7 Insider Secrets to Better Financial Health
by Anita Agers Brooks
Confession time. When I married my husband over thirty years ago, we committed mistakes in our youthful arrogance that cost us. Foolish decisions added to our monetary and emotional expenses. It took time to gain the kind of wisdom that only comes through experience.
In spite of our flawed ways, we were blessed early in our marriage. One Saturday, when I went to the bank to make a deposit, I received a bonus. The manager handed me a piece of paper and said, “You’ve got a good reputation in our community. Would you be willing to fill out this job application?”
At that time, I was happy in my role as a clerk at a shoe manufacturing plant. I had great benefits, weekends off, and a very structured schedule. But the branch manager was tenacious. He called me two to three times a week and approached me every time I entered the bank. After a few weeks, I finally relented and agreed to a formal interview with the bank president and human resource manager. I had no intention of taking the job.
Benefits sometimes come in surprising packages. After a two-hour interview with the bank’s decision makers, I found myself saying yes. Over the next eight years in my banking career, I was privileged to gain insider knowledge about ways to achieve better financial health. I helped many customers by passing on the education I received. But I also learned strategies that strengthened my own family’s financial fabric. Seven particular practices transformed our situation—I hope they’ll help you, too.
1. Create and use a budget. Budgeting impacted our decisions and changed our lives. A visual helps you clearly understand where you’re at and provides clarity on what you most need to focus on. I’ve used budgets to insure all our bills are paid on time, to help me see what bills we can or should focus on paying off the fastest, as well as to determine whether a new purchase is smart. If you aren’t sure how to create a budget, I offer a template form and other financial tips on my website at https://www.anitabrooks.com/budget-information-and-forms/.
2. Check your credit reports. Inaccurate information can slip into your historical data unaware and could cause a reduced score without your knowledge. Too many recent credit checks add another factor that can drive your score down. Every negative is a part of the formula which decides what interest rates you are offered. You may not think it matters much, but over months and years, this could cost you a lot.
3. Break up your payments. If you have a simple interest, no pre-payment penalty loan of any kind, you can usually make partial payments. If you get paid weekly, divide your payment into quarters, and develop a habit of paying a fourth of your payment on every pay day. By reducing the principal faster, you lower the amount of interest you’re charged. If you get paid bi-weekly or twice per month, cut your monthly payment in half, and again, put it on your loan when you get paid. I’ve shaved months of payments off our loans by following this practice.
4. Minimize and down-size. In my book, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, I tell the true story of Tom and Wendy, who were forced by circumstance to do something they didn’t want to do—down-size. However, once they worked through the initial stages of grief, and took the necessary steps to reduce their debt, they ultimately discovered a much happier place by living with less. Sacrifice may feel painful at first, but eventually, you find it really brings relief.
5. Save slowly. Most of us can find at least one or two ways to trim our expenses, even if it’s in the most minute way. And if you’re wise, you’ll tuck your savings back. Consider this, if you save $10.00-$25.00 per week, over a year’s time, you will have $520.00-$1,300.00 when you’re done. Multiply by ten years, and you accumulate a lot of dough. Invest it in a savings vehicle with compounding interest, and you’ll amass a nice nest egg.
6. Take advantage of retirement savings plans. If you have one available through your work, sign up as soon as possible. If not, see a financial planner and see what the best options are for saving for your sunset years. Take my word for it, three decades passed in what feels like a blink of my eye. My husband and I are both stunned to find we are nearing retirement age. It seems like yesterday when we were those young, arrogant, foolish kids who thought we had plenty of time to prepare for the autumn season of our lives. Thankfully, we changed our early habits and invested, so we’ll be able to enjoy the fruit from our years of hard labor.
7. Increase your financial knowledge. One of my favorite blogs has insightful information going back to 2006. You can read and learn through recent and archived wisdom found at https://www.getrichslowly.org. If you’re willing to invest yourself, you can gain value at a master’s degree level, by searching through the many topics on making and saving money. But remember, knowledge is only as good as what you do with it. Act on as much as you can from what you read.
And there’s one extra tip that can help improve anyone’s financial health. It may sound strange, but it’s one of the most powerful exercises I’ve found. Exercise faith. Psalm 50:10-11 tells us that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, every bird, and every creature on every mountain. He owns everything, including all the dollars in every bank. He knows our needs, and He’s willing to help. The only thing required of us is to ask.
No matter your situation, if you practice the tips I’ve shared, you’ll soon see a difference. And when your monetary health improves, your emotional well-being gets a boost as well.
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