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Starting out

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If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve developed more than a passing interest in getting your finances organized. The stages for which this is new for you will be referred to as “starting out” and this article is going to walk you through the steps to beginning your organized financial future – and ensure that you know how to do it right!

Expenses

What are your expenses that go out every month? What about every week? You should know these, it’s a critical first step to effectively managing your personal finances. The first step here then is to sit down and make a comprehensive list of your expenses.

To ensure you’re not forgetting any thing, consider that most people include expenses in the following categories:

  • Council rates
  • Clothing
  • Dining out
  • Fitness expenses
  • Grooming
  • Housing: mortgage/rent
  • Internet packages
  • Insurance
  • Leisure activities
  • Mobile devices
  • Transportation (fuel, insurance, etc.)
  • Utilities (gas, electricity, and water)

Having this list enables you to carefully examine your budget, knowing what has to go out and what doesn’t. The next step here is to make sure that all of it truly has to go out, and that you’re getting the best deals that you can be. Let’s look at these expenses a little closer, and see if you don’t just get the idea.

Bank fees

Always make sure you don’t qualify for any additional student or senior discounts on your bank account, as these often can save upwards of $10 per month.

Credit

If you’re looking to carefully manage your expenses, look at your relationship with credit. Make sure the bill due dates are programmed into your calendars to avoid late payment fees and interest charges, share an account as a family to prevent the need for multiple cards, and avoid overextending yourself lest you fall into debt.

Debt

If you’re in debt it can be a huge pull on your finances, and a stress on yourself. Start today making a plan to reduce your debt. If it’s mainly credit card debt, contemplate a balance transfer, which could temporarily save you interest to allow you to pay it off even quicker than normal.

Discounts

Discounts are a huge element of reducing expenses. There are two primary sources of discounts you need to be aware of: age, and military service.

Senior discounts – If you’re a senior and you’re not already taking advantage of these discounts, prepare to save. Check out www.seniorscard.com.au for a full list here, but the truth of the matter is that any one above the age of 60 often qualifies for at least some discounts (some more so than others, varying primarily by state regulations). Look into this if you haven’t already!

Veterans

If you or your spouse has served within the military the country often thanks you for your/their service through the use of a Veterans Affairs (discount) Card. If you think that you may qualify and haven’t already been using one, contact the Veterans Affairs department to discuss potential eligibility.

Discounts aside now, let’s take a look at how to work with your other expenses.

Electronic expenses (mobile, cable, internet)

Now it’s time to take a harsh look at your monthly mobile, cable, and internet expenses. Are you getting the best deal possible? If the answer to this is uncertain for you, it’s time to re-examine your packages. Ask yourself the following questions to get started:

Could you be bundling your services?

Do you need both a mobile and a landline?

Do you still use cable enough to justify the expense?

There’s a huge possibility for reducing your monthly expenses here, particularly if you decide you may not need something like cable or a landline, saving you every single month.

Entertainment costs

The name of the game with entertainment expenses is “sale”. Look for the cheap night at the theatre, head out to the community centre instead of on a vacation, and do things like going for a walk instead of out for dinner.

These will help, and entertainment costs are also very often hooked up to discount cards. If you frequent an establishment and it’s a common expense, consider asking about a discount card of some kind, and, as always, look into the possibility of a seniors discount.

Home ownership – Yay or nay?

Is home ownership still right for you? This is a personal question, but one that could save (or cost) you thousands every year. Even if home ownership is right for you, are you in the right home for you? Maybe the kids have moved out, maybe you didn’t grow your family as much as you thought you would, maybe you’re finding you’re just not using the space… if any of these situations sound like you, it may be time to consider a downsize to save yourself money, property taxes, and even utilities (as they tend to be lower on smaller homes).

Insurance costs

Let’s take a minute and discuss insurance. There are a few things you want to ensure here, primarily surrounding understanding your policies and getting the maximum discounts on them that you can.

Understanding your benefits

Make sure that you’re aware of exactly what your insurance covers you for, particularly health insurance. Some providers try to raise premiums (or cover less) as you age, not a great thing if you’re getting older and more prone to hurting yourself. Make sure that you know exactly what your policy does, and does not cover, to make sure you’re not paying for something that can’t help any way.

Additionally, ensure that your doctor and dentist are on your insurance provider’s preferred list, as this can often save hundreds of dollars every time you walk in their door – or cost it to you!

Getting the maximum discount you can on these services

This section pertains not just to health insurance, but also to home, car, and tenants insurance. You need to ensure your cost is as low as it can be, and you can do so by asking yourself three primary questions:

Could you save money by paying at a different frequency (annually instead of monthly perhaps)?

Could you save money by bundling your insurance with one provider?

Is there a seniors discount you could be taking advantage of?

These questions will have you well on your way to getting the best discount on insurance services that you possibly can.

Transportation

Transportation costs are one of the biggest, most costly categories you’re currently paying. When analyzing them, ask yourself questions like whether you actually need that second car, or whether the family car has to be as big as it is (and thus as bad on fuel as it is). Check out car sharing potentials in your area for a potentially lower cost transportation option, and if you’re a senior make sure you’re getting those discounts!

Utilities

Make sure that your provider is offering you the most competitive rate possible on your utilities, particularly if you’ve been with the same company for an extended period of time.

Other ways to save

So you’ve minimized your expenses, you have an accurate list of what you need to spend, and you’re ready for the next step? Consider the following tips to help you afford to save.

  • Always look for and ask about discounts on regular expenses like grocery stores, movies, etc.
  • Buy in bulk wherever possible
  • Buy in season produce to avoid costly out of season shipping fees (freezing produce is fine)
  • Discount days often occur for things like fuel, films, and other areas of life – always look for them and use them!
  • Don’t be afraid of generic prescriptions!

The real keys to saving are to know what you’re spending, ensure you’re getting the best deals that you can, try to stay out of debt, and manage from there. That’s it, you’re started!