Prioritizing finances can be very difficult. Should you pay off debt? Save for retirement? Make extra mortgage payments? Save for your kids’ college fund? When you have a lot going on in your financial life, it can be hard to figure out what to do with your money today. Here are four tips to help you figure out what to do with your next dollar.
1. Pay off debt with high interest first.
Always focus on paying down debts with high-interest rates first, even if you have smaller debts that you think would be easier to pay off. The longer you have high-interest debt and the bigger it is, the more it costs you in the long run. Paying this debt off as soon as possible reduces the total amount you owe over time, freeing up more money every month. Try to pay more than the minimum monthly payment as often as possible.
2. Take advantage of high-return opportunities.
The best example of this is your employer’s 401(k) match. If your employer is willing to match up to a certain amount, ensure you’re contributing enough to get the most out of that match. If your employer offers a 10% match and you’re only contributing 8%, you’re leaving free money on the table. Throughout your career, this could be a huge lost opportunity.
3. Build an emergency savings plan.
It’s a good idea to have three months’ worth of living expenses saved, including mortgage or rent payments and money for food, gas, and all other monthly bills. It’s hard to think about saving up enough money for three months while also trying to pay down other debt, but if something happens, you’ll be happy you can weather it without having to go further into debt.
4. Divert cash to tax-advantaged accounts.
If you’re saving for specific goals, take advantage of tax-advantaged accounts whenever you can. You might not have a lot of flexibility in how you spend money in these accounts, but they are well worth it in the long run. Set up an HSA to get tax advantages on health care costs, put money into a 529 plan for education, and open an IRA for retirement savings. All of these come with big tax benefits, just make sure you don’t need access to the money early because you could face limitations on what you’re allowed to withdraw and face penalties on any withdrawals you do make.
If you need more help determining what strategies can help you make the most out of your next dollar, getting advice from a trusted financial planner can help.
Any opinions are those of Thomas Fleishel and not necessarily those of Raymond James. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Every investor’s situation is unique and you should consider your investment goals, risk tolerance and time horizon before making any investment. Prior to making an investment decision, please consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation.