How to Choose Your Next Credit Card

How to Choose Your Next Credit Card (1)

A credit card can be one of the most useful tools you have in your wallet. But with so many different options in the marketplace, how do you know that the one you’re using is the right one?

If your current card is not getting the job done, choosing your next one will require some research and a solid game plan. So as you search for your next credit card, here are a few things you should consider:

When You Choose a Credit Card, Start with This Number

The first thing to look for when you choose a credit card: the interest rate. Even if you plan to pay your credit card off in full and on time each month — and therefore, won’t be charged interest on your balance — it’s smart to look into this number.

There’s no way to know whether or not you’ll ever have a situation where you do carry a balance on your card for a little while, so the interest rate is important. A lower rate will save you money if interest is ever charged.

When you compare the interest rates of all the cards you’re considering, make sure you look at how long that rate lasts. Some cards offer low interest rates to attract customers, but the rate jumps later after the introductory period.

Don’t Forget About Fees

Also, be on the lookout for annual fees. Many cards have no annual fees, but other cards can run you several hundreds of dollars in fees to carry the card. Those cards may provide additional benefits, so be sure to read all the fine print to see if it’s worth it for you.

The Best Options for Your Situation

Depending on your career and lifestyle, your credit card can offer some serious incentives. Frequent traveler? Look critically at the frequent flier options. If you’re more of a moderate traveler, it could be worth it to look into cards with a solid cashback program as opposed to flight miles.

Some cards give 2 percent back on all purchases, while others give a slightly higher percentage back for specific purchases. Take a look at your spending history and use that to dictate which cards would give you the most bang for your buck.

Need comparison help? Take a look at NerdWallet, Mint, or Magnify Money. All of these sites offer comparison tools to help you choose a credit card based on your unique specific situation.

Note that these sites make money when you sign up for a card through their site — and XY Planning Network has no affiliate relationship with any of these outlets. The rankings and comparisons are extremely useful when you’re shopping around, but it’s important to understand what happens when you apply for a card directly through one of their links.

Credit Card Red Flags

When looking through credit cards, it’s important to know what to look out for an avoid. Here are some of the big red flags to be aware of:

Very low APRs: Card companies will offer very low APR’s to draw in customers, so make sure you check into if/when those rates will give way to much higher percentages.

Excessive fees: Everything could look great on paper, but if you read more into it, how many fees will this company charge you? Between annual fees, maintenance fees, and activation fees, you could be getting more than you bargained for.

Lack of a grace period: Most credit cards will give you some time after a purchase before the interest fees begin. Make sure that the card you’re considering offers that grace period.

With responsible use, a credit card can be one of your best financial tools. With a thorough comparison, you should be able to find one that will give you the best return on your spending.

 

Heather SwickAbout the Author: Heather Swick is an author, freelance writer, and editor who has worked for news outlets, national magazines and blogs. She is driven to help others achieve their career and financial goals and share her own experiences along the way.

What’s the Difference Between Financial Freedom and Retirement?

Difference between financial freedom and retirement

If you’ve been following the world of personal finance lately, you may have noticed that people are talking about something called financial freedom — and how that’s the ultimate financial goal to have.

This is really different than how people used to talk about their largest financial goal. For older generations, that was retirement. Are these two ideas the same?

While at first glance the difference between financial freedom and retirement isn’t obvious, there are some key characteristics that differentiate the two. Here are some of the ways that financial freedom and retirement are actually quite different.

The Definition of Financial Freedom

Retirement is traditionally seen as the time that a person stops working. In our culture, it’s specifically when a person chooses to stop working due to old age. That in itself is a concept that’s relatively new in human history.

Financial freedom is an idea that’s even newer to our mainstream vocabulary. In a sense, it’s like retirement: a person chooses to leave their job and rely on other means for meeting expenses beyond a paycheck.

But the difference is it has nothing to do with age. Financial freedom is the ability to live off of one’s own wealth without having to work in exchange for a paycheck to cover basic necessities.

Well-known financial blogger Pete from Mr. Money Mustache is a great example of someone who’s actually achieved financial freedom — and has documented the journey. Pete’s expenses are now covered by money generated from his investments in index funds. Another example would be someone who can live off of the passive income generated from real estate investments.

What’s a Good Strategy for Reaching This Goal?

While you need the same habits and behaviors to accomplish either financial freedom or a retirement goal, there’s one major factor that looks really different depending on what route you choose.

If you’re looking at traditional retirement, you’ll stop working somewhere in your 60s. If you’re a member of Gen Y today, that gives you 30 to 40 years to work, earn an income, and save a small portion of it for the future. Given that timeline, you could save about 10% of your gross income and have enough in your savings and investments to live off of for about 25 to 30 years after you quit earning a paycheck.

Financial freedom, on the other hand, might mean that you want to live off your savings and investments as soon as possible. That means a 10% savings rate is not going to cut it– not even close. We’re talking sometimes as high as 50% — or more! — of take-home pay. That’s why you’ll see many financial freedom enthusiasts also talking about frugality. (Frugalwoods, one of our favorite financial bloggers, is a great example. The couple saves over 75% of their income and is set to reach financial independence in their mid-30s.)

To give you an idea, most personal finance experts suggest saving 10 or 15 percent of your paycheck for financial independence. Again, that’s advice for people who are retiring at 65. If you want to retire earlier or reach a level of financial freedom, you’ll need to invest more capital in order to generate the return faster.

The Mindset You Need for Freedom

When the goal is retirement, your mindset says you need to save now because one day you won’t be able to work due to old age — or maybe just due to burnout, since you’ll have been working for decades at that point.

Even though it’s not really true (plenty of people working well past 65), that’s the idea. The mindset is “You’re going to give out some day in the distant future, so better save some of your money as you go along.”

With financial freedom, the mindset is more about not having to rely on a paycheck — ever again. Granted, many of those who have achieved financial freedom do work, but it’s because they want to, not because they have to. That alone is a huge shift.

Freedom with your finances gives you freedom in multiple other areas of your life, the biggest perhaps being what you can do with your time. If you’re young, consider financial independence instead of plugging away at the old-school idea working until you’re nearly 70. You have time on your side and you can make it happen!

Raise your savings rate. Invest wisely. Find your financial independence.

 

Amanda AbellaAbout the Author: Amanda Abella is an Amazon bestselling author, speaker and personal finance expert who helps millennials make money their honey through online business. She has built an online brand that touches thousands each month and has been featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Seventeen Magazine and more.

Where to Go for Financial Education

When it’s time to take charge of your personal finances, one of the most important things to do is to educate yourself. This is actually something you can do fairly easily these days, both at home and with the help of educational institutions and financial advisors.

Here are 7 ways you can start developing a financial education for yourself:

1. Money Tools

The biggest name in web-based money tools is Mint. Mint bills itself as an all-in-one money hub for your personal finances, from checking account balances and budgeting to credit scores and bill payments.

2. Apps

Smartphone apps are go-to money management tools because they’re easy to use, “live” on your phone for great accessibility, and can integrate with your financial accounts when appropriate.

Some good apps to check out? Try Level Money and Good Budget, which help you track your spending and saving. To dip a toe into investing waters, check out Acorns, which rounds up every purchase you make and puts that spare change into an investment.

3. Websites and Blogs

There are countless websites and blogs to help you learn about managing your money. If you’d like to see some suggestions, check out the list of our favorite personal financial blogs here.

In addition, many of the financial advisors who are members of XYPN maintain their own blogs designed to help provide education on a number of important topics. Each week, we round up a few of our favorites and publish them here on our own blog.

4. Podcasts

If you’re into learning about money on the go, you might prefer podcasts over blogs. Some podcasts we enjoy include Stacking Benjamins, The Money-Guy Show, and So Money with Farnoosh Torabi.

5. Nonprofit Programs and Organizations

Financial literacy strengthens communities, and many nonprofits work to that end. You can look into some of these groups and make the most of the resources they offer.

Operation HOPE has a wide array of programs for youth, and their Hope Inside program also offers critical financial literacy services for adults in cities across the U.S.

Other nonprofits with programs and events that can teach you about money include the Institute for Financial Literacy and the Society for Financial Awareness.

6. Local Events

Sometimes an in-person event is the best way to learn. CFP Board’s Financial Planning Days is a nationwide event that features classroom-style workshops on important financial topics as well as one-on-one slots with financial advisors to address your specific questions.

7. Financial Planners

While financial education is something you can certainly do on your own, sometimes it’s better to work one-on-one with a professional. If you’d like to start a relationships with a financial advisor, there’s no better place to look than our Find an Advisor portal.

All financial planners in our organization are fee-only who offer advice on a monthly subscription basis — which means you pay one flat, transparent fee for professional services, and you pay monthly just like you would your cell phone or gym membership bill.

They can can meet in person or virtually so you’re not limited by physical location, and our portal includes search terms to help you find the right person for your situation.

Financial literacy isn’t a once-and-done thing, and there’s no limit to the many ways you can learn about your finances. Research on your own, connect with others online and in your community, and turn to an advisor when you’re ready for targeted expert advice. No matter what, don’t hesitate to take action!

 

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About the Author: Ashley Gainer is a writer and coach who makes great content for entrepreneurs and small businesses and teaches other writers how to do the same. You can find her online at ashleygainer.com or on Twitter @ageditorial.

How Much Should I Spend on an Engagement Ring?

Deciding to propose is a huge step — and so is buying an engagement ring! No one needs a ring to propose. But if that is part of your plan, you need to consider the practical aspects of your decision.

Yes, that means understanding the finances and deciding how much you should spend on an engagement ring. Use these 5 guidelines to help you (and your budget!) feel comfortable with whatever you choose.

1. Discuss Engagement Rings with Your Partner

Engagement rings are not limited to diamond solitaires, and they come at every possible price point. You don’t have to follow the old “three months salary” rule to find a ring that suits you and your partner.

It’s a symbol of your relationship, so it can be any stone, cut, size and design that you would like. Have a discussion with your fiancée-to-be about what they like, and use that to help guide your shopping decisions.

2. Do Your Homework

Whether your partner wants a diamond, emerald, or pearl ring — or even a simple gold band — get a feel for the price variety so you know what to expect. There can be a massive difference in same size stones depending on the cut and clarity, so be aware that if you’re looking at one-carat diamonds, you might face price tags with differences in the thousands.

If you opt for a diamond alternative, be aware that many precious stones are much more delicate. You may have to replace them from time to time, so consider that when you’re setting a budget.

3. Set an Engagement Ring Budget

Let’s say your partner wants a white-gold ring with a diamond solitaire. There are some different factors to consider here when you’re setting your budget.

You will save money by opting for a plain band, and you can put that toward a better quality diamond. But if you’re set on a more intricate band, you might have to cut down on carat size.

The cost of your overall ring will vary immensely depending on where you go, when you’re buying the ring and whether or not you’re buying a designer band, so keep all of that in mind when you’re figuring out a budget.

If you have your eye on a designer ring that’s outside your price range, ask if a local jeweler can find a similar style or create a custom ring at a better deal.

4. Create Your Savings Plan

Once you’ve picked out the ring, you may be required to put down a deposit. Ask about that ahead of time.

Again, the ring should be something you can reasonably afford, so create a savings plan you can live with. “Reasonably afford” should probably mean avoiding going into any kind of debt to make the purchase.

While you’re saving for the ring, you might want to consider the costs of the proposal if you’re planning something more expensive than your typical date night. That way you won’t feel a serious wallet crunch when the time comes.

5. Remember the Big Picture

This is not the time to worry about impressing other people, and neither is your wedding day. You don’t want to kick off a marriage with remaining debt from the celebration or the ring.

Be honest with yourself and your partner about what you can afford. And there is nothing wrong with buying your partner a beautiful ring or spending thousands of dollars on a wedding day — as long as it’s something you can truly afford, and it’s what both you and your soon-to-be spouse want.

For that matter, there is also nothing wrong with a simple wedding band and a courthouse wedding.

You get a marriage out of this whole process, so whenever you feel overwhelmed by the price tag of it all, try to remember what’s really going to matter in the end. Relax and get excited — you’ve found the love of your life, so the hard part is over!

Stick to a savings plan you can afford while ring shopping, and you’ll avoid being in the hole when your first wedding deposits roll around.

 

Heather SwickAbout the Author: Heather Swick is an author, freelance writer, and editor who has worked for news outlets, national magazines and blogs. She is driven to help others achieve their career and financial goals and share her own experiences along the way.

How to Reduce Stress About Money

Money is often a taboo topic in many households, but the inability to talk about personal finance that seems inconsequential in childhood can lead to a lot of stress in adulthood. Not talking about money leaves you unaware of how to take care of your finances, and that lack of awareness creates a huge amount of stress.

We tend to fear what we can’t see or don’t know about, and our money matters are no different. If you want to reduce stress about money, the first step is to talk about it and understand what you’re dealing with. Here’s how to do it.

Get Your Head Into Your Wallet

Whether you’re flying solo or partnered up, knowing where you are financially is the most critical step toward reducing your stress about money.

Collect all your bills and add them up. Know what your total debt load is, including student loans, medical bills, credit card balances, your mortgage, and so on. Once you’re aware of exactly how much you owe and to whom, you’re practically enlightened.

There are no more surprises, and you’ve cut that source of stress off at the knees. And once you know what your current situation is, you can begin to tackle the problem areas.

Get Familiar With Your Options

If you’ve got debt you want to pay down, learn about the different approaches to debt payment. If you’ve got some disposable income but can’t figure out where any of it goes, learn about budgeting, spending plans, and savings accounts. If you’re ready to start putting away cash for retirement, college funds, or other investments, begin researching your options yourself and/or look for a financial planner.

Some of the best ways to educate yourself about money are blogs and podcasts. The content you’ll find is often produced for the average person with no background in finance, with a conversational tone that’s easy to follow and learn from.

Start reading the blogs and listening to podcasts to get used to hearing, thinking, and talking about money. (We list a few of our favorite personal finance blogs here.)

Get Going

Once you know what your current issues are and how you want to address them, it’s time to get moving.

Set up a personal spending plan that moves you toward your new financial goals. Look for money management software, websites, and/or apps that make tracking your spending, saving, debt payments, and investments incredibly easy. Mint is one of our favorites.

Hire a financial advisor to help you set highly targeted goals, find the right investment approach, and answer all your questions.

Reducing Stress About Money

It’s not unusual to feel stressed about your finances, but you don’t have to live that way. Get aware of your situation, find ways to educate yourself about your options and best next steps, and then start taking action. By becoming proactive, you take control of your money instead of letting it control you.

 

 

 

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About the Author: Ashley Gainer is a writer and coach who makes great content for entrepreneurs and small businesses and teaches other writers how to do the same. You can find her online at ashleygainer.com or on Twitter @ageditorial.

How to Earn More Money on the Side

Side hustles are extremely common these days among people looking to earn more money. You can increase your income on the side of their regular job or meet a financial goal.

If you’re ready to start earning more this year, here are some profitable ways to make more on the side of your main job:

Freelance Your Skills

Stop and take a second to think about what skills or talents you have. The best side hustle experiences revolve around tasks that you enjoy doing and that others value and will pay you for.

Are you good with electronics and tech? Can you take beautiful pictures, write well, design graphics, or handle pets? You may be able to turn these types of skills into successful side hustles.

First, you’ll need to figure out who your desired clientele will be and how you plan on marketing your services to them. You may want to set up a website to help promote yourself and showcase your work.

You can also set up some trials with potential clients in order to receive testimonials and referrals and look for work some of your first paying gigs on sites like Elance and Upwork.

Sell Items Online

Selling items online in your spare time is an easy and low-effort side hustle. If you have a lot of items around your home that you no longer use, you could make a decent profit selling them online on websites like Amazon and eBay.

You can even become a reseller for specific items and goods or flip things you find at thrift stores for a profit.

If you are creative and like to make things, you can try your hand at selling handmade and establishing a craft side business on Etsy.com. Etsy is an online marketplace that allows people to buy and sell unique goods. Just last year, 32 million items were listed on Etsy and sellers earned $1.93 billion gross in profit.

Review Websites and Blogs

UserTesting is a popular website that pays you to put your eye for detail to use and review other websites and blogs. Testers need to fill out a simple application in order to get started. Reviews are often recorded for audio and sometimes even video as you navigate through each website, critique it, and offer feedback.

Each 20 minute review you complete is worth $10 which is direct deposited to you through Paypal. UserTesting is ideal for people who are looking for easy, low-effort ways to earn extra money. If you have only one hour per week to dedicate earning side income, that’s plenty of time to complete three reviews and earn an easy $120 per month.

Rideshare as an Independent Contractor

Did you know your car could end up earning you a lot of money? Rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft pay you to use your own car to drive other passengers around. When you sign up as a driver with either company, you can use the app to receive alerts for passengers who have requested a pickup.

Passengers pay through the app so you won’t have to collect money and you can set your own hours by choosing to be available to drive whenever you wish.

With all side hustles and extra income you earn, you’ll have to prepare to pay taxes quarterly or each year. If you choose to become an Uber driver, a must-have app you’ll benefit from is Hurdlr. Hurdlr is an app that automatically tracks your Uber expenses, mileage and deductions to help minimize taxes and increase your pay.

Uber is not the only flexible side hustle out there, and ideas aren’t limited to the ones listed out in this post. There are tons of similar ways to earn extra income that involve driving your car, walking dogs, babysitting or caring for others. Check out this list for 100 unique on-demand side jobs you can do on your own terms.

 

Chonce MaddoxAbout the Author: Chonce is a freelance writer who’s passionate about helping others get out of debt and work toward financial stability. You can connect with her on her blog, MyDebtEpiphany.com.

How to Start Investing

How to Start Investing

You likely know that you should be saving money. But do you know how to take your financial situation to the next level, and start investing?

Saving is great. It helps us get through emergencies or spend money on important things. But if you leave all your cash in a savings account it won’t beat inflation. That means $100 today probably won’t equal $100 a few decades from now.

This is why it’s important to also make sure you’re investing a chunk of your money. By allowing your money to grow with investments, you are able to make a profit and provide a cushion against inflation thanks to compound interest.

The good news? Just getting started with investing is a lot easier than you probably think.

Opt for Your Company 401k

The easiest way for most people to start investing is to enroll in a 401(k) plan through their employer. A 401(k) plan is a retirement plan created by employers where their employees can save and invest a portion of each paycheck before taxes. The taxes aren’t applied until you withdraw the money.

Most 401(k) plans offer a variety of mutual funds and options to invest in. The really good plans are the ones that offer an employer match. Your employer will match a percentage of your contribution. This is basically free money being put into your retirement savings by your employer.

Even if your employer doesn’t offer a company match, it’s still a good idea to set up your 401(k) so that your contributions are automatic. Setting it up is as easy as going to HR and filling out some paperwork. A retirement plan is one of the employer benefits you should be doing your absolute best to maximize.

Consider an IRA

An IRA is an Individual Retirement Account you can open with a financial institution to save and invest money for retirement. If your company doesn’t offer a 401(k), this is usually a good place to start.

There are two common types of IRAs that you’ll likely open for yourself.

The first is a traditional IRA, in which you can make tax-deferred contributions. That means you won’t be taxed on the money you put in today, but you will need to pay taxes when you withdraw that money in retirement. (This works just like a 401(k).)

The second is a Roth IRA. Your contributions are taxed now, but your earnings can grow tax-free because you don’t pay taxes on the withdrawals.

Setting up an IRA is also very simple. Simply visit your financial institution of choice and open your account online. Funding methods, fees, and minimums differ among institutions so make sure to shop and compare.

If you work for yourself, you should also look to see if you qualify for a SEP IRA. This post will help you identify a number of other options that you can start investing with for retirement if you’re self-employed.

All of these IRA options come with their unique tax benefits and scenarios, so it would be wise to do a little digging and see which one works best for you.

Work with a Fee-Only Financial Planner

Sometimes the best way to start investing is to get some help. In this case, help refers to a fee-only financial planner who follows the fiduciary standard.

Fee-only means that advisors don’t receive commissions for any recommendations, and they don’t push products or try to make sales to enrich themselves. They get no kickbacks and are only paid directly by their clients.

Choosing a fee-only financial advisor helps ensure that you’re receiving advice that is unbiased because an advisor’s income is not contingent upon what products they sell to you.

A fiduciary works in your best interests at all times. These individuals have legal and ethical standards they must adhere to. For example, the fiduciary is bound by law to act in the best interest of their clients. They also aren’t allowed to benefit personally from the management of assets.

Before working with any financial advisor, they should sign a fiduciary oath for you. All advisors with XYPN have this oath signed and attached to their profiles on the Find an Advisor portal.

Getting started investing for retirement can be as easy as talking to HR, opening an IRA online, or finding a good financial planner. If investing still seems overwhelming, commit to taking just one of these steps today.

 

Amanda AbellaAbout the Author: Amanda Abella is an Amazon bestselling author, speaker and personal finance expert who helps millennials make money their honey through online business. She has built an online brand that touches thousands each month and has been featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Seventeen Magazine and more.

Student Loan Repayment: What Are My Options?

Student Loan Repayment Options

When it comes to improving your finances and establishing your career path, graduating college is often only the first step in the journey. With at least two-thirds of all graduates leaving America’s colleges and universities carrying some type of student loan debt, it’s safe to say that student loan repayment is a burden many recent college graduates and working professionals are dealing with.

After you graduate, it’s important to understand your student loan repayment options and know you’re not alone when it comes to having debt. You can certainly pay your loans off in a timely manner — and looking into some of these Federal student loan repayment plans may help you find a solution for your specific situation.

Student Loan Repayment Plans

Generally, when you graduate there is a 6-month grace period in which you don’t have to make any payments on your student loans. But if you have any extra room in your budget, try to contribute something to your loan balance to keep interest to a minimum since it will be calculated each day.

Toward the end of your grace period, you’ll be prompted to pick a repayment plan based on your needs and preferences. There are five main types of repayment plans:

Standard: This plan is eligible for Direct and Stafford subsidized and unsubsidized loans along with all PLUS loans. Monthly payments are set at a minimum of $50 per month and your repayment term can last up to 10 years. With this particular plan, monthly payments are fixed and you’ll pay less interest over time as a result.

Graduated: This plan is also eligible for Direct and Stafford subsidized and unsubsidized loans and PLUS Loans. It allows you to start the repayment process by making lower payments. Your minimum payment amount increases usually every two years.

The idea behind this plan is starting off with a lower, more manageable payment while you are trying to advance your career. But know that, over time, you’ll pay more interest over the life of your loan.

Extended: This plan is almost like a combination of the standard and graduated plans, only borrowers can take up to 25 years to repay their loans. As a result, monthly payments would be lower than the 10-year plans. This may be an option if you are dealing with a massive amount of student loans.

Income-Based: This plan allows your maximum monthly payment to be 15 percent of your discretionary income which is the difference between your adjusted gross income and 150 percent of the poverty guideline for your family size.

Pay As You Earn: With this plan, you can take up to 20 years to pay back your loans. The maximum monthly payments will be 10 percent of your discretionary income.

Student Loan Forgiveness

There is a way to have your student loan balance forgiven after a certain period of time if you have Federal loans. Most student loan forgiveness programs are geared toward low-paid educators, public defenders, and other government workers.

Contrary to popular belief, student loan forgiveness is not a quick fix solution by any means and it can take up to 10 years to have your loans completely forgiven. If you work in a qualifying field or work for any government-funded community service organizations (like Peace Corps), there is a Public Service Program that allows you to have your student loans forgiven after making 120 qualified payments while working for a qualified employer.

Qualified payments include an income-based repayment plan and/or a 10-year standard repayment plan. Note that you must make every single one of those 120 payments to qualify! If you miss even one, you will not be eligible for loan forgiveness.

Should You Consolidate Your Student Loans?

Consolidating your loans allows you to combine several student loans into one total balance with one low interest rate. This can help simplify your debt and allow you pay off your student loans faster if you receive a lower interest rate.

A few caveats to be aware of if you’re considering consolidation: when you consolidate Federal loans, you essentially get a new lender which will make you ineligible for certain government relief programs like deferment or forbearance. And if you have both Federal and private loans, you can’t consolidate them together due to the differences in terms.

As you can see, there is a wide variety of options made available in order to help you manage the monthly payments and pay off your loans. If you ever feel like you can’t make payments on your loans, contact your lender or a financial expert who can help you determine which repayment option or solution might be best for you.

 

Chonce MaddoxAbout the Author: Chonce is a freelance writer who’s passionate about helping others get out of debt and work toward financial stability. You can connect with her on her blog, MyDebtEpiphany.com.

7 Tips for Sticking to Your Financial Goals

7 Tips for Sticking to Your Financial Goals

Tis’ the season to set some big goals! With the new year comes new potential milestones, especially those concerning your budget. Most people think about their bank account when coming up with New Year’s resolutions.

Last year, the third most common resolution was “spend less, save more.” However, considering less than 10 percent of people actually achieve their resolutions, something must not be working after January 1.

If you want to finally achieve your financial goals, you have to start with the goal itself. Here are 7 ways to hit the mark in 2016:

1. Understand Your Values

Your goals need to resonate with you and your values if you have any hope of sticking to them. Avoid setting goals because you think it’s something you should do.

Try to find your big-picture dreams and use that as a framework for your resolutions. Whenever you feel yourself veering off course, this will help you put aside that meaningless expense to save for your big life goals.

2. Work as a Team

If you’ve fallen off track year after year, don’t get down on yourself. Get an accountability partner instead.

Recruit your spouse, money-savvy friend or a financial professional to help get your money in order. A fee-only financial advisor can be an invaluable resource in helping you identify important goals, creating an action plan and holding you accountable as you progress.

3. Make SMART Goals

One reason so few people achieve their “spend less, save more” goal is its simplicity. A goal that vague doesn’t give you any guidelines to measure your success along the way.

S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) goals are easier to stick to because you have a roadmap to get you there. Actionable S.M.A.R.T. goals include the following:

  • Specific: Narrow your goal as much as possible. A clear-cut goal allows you to visualize and take the appropriate steps.
  • Measurable: Set mini-milestones as you go so that you know you’re on the right track.
  • Achievable: Don’t make your goal too lofty. It should take some effort, but not be so out of reach that you give up before you really try.
  • Realistic: “Win the lottery” is not a good goal to set for yourself. Also, make sure you take the potential risks and changes in your life into account. Avoid setting goals that will only work out in the best-case scenario.
  • Time-bound: Give yourself a deadline. This can be as strict or fluid as is necessary, but don’t let yourself slide too much here. Only change deadlines if it’s absolutely required.

4. Visualize Your Financial Goals

Create visual representations of your goals. Whether you’re paying off debt or saving for a house, find images that immediately remind you of your goal.

Put them wherever you’ll see them often. That could be in your office, on your fridge, or even folded up in your wallet right in front of your credit cards.

5. Create a Budget

The budget is the backbone of any financial goals you plan to set. You need some way to keep track of what you’re spending and how much you’re allowed to spend in different areas.

Create a spreadsheet, download an app, or label envelopes and fill them with cash for your monthly spending. Whichever method works for you, a budget will keep you on track.

6. Keep Things Bite-Sized

Don’t get so amped up on New Year’s celebrations that you set your sights sky high. Think about the financial goals you have achieved, as well as the ones you’ve missed. Look for where or when you tend to veer off track.

That will help you set your sights on goals you can achieve. You can also break down your goals into monthly, weekly or even daily checkpoints. Do whatever you need to do to make this the year you can check that resolution off your list.

7. Put Your Financial Goals on Autopilot

If you’ve ever looked at your income over the past year and wondered where all your money went, there’s a good chance it was eaten up by lattes, drive-thrus, or impulse buys. It’s those little things that can really kill a budget.

One way to correct that is to automate your payments and savings contributions, so that a portion of your paycheck is immediately going where you want it to.

If that money isn’t sitting in your account, you can’t spend it mindlessly. Without doing anything other than setting up that one time automated transfer, you’re accruing savings where they need to be.

There are endless opportunities to improve your financial health, but the key to getting there lies in the baby steps that seem small along the way. Make this the year you finally check every resolution off your list.

 

Heather SwickAbout the Author: Heather Swick is an author, freelance writer, and editor who has worked for news outlets, national magazines and blogs. She is driven to help others achieve their career and financial goals and share her own experiences along the way.

How to Determine What You’re Worth

How to Determine What You're Worth

One of the biggest questions people have when starting a business or going out on their own to freelance is how to determine what you’re worth. How do you decide what to charge for your time, services, knowledge, or products?

Common advice is to determine what you’re worth to the marketplace, and then ask for the appropriate amount of money based on your findings. As wonderful as that sounds, what does that even mean?

There is something to be said for how worth, and in particular self-worth, leads to more money over the course of one’s career. In a study conducted by Kansas State University and Klontz Consulting Group, researchers found a considerable correlation between a healthy sense of self-worth and financial satisfaction.

There’s concrete evidence that determining your self-worth and acting accordingly can lead to better finances. Here are a few tips on how to determine what you’re worth.

How Do You Feel About Money?

While researching what other people in your market are charging or determining your rates based on experience can be helpful, none of it will matter if you don’t think you actually deserve the money. That’s why it’s important to first start with how much you value yourself and how that plays into your money.

In the same study mentioned above, researchers used the Money Attitude Scale created by Drs. Yamauchi and Templer. This is a scale used to measure someone’s beliefs about money in an effort to see what could be affecting their financial behavior. A common theme researchers have found is that a very strong belief about money can affect whether or not someone retains or disposes of money.

The same can be true of making money. If you have a strong belief that making money is difficult or that you won’t be able to make what you want, then that’s exactly how you will end up behaving.

So, before determining your rates based on your worth, first check in to see where you stand when it comes to your own worth. Do you have doubts that you’ll be able to get the money you ask for? Do you find yourself saying things like, “Who would pay me that much for my service?” All of these are important things to notice and be mindful of.

If you notice any repetitive negative patterns when it comes to money, then it may be time to do some self-reflective work around the issue. Money: A Love Story by Kate Northrup and Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill are good places to start.

Do Some Market Research

Once you’ve identified and begun working on any psychological barriers that could be getting in the way, the next step requires a bit of research.

Some people may find it helpful to see how others within their industry set up their business models and pricing schedules. Just note that one person’s model or pricing may not actually work for you. Instead, try to use this research as a template or a jumping off point you can customize to fit your own business and financial needs.

It’s also important not to fall into the trap of competing on price. That strategy may work for Walmart, but it won’t work for freelancers and entrepreneurs.

You don’t want to undervalue your services because you’re afraid people you work with or buy from you will go to cheaper providers. Remember, research has found a correlation between self-worth and financial satisfaction, so underpricing based on what you see during your market research would be an example of short changing yourself.

Focus on Results and Value

This is the real kicker in how to determine what you’re worth when you’re a freelancer or running your own business. When setting your rates and selling your services, what your potential clients will care about most is the kinds of results you can get them.

Do they have a complicated situation you can help them sort out as a consultant? Have you been able to help customers achieve a tangible ROI? Have you been able to help people reach a particular outcome?

Freelancers and entrepreneurs often don’t give themselves enough credit for the incredible work they do. It’s usually because people aren’t accustomed to actually acknowledging their successes, and instead go straight for the next goal they want to accomplish. Not giving yourself credit (which means not acknowledging your worth) is then usually reflected in lower pricing.

How to determine what you’re worth requires both psychological and tactical exercises to help you find the numbers that work best for you.

 

Amanda AbellaAbout the Author: Amanda Abella is an Amazon bestselling author, speaker and personal finance expert who helps millennials make money their honey through online business. She has built an online brand that touches thousands each month and has been featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Seventeen Magazine and more.