How to Finally Make Those Big Money Moves That Scare You

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  • It can feel easier to put off things like investing or budgeting, even when you know they're good for you.
  • By delaying certain financial moves, you're losing out on the opportunity to make more money over time.
  • Educating yourself can be the jump start you need to invest in your future.

It's not always easy to start, but it will be worth it.

"No one else knows what they're doing either."

That quote changed my outlook on a lot of things when I came across it several years ago. I like to think of myself as hardworking, smart, and independent, but there are plenty of moments when I feel like I have no idea what's going on compared to people around me. But that's OK, because: 1. It's probably not true, and 2. Plenty of those people probably feel the same way.

One area that has made me feel extra intimidated is finances. I'm usually pretty slow to make a move with my money, whether it's replacing something expensive -- looking at you, laptop with a "battery service" warning -- or setting up a health savings account (HSA) at my old employer. And I can be hesitant to invest because I feel like there's always something more I should understand before plunking my money down. I actually used to equate it to gambling (which it's not) and was sure I'd lose all the money I put in stocks (which I didn't). I always seemed to let something stop me from trying.

Make moves with confidence

Over the years, I've realized the only thing I lost out on by hesitating in these situations was the chance to earn more money. That HSA I held off on because I'd have to fund it out of my paycheck? My employer matched employees' contributions, so I missed a year's worth of free cash. That extra money sitting in my savings account, waiting to be moved to my investment account? All I see now is months of lost potential earnings.

So if you ever feel like you're in the same situation, here's my advice.

Build good habits

When I first started freelancing, I was nervous about whether my income would cover my spending. To ease my mind, I set up my first budget so I could track my expenses and know how much money was going out and coming in each month. Whether you're a freelancer or not, you might want to do the same.

You can use a simple spreadsheet and comb through a few months of your credit card and bank statements, or try one of the many budgeting apps that will do the work for you. But once you have a clear idea of where your money is going, you'll be able to make better decisions about how to use it.

Keep a cushion

One of the best investments you can make for yourself is to build a solid emergency fund. Having several months' worth of expenses tucked away in a savings account will give you some breathing room in case a minor setback or major catastrophe comes along. And even if no rain clouds threaten your parade, that cushion will give you the confidence to make other important financial moves, because you'll know you won't fall all the way back to zero.

Ask questions and look for help

There are plenty of personal finance resources out there just a Google search away, but you may also have friends or family members who are more knowledgeable in this realm and happy to talk with you about it. Ask for advice from someone you trust and listen to their experiences, or reach out to a certified financial planner (also called a CFP) or financial advisor for a more professional take. Don't be embarrassed to find out what you don't know!

Just start

Take a little time to learn some of the fundamentals, and then give yourself permission to make that scary money move, whether it's opening a brokerage account or starting a new side gig. You'll figure it out as you go along, and you'll realize it's not as scary or difficult as it seemed from the outside.

And remember that you can (and probably should) start small. No need to invest all your money at once; instead, try dollar-cost averaging, where you invest a small amount each month.

Small steps can lead to big things

Given time, a little bit of money and effort can go a long way. A 401(k) will blossom far beyond the amount you put into it thanks to the magic of compound interest, so the earlier you start, the more years you have to take advantage of that growth.

Here's an example: Say you invest $100 a month, assuming 7% annualized returns (which is quite a bit lower than the stock market's historical average of more than 11%, according to data compiled by the New York University Stern School of Business). In 10 years, you'll have more than $16,000 -- and in 20 years, you'll have more than $49,000.

Research and experience lead to confidence in yourself and your abilities. Don't let fear or self doubt keep you from achieving your financial dreams.

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