I spend a lot of time reading, writing, and thinking about personal finance. There are all kinds of “do’s” and don’ts” of personal finance, and they vary depending on the person giving out the advice.
There are plenty of folks out there to tell you what you should always do with your money and what you should never do with your money. And sometimes they give good advice. For example, you should always accept responsibility for your financial situation and you should never do anything illegal or morally wrong for money.
But sometimes these well-intentioned financial pundits take an “all or nothing” approach to money. You must do whatever they say. I’m here to tell you that you don’t! Personal finance doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Instead, you need to assess your situation and determine what works best for you.
I’ll give you a few examples of what I mean.
You must max out your contributions to your 401K and Roth IRA.
While doing so will most certainly help you achieve your retirement goals, most people would struggle with coming up with the $23,500 needed annually to max out their retirement contributions.
When folks hear advice like that, many opt to do nothing at all. Doing nothing certainly doesn’t help you reach your retirement goals.
Instead, determine whether your employer offers matching funds for your 401k. Many employers will match what you contribute to a 401k in amounts of 3 to 5 percent. This is money that you are entitled to as part of the benefit of working for that company. It is “free money,” so to speak. Contribute whatever amount you have to contribute to get the match.
Then put as much money as you can into your Roth IRA. If you can’t afford to max out your account, that’s okay. Just do what you can. Any amount that you can put away for your future is going to help you.
Saving a little for retirement is better than not saving at all.
You got a windfall? You should put all of it toward your debt.
Let’s say you got a big tax refund, or you worked a bunch of overtime and got a big paycheck, or maybe you inherited some money. Some financial advisors will tell you should use that entire amount to pay off your debt.
Paying off debt is a good thing. It’s a powerful way to gain control of your financial situation. But if you don’t have any kind of emergency fund established, you will be right back in debt as soon as the next emergency arrives. Put some of the money toward your debt and put some into savings.
There’s also something to be said about having a little money to blow, too. When you are working hard to dig out of debt and extra money comes your way, it feels great to put it toward that debt and reach your goal sooner. But if all you ever do is toil with no reward, it can cause you to feel deprived and discouraged. Take a small amount of your windfall – even it’s just $20 – and do something fun with it.
It would probably be a mistake to take the entire windfall and blow it on something fun. It is far better to do several good things with that extra money then to do just one thing.
Saving money is a waste of time. You should focus on earning more money instead.
There are financial pundits out there who will tell you that doing things like clipping coupons or shopping the sales or figuring out how to save $20 a month on your car insurance is a big waste of time. They’ll tell you to stop going after the little bits of money you can save and go out there and figure out how to bring in more money.
But that “all or nothing” attitude doesn’t work for everyone. Some folks are not in a situation to go out and earn more money due to the choices they’ve made (like being a stay-at-home parent) or because of health issues. Saving money, then, is a way to make financial success accessible to everyone.
Those who see the most success in their personal finances are those who are able to do both – to find ways to earn more and find small ways to save money in the things they do every day. Those folks may not work constantly or do every little money-saving thing they can. Instead, they do what works best for them.
Remember, personal finance doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Your money is a tool that can be used in more than one way. It is up to you to decide how to use that tool. There is never one solution, and there are many compromises you can make. Sure you might make a mistake or two, but you will learn from those mistakes and be better for them. Seek advice from trusted sources, read as much as you can, and ask questions. Then you take responsibility for the action you take.