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- While Eric Rosenberg has two finance degrees, he doesn’t believe you need one to manage your own personal finances.
- Even most professional investors can’t beat the market consistently, so most investors are best off building their own simple portfolio that tracks the market.
- If you’d prefer professional help with your money, SmartAsset’s free tool can help you find a licensed financial advisor »
It is natural to feel some uncertainty with your money, but that doesn’t mean you need to hire a financial professional to manage your money for you. Instead, you can keep those hard-earned dollars in your own accounts and manage your own finances.
I picked up two finance degrees over the years, but you don’t need a formal money education to handle your money. Following these basic steps will help you manage your personal finances like a pro.
Track your money with your eyes wide open
The biggest money mistake anyone can make is to ignore their finances. No one ever said, "I ignored my credit cards and retirement and they fixed themselves." You have to take charge and pay attention to every dollar that passes through your accounts.
Even wealthy households take the time to track their income, expenses, investments, and other financial details. It doesn’t matter if your bank account balance is $1 or $1 million, you have to pay attention. When tracking your spending, it’s important to assess whether you are getting the best value for every dollar spent and to vigilantly cut back on wasteful expenses or purchases you don’t really enjoy or benefit from.
You may want to use a free online budgeting app like Mint or Personal Capital to track your income and expenses. Paid budgeting app You Need a Budget uses a zero-based budgeting philosophy where every dollar you earn gets an assigned job. Even if you use a pen and paper, however, the most important feature of a budgeting plan is picking tools you will actually use at least monthly.
Build a low-cost portfolio that tracks the market
I have to finance degrees and an in-depth training on the stock market and investing. During grad school, I was part of a small team that managed a portion of the university’s endowment fund picking single stocks after a detailed analysis. After that experience, you might think I use the same methods with my own investments. I don’t!
Even professional investment managers with fancy Ivy League finance degrees typically underperform the market. Of all actively managed investment funds, only around 10% to 20% beat their market benchmark. This gives a whole new meaning to the idea of "if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em."
Low-fee index funds have ballooned over the last decade for good reason. Wise investors found that a low-cost S&P 500 index fund will probably outperform actively managed funds. Get on board with that wisdom and stop worrying about picking complicated or sexy investments. Instead, keep things simple and boring and you should be in the best shape when it comes time to retire.
Don’t lose track of goals and the details
Last, but certainly not least, take a moment to decide what is important to you. Most good financial advisors and planners ask clients about their goals and plans for things like retirement, travel, paying for a child’s education, big purchases, and more. If you don’t pay someone to ask you those questions, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider them.
For me, I would like to retire before the typical 60s or 70s. I want the freedom to travel. I don’t mind if my kids get a few student loans while contributing to their education, but I want to put away plenty of savings to help make sure those loans are not too big. I also have things like cars for my kids and weddings to pay for at some point in the future.
I can’t forget about these goals or I won’t reach them. Using a combination of tax-advantaged investment accounts, regular taxable accounts, and bank-based savings, I’m studiously saving regularly for everything above.
Personal finance doesn’t have to be complicated
What is most important to you may not be the same as your coworker or neighbor. Don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses. They probably have $10,000 in credit card debt. Instead, focus on your finances, your goals, and don’t let things get too complicated.
You don’t need an MBA to manage your money or investments. Reading a good book or two about retirement planning and investing will pay dividends for years to come.
If you use money as an excuse as to why you can’t do something, it’s time to change that attitude. When you take control of your money as your own financial planner, you can turn your money into a tool that helps you reach your goals.
That’s what good money management is all about.
Want professional help with your money? SmartAsset’s free tool can help find a licensed advisor to help with your financial goals »
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