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5 Essential Steps to Improving Your Financial Picture

By Maurie Backman - Feb 2, 2020 at 12:47PM

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In the dumps about money? Here's how to turn things around.

Are you happy with the state of your finances? A good 77% of Americans aren't, according to Capital One. In fact, they actually feel anxious about their financial status. If you're eager to improve your money-related outlook, here are five important steps to getting there.

1. Build an emergency fund

Socking away enough money to cover three to six months of essential living expenses should be your chief financial goal. The reason? Without that money, you may have no choice but to rack up expensive debt when unplanned bills hit you out of the blue. You can build that emergency fund by getting yourself on a budget to keep better track of your spending, and also, by cutting back on expenses that aren't essential, like restaurant meals or entertainment. Getting a second job also works in this regard.

A man seated at a desk looks down at an open binder as if in frustration, hands on head.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

2. Pay off costly debt

Carrying a credit card balance means paying interest to someone else rather than taking that extra money and sticking it in your own savings account. If you owe money on credit cards, come up with a plan to eliminate that debt. First, use the above tactics (following a budget, cutting back on spending, and working extra) to free up enough cash to chip away at that debt. Then, pay it off efficiently. Tackle your costliest balances (those with the highest interest rates) first, or transfer all of your balances onto a single card with a lower interest rate on a whole.

3. Establish a nest egg

We all need money for the future, and once you start funding an IRA or 401(k), you'll get the peace of mind that comes with knowing you're less likely to wind up cash-strapped as a senior. IRAs currently max out at $6,000 a year for workers under 50, and $7,000 a year for those 50 and over. If you have a 401(k), you can contribute up to $19,500 a year if you're under 50, or $26,000 if you're 50 or older. Of course, hitting these limits may not be feasible if you're not used to budgeting for retirement savings, but if you do your best and aim to ramp up your contributions from one year to the next (say, as raises come in), you'll slowly but surely build wealth for your senior years.

4. Get the right insurance

Financial security hinges on having the right protection in place. That's why you must make an effort to be adequately insured, whether that means getting a better health plan, upgrading your homeowners or auto insurance, or buying a life insurance policy to protect your loved ones.

5. Set priorities

Mapping out your primary financial objectives will increase your chances of achieving them. Maybe you're looking to buy a home in the next three years, or you want to pay off the student loans you've been carrying around for almost a decade. The simple act of prioritizing your goals will make you more likely to succeed, because from there, you can budget for those objectives and allocate funds to them as needed. For example, if becoming a homeowner tops your list, you can put a $300 line item into your monthly budget for down payment funds.

Money makes a lot of people anxious -- but that doesn't have to be the case. If you take these essential steps, you may find that your finances take a turn for the highly improved in a year's time, or even less.

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