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Financial Literacy 101: Let's Get Started!

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Posted by Michelle Vargas, CFP®

April is Financial Literacy Month and there is a national campaign aimed at providing children and adults with greater financial education.  

There are a plethora of ways to increase your financial literacy, whether you are a seasoned pro or just getting started.  Almost everyone I talk to wants to be more financially savvy and there are so many ways that exist to improve your financial literacy. To get you started, here are four steps to help you move forward: 

Make A Monthly Spending Plan

Creating (and following!)  a monthly spending plan or a budget is one of the most critical steps for financial success.  It sounds easy, but it takes time.  However, it is time well spent and it is the core to creating a strong financial foundation. 

It doesn't have to be complicated to make a monthly spending plan.  Here are a few pointers that may help to get you started: 

  1. First, add up your gross monthly income. Often this includes your salary, investment income, Social Security, child support/alimony, freelance work, or other income sources. Remember to figure out your net income as well, which is the amount left over after taxes and other deductions.
  2. Consider what you value and what truly is a priority.  Allocate your budget to these areas first or these important items will get the leftovers!  Remember to set aside money for a significant purchase, such as a home or car, in addition to your usual monthly spending.  The most essential thing is to figure out what matters most to you and make sure your budget reflects those values.  
  3. Now that your most important expenses are taken care of, what are the other categories for where your money is spent?  Pull out your checkbook and credit card statements. List every expense category and write down what you are spending.  Have a heart-to-heart with yourself and determine which expenses are really necessary and which are not. What can you cut that is a want and not a need?  It is helpful to remember that a dollar not spent today, can be put to work to build your future whether it is paying down your mortgage, contributing to your retirement plan, or saving for a business.  Set aside time to assess your spending plan by making sure it is aligned with your values and goals. Review your budget on an ongoing basis and hold yourself accountable for how you are doing.  There are several apps that will track your expenses and that will help save you time and keep you honest! Make adjustments as your goals change.  Measure your progress and celebrate your victories because each step forward will encourage you to continue.

Know Your Number! Your Credit Score Is Important

If you haven't checked your credit score in a while, now is an excellent opportunity to do so.  When it comes to assessing your financial health, your credit score is a crucial indicator of how you are doing.  It is an important factor when you apply for mortgages and car loans.  You may be eligible for lower interest debt if you have a higher credit score, and this helps save you money. 

Make a note on your calendar to check your credit report at least once per year since there is no cost.  The Federal Trade Commission also has more information under Advice and Guidance on their website.  

It is critical to review your credit report to ensure that there are no errors or incorrect accounts in your name.  If you see something on your credit report that doesn't appear to be correct, such as a late payment, or a credit line that you didn't open, contact your financial institutions immediately. File a dispute as soon as possible with the credit reporting agencies so this will be noted in your credit file. 

So Many Choices - Options For investing

After you have saved for emergencies and paid off consumer debt, you may want to consider looking into investments that are more aligned with your long-term goals.  Working with a financial advisor can help you understand your alternatives because there are so many choices and all investments have risks.  At a minimum, you should be familiar with some of the most prevalent investments such as: 

  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • Mutual Funds
  • ETFs

There Are No Dumb Questions!

It can be intimidating to talk about money, but everyone has felt that way at one time or another.  No one was born knowing about money!  Use April's Financial Literacy Month to make a goal to learn one or two financial concepts and contact an expert who can help. Your questions deserve answers and a good financial advisor will take the time to help you without judgment or making you feel inadequate. Your financial future is important and your future self and family will thank you for the steps you take today. 

Progress in Financial Literacy comes by taking consistent steps one day at a time.  Pick one or two areas that you need to focus on, write them down, and then commit to moving forward by taking baby steps.  Becoming financial savvy is an investment in time that can pay dividends in the future.  You will be so thankful you took these steps in gaining financial wisdom! 

**Michelle Vargas, CFP®,  is a Fee-Only Fiduciary Financial Advisor serving clients in Fort Worth, Texas, and virtually nationwide.  She enjoys helping clients manage their wealth so they will have their important concerns addressed and resolved.  She works in a Fiduciary capacity and receives no sales or commission-related compensation.

This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information and is for educational purposes. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult your financial, legal, or tax professional for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.