Financial Literacy 101: Brush Up on Your Financial Skills
Financial Literacy teaches the basics of money management; ie, budgeting, saving, debt, and investing. This knowledge lays a foundation to build strong money habits and avoid many of the mistakes that lead to lifelong money problems.
Whether you're a financial wiz or just learning the ropes, you can always improve your financial literacy. Here are four tips to get you started.
Make a Monthly Budget
One of the most important steps in ensuring financial success is creating a monthly budget. This may sound simple, but a budget is your financial strategy's foundation.
Creating a monthly budget doesn't have to be complicated. Here's how to ensure you're setting yourself up for financial success:
- First, calculate your gross monthly income. This could include your salary, investment income, Social Security, child support/alimony, freelance work, or other income sources. Remember to calculate your net income as well, which is how much is left after taxes and other deductions.
- Speaking of priorities, consider your financial priorities and allocate your budget accordingly. In addition to your regular monthly expenses, you might decide to increase your general savings or earmark money toward a large purchase such as a home or car. The important point is to decide what's important and to make sure your budget reflects those values.
- Finally, create expense categories for where your money is spent and track each and every expense. It's important to differentiate between wants and needs. You need to pay the rent or mortgage payment, but you want a new pair of shoes or a nice dinner out. By tracking your spending, you can determine whether your budget is aligned with your priorities or if you should make adjustments to meet your goals.
Check Your Credit Score
If it's been a while since you checked your credit score, now is a great time to see where you stand. Your credit score is an important metric when considering your financial health and will play a larger role when you apply for loans, especially mortgages and car loans. If you have a higher credit score, you may qualify for lower-interest debt, which will save you money.
You can check your credit for free or you can request a free annual credit report from the Federal Trade Commission.
Reviewing your credit report is important to ensure there aren't any mistakes or incorrect accounts assigned to you. If you notice something on your credit report that doesn't look accurate, such as a loan or credit card you don't remember opening, contact your financial institutions immediately. You can also file a dispute with the credit reporting agencies to report any false information you find.
Understand Your Investment Options
As you become more financially literate and feel comfortable talking about finances, you may consider looking into investments that are aligned with your goals. There are so many different types of investments and working with a financial advisor can help you understand your options. You should also educate yourself on some of the most common investment types, including:
- Mutual Funds
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
Talking about finances can be intimidating, but we all must start somewhere. Make it a goal to learn one or two new facts about finance and contact an expert who can help. You can turn to financial advisors and financial publications to get your questions answered without feeling naive or silly. There's no such thing as a dumb question when it comes to becoming more financially literate and secure.
Financial literacy doesn't come from making big leaps but rather from taking one step at a time. Pick one of the options above and start yourself on the path to become financially savvy.
As always, let us know if you have any questions.
CRA Investment Committee
Matt Reynolds CPA, CFP®
Tom Reynolds, CPA
Robert T. Martin, CFA, CFP®
Gordon Shearer Jr., CFP®
Jeff Hilliard, CFP®, CRPC®
Joe McCaffrey, CFP®
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