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Personal Finance 101: 6 Things Everyone Should Know

By Maurie Backman - Updated Oct 10, 2018 at 12:47PM

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Think you're clueless about personal finance? Here are a few basic rules to follow.

Whether you're single, married, new to the workforce, or near retirement, it's important to have a good handle on your money. Here are six personal finance tips you should always make sure to follow.

1. Always have emergency savings on hand

You never know when you might lose your job, fall ill, or encounter a situation where you're unable to work. If you don't have savings, you run the risk of taking on debt or getting into major financial trouble when the unexpected hits. That's why you should always have an emergency fund with anywhere from three to six months' worth of living expenses. Furthermore, you should keep that money in a safe place like a savings account so that it's available to you on a moment's notice. If you don't have an emergency fund already, building one should take priority over all other financial goals, including retirement or a down payment on a home. You should also review your emergency fund periodically to make sure it meets your ever-changing needs.

Image source: Getty Images.

2. Aim to live below your means

When you spend every penny you bring in, you leave yourself zero wiggle room for unplanned expenses and lose the opportunity to save. And the latter can be a major problem, especially as far as retirement goes. Living below your means can actually remove some of the financial pressures you might otherwise be facing, and once you learn to be happier with less, you'll appreciate the flexibility of having extra money on hand. But more so than that, living below your means will allow you to save money for the future. No matter where you are in life, you should always aim to save at least 10% of each paycheck, and the more you surpass that mark, the better.

3. You need a budget

No matter how much you earn or how costly or seemingly affordable your living expenses are, you still need a budget to keep tabs on your finances. If you don't have a budget already, now's the time to create one. Once you do have that budget in place, commit to following and reviewing it periodically to see if changes need to be made. Also -- and this is crucial -- your budget should always leave you with some room for savings. If it doesn't, it means you're spending too much and should start cutting back.

4. Invest money you're not using

Money you have today is worth more than the same amount of money in the future because of its earning potential. That's why it's always smart to invest money you're not currently using or don't see yourself using for a number of years. Imagine you have $5,000 sitting in a non-emergency savings account that you don't expect to need for the foreseeable future. If you take that money, invest it in stocks, and manage to score an average annual return of 8%, in 30 years, you'll have turned that $5,000 into $50,000.

5. It costs more to borrow than it does to save

Any time you borrow money, you're going to pay interest on the amount you borrow. Just like investing your money can help it grow over time, so, too, can carrying debt cost you more money over time. Let's say you need $2,000 to buy new furniture. If you save that money over the course of six months, you'll spend $2,000 to get what you need. But if you charge that $2,000 on a credit card with 12% interest and take six months to pay it off, you'll spend $2,070 instead. With the exception of your home and automobile, don't buy anything you can't pay for in full.

6. You need more retirement savings than you think

Many people underestimate the amount of money they'll need in retirement and hold off on saving for the future because it seems so far away. In reality, there's no such thing as having too much money in retirement, and the sooner you begin saving, the better your chances of amassing a sizable nest egg. If you start contributing $200 a month to a retirement account starting at age 45, by the time you reach 65, you'll have $110,000 if your investments generate an average annual 8% return. But if you start saving that same amount 10 years earlier, you'll have $272,000 for retirement -- more than double.

A big part of managing your finances is getting your priorities straight. Follow these simple rules and commit to a financially responsible lifestyle, and you'll reap the benefits both now and in the future.

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