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Personal Finance Advice: Five Tricks and Treats for Your Finances

Written by Steve Repak on October 17, 2013 in Retirement  |   5 comments

How do you feel about your finances—are you scared to death? Are you on track to meet your financial goals for this year? Has your financial life derailed instead? If your finances are more frightening than watching a scary movie alone at midnight on Halloween,…

money managementHow do you feel about your finances—are you scared to death? Are you on track to meet your financial goals for this year? Has your financial life derailed instead?

If your finances are more frightening than watching a scary movie alone at midnight on Halloween, treat yourself to these five money management tricks. It may turn out that your finances are not scary as you once thought.

Financial trick: Set up a “me” account so you can enjoy some of your hard-earned money.

Treat: Guilt-free spending that won’t break your budget.

Just as dieters who swear off dessert often find themselves miserable, savers who put every penny away may find themselves too wrapped up in their budgets to indulge in any non-essential spending. And, just like many dieters, hard-core savers may find themselves unable to stick to their saving regimens for long.

Extremes seldom work, and I have found that people who can find balance are generally happier and more successful at meeting their goals. Start by opening a “me” account and allotting a small portion of what you bring home each month towards it via an automatic deposit. Then, you can spend this hard-earned cash any way you want—without fear of busting your budget.

Financial trick: Start giving to a charitable organization.

Treat: Tax deductions for you, help for your neighbors.

The cornerstone of financial security is learning to live on less than you make, and you will have no choice but to do this when you start giving to charity. As a result, you’ll get better at budgeting the money you have at your disposal. You could even end up with a little more money in your pocket.

Depending on your situation, you may receive a tax deduction for your charitable giving, so keep track of your donations throughout the year.

Of course, charity is not just about the benefits to you—it’s also about what it does for the recipients. It is not important to which charitable organization you give, only that you are giving and helping others.

Financial trick: Track your spending for 30 days.

Treat: Extra money you never knew you had.

Often, people have no idea just how much money they are wasting until they are forced to see it. For the next 30 days, keep all of your receipts every time you spend money. When you get home each night, write down in detail where, when, and how much you spent for the day.

At the end of the month, you may find you have an extra $100 to $250 in your account because you finally figured out how much you were wasting on non-essentials. A $4 coffee doesn’t sound extravagant, but if you purchase one every day, you’ll be spending around $120 over the course of the month. By tracking your daily spending, you will quickly realize where you can start cutting back to save money.

Financial trick: Reduce the number of personal exemptions you claim on your W-4.

Treat: Money in your pocket after tax season.

By claiming fewer exemptions on your W-4, you will have more money withheld in taxes from your paycheck. Some people will say I’m dead wrong to advise the use of this trick because you are essentially giving the government an interest-free loan. But the fact is, some people just can’t put money away. If you’re one of those people, this is a way to force yourself to save.

After tax season, you will have a bigger tax refund than you received prior to adjusting your W-4. This windfall can be used as the foundation for your savings the next year.

Financial trick: Start contributing to your company retirement plan.

Treat: Free money for your retirement.

If your company matches your retirement contributions, putting money into your 401(k) is a no-brainer. Many companies eliminated this benefit during the Great Recession, but as the economy has rebounded, more companies are once again matching.

Depending on the plan, you could get an additional 3 percent to 5 percent of your salary each year in matching benefits from your employer. That means if you put money into your account, your employer will also put money into your account, which translates into free money. Do not pass this up—you should plan on contributing, at a minimum, enough to max out the employer’s contribution so that you don’t leave any free money on the table.

Trying something new with your finances can be scary. But by trying some new money management tricks, you could end up with financial treats that will last you well into next year.

Steve Repak, CFP®, is the author of  Dollars & Uncommon Sense: Basic Training for Your Money.

5 comments

  1. Rusty from Virginia says:

    Makes perfect sense. Pay yourself first with a Me account and put money into your retirment account. It doesn’t sound so scary!

  2. Diane R says:

    Agree. So many people think their checking account balance is available for spending, so keep some money OUT of it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I had a problem wasting a lot of money and finally took the time to open a savings account with an online bank where it took some effort for me to have access to my cash. Over the last several months I have been able to build my savings a little each month.

  4. Tom says:

    I personally don’t agree with having more money with-held on your taxes because you are basically giving the government an interest free loan on your money. I guess though for people who have a hard problem saving, it might make sense for them.

  5. Life long saver says:

    The comments make sense and I’ve followed in this order most of them but one. First, pay your Church, house of worship or charitable organization. I know you can’t out give God. But, if you beleive in another deity then see if they will reward you for thinking about them first.


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