My parents and grandparents have always been ridiculously smart with their money. I was very fortunate to grow up listening to them bitch about their bills and then slaying every problem they came across. We ran into financial problems just like everyone else, but my family always made smart choices and nothing disastrous ever happened to us because of money. In fact, I learned a lot of valuable lessons about money management from them:
- Save, save, save. After you have taken care of all the essentials, put the rest of your money into a savings account and leave it there. Having a healthy emergency fund will make your life much easier if you suddenly lose your job or fall deathly ill. It might be tempting to splurge on something you don’t really need when you see all that money in your bank account, but stay strong. Don’t. Do. It.
- Kids make everything unpredictable. Having kids is expensive as hell, and you never know when they’re going to break their legs or accidentally burn down your shed. You can plan ahead all you want, but kids are going to find a way to screw with your finances eventually. That’s just the nature of having children, and there’s no point in getting angry about it. You can start college funds for them early and prepare for the basics, but be ready for some wild cards.
- Pay off your debt soon as you can. Student loans, mortgage payments, etc. should be your top priority until everything has been paid off. Falling behind on those monthly payments can get you and your credit in a crap load of trouble that’s very difficult to get out of. If you find yourself struggling to keep up with your debt, it’s time to cut back in other areas until you can catch up. No excuses-just get it done to save yourself the stress.
- It’s okay to be a bit stingy. If you don’t feel the need to blow money the way all your friends do, then good for you. Being strict with your money while you’re young will put you in a more stable position when you’re older. My grandfather, who was my money management idol, handled his money like a paranoid accountant for most of his life. His paychecks went to the essentials and the leftovers went straight to savings or investments. A lot of people probably thought he was cheap, but he was able to retire early and comfortably on a huge pile of money. He spent his retirement traveling, spoiling the hell out of his grandkids and generally doing whatever the hell he wanted. He was a badass, and I hope I can be like him eventually.
- Take care of your car. It’s much better to get maintenance done on your car as you go instead of waiting for an explosion or a flat tire to happen at an inopportune time. You’re going to sink quite a bit of money into cars in your lifetime and they’ll be one of the most important things in your budget. Make sure to set some money aside for upkeep and stay on top of maintenance so your finances don’t get destroyed by something that could have been an easy fix.
- Don’t be stupid with credit cards. Far too many people look at credit cards and think, “Gosh and golly gee! Free money!” Those shiny plastic rectangles are not a free pass to buy whatever you want, whenever you want. If you’re using one, you should be able to pay off your balance every month. Swiping a card at the cash register is easy, but spending years paying off thousands of dollars in credit card debt will suck. Badly.