will grow over time. And if your employer puts in some extra money in the form of matching contributions or profit sharing, then you really can't afford not to start today.
6. Look at mutual funds.
No matter what you're saving for, mutual funds can help. A fund like Fairholme (FAIRX), for instance, has turned investments in stocks like Sears Holdings
7. Stop giving your money away to the IRS.
Taxes are tough and can cost you thousands. But if you stay aware of potential tax traps and plan your taxes in advance, it's a lot easier to avoid big tax bills. Don't wait until April 15 to think about how to cut your taxes now.
8. Buy stocks yourself.
Funds are great, but if you don't own individual stocks yet, you're missing out on investing on a whole different level. Starting with big, well-known companies like recession-resistant McDonald's
9. Invest in something different.
Finding a comfort zone for your investing is important, but don't limit yourself. If you've got a lot of large-cap stocks, you might want to look at smaller standouts like Portfolio Recovery Associates
10. Don't forget to enjoy your money.
It takes hard work to become financially successful. Keep sight of the real reason you're getting your finances in order: to improve your entire life. That means stopping to smell the roses from time to time.
Getting your finances in shape may seem unachievable, but if you break it down into manageable steps, you'll get where you want to go. Get started now, and before you know it, you'll be doing things with your money you never thought possible.
Need help getting started? Throughout 2009, the Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter's Year of Fiscal Fitness has given readers valuable tips on doing more with their money. It's not too late for you; join us today with a free 30-day trial and get access to all our past issues.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger constantly tries to make his money work just a little bit harder. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Sears Holdings and WellPoint are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. American Oriental Bioengineering and Portfolio Recovery Associates are Motley Fool Hidden Gems picks. The Fool owns shares of American Oriental Bioengineering and Fairholme, which are picks of Motley Fool Global Gains and Motley Fool Champion Funds, respectively. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy gives you more.