I recently talked with a friend who was into investing. She was somewhere in the midst of discussing different stock valuation theories when I finally realized I was in over my head.
The truth is most of us don't have the time or interest to become expert traders. But we do need to be responsible enough to provide for our families.
Every few months, we evaluate how well we are using our monies. That process has helped identify four simple principles. If we follow these basic principles, we're usually in a pretty good spot financially.1
1. Live by a Budget
If you don't currently follow a budget carefully, this is the first step. If you need a little help getting started, check out Dave Ramsey's guide. He's a popular radio-show host that specializes in helping others climb out of debt.
It's not enough to have a budget, though. You must live by it. Once it's set for the month, you must hold yourself to it. No matter how good the deal or how appealing the discount, if it's not in your budget, don't purchase it.
2. Have an Emergency Fund
By definition, an emergency fund is only used for emergencies. As a general rule, have enough saved for 3–6 months of income. Once you have this money set aside, guard it carefully.
You'll be tempted to dip into your emergency fund for a car purchase or a great deal on furniture. These are not emergencies. If your furnace goes out or your house floods, you can dip into your emergency fund.
3. Save for Retirement
The primary objection I always give to this principle concerns my kids. I want them to have a good life now. If I save for retirement, I won't be able to give them everything I want to give them in their childhood.
The truth is, saving for retirement is about the most loving thing you can do with your money. Guess who will likely take care of you finanically if you don't set money aside? Your children. If money is tight you may need to start small, but at least you're starting somehwere.
4. Make Money Decisions Together
If you are not single, make sure that both of you are agreeting to your financial plans each month. It does you no good to set up a plan without your spouse's agreement.
There's one common pitfall we've experienced. One of us makes the budget and just asks for our spouse to sign off. The better approach is to come up with the budget together from the beginning of the process.
1 This article is a summary of the author's opinions. As always, you should consult a financial professional for financial advice.