You likely already know most of what you need to know to succeed in maximizing your personal financial situation. The problem is acting on it.
You've likely heard or read about many of the best suggestions and tips before. But go through the following list of questions and keep score. Are you heeding the wisdom you have gained?
Answer "yes" or "no" to each question, and at the end, we'll see how you did:
1. Do you properly maintain your vehicle
? It only takes five minutes to check and maintain the proper tire pressure for your vehicle each month. In addition to saving gas, it will extend the life of your tires -- saving even more money. Keeping your car uncluttered also is important. The extra weight of towing your stuff around makes the car use more gas.
2. Do you avoid impulse shopping
? Giving yourself enough time to research a major purchase will make it much more likely that you will get an item that best fits your needs. It will also give you the time to compare prices from different retail outlets so that you get it for a good price. Even for smaller purchases, like groceries, a little planning can go a long way. When you shop with a list of the items you need, you are
much less likely to buy things you don't need or forget something, which will force you to waste gas to make another trip to the store.
3. Do you use coupons and apply for rebates
? There are
billions of dollars worth of coupons available each week and if there is a coupon for something that you are going to buy anyway, then it's like throwing away money when you don't use it. The same is true with rebates. If you don't send in the rebate form after making a purchase of something that has a rebate, you are throwing away money.
4. Do you pay off your credit card balance every month
? Credit cards
charge incredibly high interest rates. While this is good for the credit card companies, it is a terrible drain on your finances. By paying off your credit card bill in full each month, you get
certain advantages without any of the cost.
5. Do you max out your 401(k) match
? If your company matches funds on contributions you make to your 401(k) plan, it's free money with a return far higher than you are likely to find anywhere else. You should make every effort to contribute the maximum amount the company will match.
6. Do you contribute the maximum amount to your IRA each year
? The IRS offers a nice tax break for those who invest in an IRA -- either a tax break the year you contribute (standard IRA) or no taxes on the interest earned when you withdraw the money (Roth IRA). Either way, it's a tax perk that you should take full advantage of.
7. Do you direct deposit your paycheck and pay yourself first
? If you try to save money after paying for all your other obligations, there often won't be enough money at the end of the month to save anything. If you pay yourself first, however, it's much more likely that you will make your budget work and have the savings at the end of the month. Doing that through direct deposit is one of the easiest ways to accomplish it. Pay yourself first to make sure that you put aside the savings you need -- in your 401(k), your
emergency fund or personal savings.
8. Do you place your savings in a high-interest online bankingaccount
? Most banking accounts pay very little in interest and in the past there was often little you could do about it.
Internet banking has changed all that. You can earn more than 5% on your savings rather than the 1% your bank is likely paying you now.
9. Do you avoid unhealthy habits
? The cost of smoking isn't just the price of the pack of cigarettes. It also increases the cost of car, home and life insurance and devalues the price of your car, possessions and home. Similarly, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or eating too much junk food can be detrimental to your health, eventually costing you higher insurance premiums.
10. Do you make your own meals and coffee
? If you still are making that Starbucks stop each morning on your way to work and going out to the local restaurant each noon instead of getting up 20 minutes earlier to make your own brew (which can taste better for less money) and lunch (which will be healthier), you're wasting money. There is nothing wrong with going out for a meal now and then, but you will eat healthier and save a lot of money if you cook most of your meals at home.
If you answered "yes" to all of the above questions, give yourself a pat on the back. You not only know a lot about personal finances, but you're also acting on that knowledge. If you answered "yes" to between six and nine, there is significant room for improvement. If you answered "yes" to less than six, review the list again and work out a strategy to improve your score.
There could be a number of variables as to why you do or do not put these personal finance basics into action, but this quiz should give a good indication about whether you need to begin doing what you already know is best.
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Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs SavingAdvice.com.