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You should have saved up for the big expenditures of life
You should be thinking about, anticipating and saving up for the big expenses of life. You will need to factor in your wedding, children, a pet, a house and other similar big ticket items. If you plan for these events, you'll be adjusting your lifestyle, you will be able to afford those expenses and you will not have to go into debt to pay for these items. You should probably try to budget a realistic amount to cover these expenses so you don't have to go into debt. Of course, another good idea is to forgo some of these expenses and question if they really are necessities.
You should be living within your means
By now, you should know about living within your means and also enjoying life. You should be able to put priorities on your spending and then save in other areas so you can enjoy those "guilty pleasures". Even if that pleasure is just a daily latte, you should be able to indulge yourself so long as you’re cutting your spending aggressively on other items. Also, be careful about comparing yourself to other people. What they skimp on may not be what you want to give up.
You should have emergency savings
We hope you already have an emergency fund. Most experts say this fund should be the equivalent of six month's worth of your living expenses and some say it's even better to have a year's worth as a better buffer. Of course, it's easy for those experts to say this. If you find that it’s extraordinarily difficult to save the equivalent of six month’s of living experiences, try for at least three. Life is full of unanticipated issues such as an automobile accident, a serious illness, a friend or family member who suddenly needs financial help or losing your job. If you don't have an emergency savings fund your only alternative will be to go into or further into debt.
You should be maxing out your 401(k) contribution
If your employer offers a 401(k), you should max out your contribution or at the very least meet your employer's match. A 401(k) is really the workingman's best friend. The money is taken out of your salary before you even see it – making your donation practically painless. If your employer does match your contribution this is like free money. While the stock market probably won't continue to grow the way it has the past several years you could still earn good money by choosing the right stocks or mutual funds for your 401(k). And if push comes to shove you could borrow from your 401(k), which means you would be borrowing from yourself and the interest you would pay you would be paying yourself. And that's not a really bad deal.
You should be a master of automation
You should by now have learned how to master the art of automation. If you send a chunk of your salary automatically to your savings every month you would be paying yourself first. And when you save money, you can tap into the power of compounding interest. This is when you earn interest on your savings, which is added to your savings and you then earn interest on it. If you automatically save as little as $50 a month for 30 years you would end up a millionaire – thanks to the power of compounding interest.
You should have a Roth IRA
If you have a conventional IRA, good for you. That's money that you save pretax, meaning it's money you don't have to pay taxes on. However, the downside to this is that you will have to pay taxes on the money when you begin withdrawing it. In comparison, with a Roth IRA you pay taxes on the money you deposit into the account but it's then tax-free when you withdraw it.
You should have written a will
None of us wants to think about our "final destination" but there's no way to avoid the fact that your life will ultimately come to an end. If you don't have a will, you will die intestate. If this occurs, a person will be named as your executor and will decide what happens to your property. Under intestate succession laws only spouses, and registered partners (if you live in a state where that's an option) and blood relatives can inherit. This means any friends, unmarried partners or charities would get nothing despite any intentions you might've had to the contrary. So, if you haven't done this already, go to an attorney or a site such as LegalZoom and get a will prepared That way you will be able to control exactly where your money and your properties go.
You should be paying off your high interest debts
If you haven't done this already you need to sit down and make a list of your debts in order from the one that has the highest interest rate down to the one with the lowest. Once you have your debts prioritized, you need to concentrate on paying off the one that has the highest interest rate. Of course, you will need to continue to making at least the minimum payments on your other debts. But when you pay off the one that has the highest interest rate, you automatically save the most money, which you can then use to begin paying off the debt with the second highest interest rate and so on.
You should have a decent credit score
If you've been handling your finances sensibly, which means keeping your credit card debts under control, you should by now have a fairly decent credit score – of 750 or above. Most lenders look at credit scores in ranges as follows.
- Very good or excellent – between 700 and 850
- Good credit score – between 680 and 699
- Average credit score – between 620 and 679
- Low credit score – between 580 and 619
- Poor credit score – between 500 and 579
- Bad credit score – between 300 and 499
If you haven't seen your credit score recently, you can get it from www.myfico.com for $19.95 or free if you sign up for a trial of the company’s Score Watch program. It's also possible to get a version of your credit score at sites such as www.creditkarma.com. If you have a credit score lower than 680, you may have some work ahead of you to get it raised. The reason for this is because there's an indirect ratio that exists between your credit score and how much interest you will be charged on a credit card or a loan. In other words, the higher your score the lower interest rate you will be charged.
You should have already read several good personal finance books
While some people like to think you can master personal finance instinctually, this is just not the case. If you really want to be on top of your personal finances you need to have by now read several books. If not, you need to get to work. You should probably start with Your Money or Your Life ($12) and Total Money Makeover ($18). Beyond these, the simple fact is that you just can't read too many books about money management.
You should know how to negotiate
Finally, by now you should have had some practice negotiating – over your salary, with service providers and others. While there are areas where it’s simply impossible to negotiate – like at your neighborhood supermarket – there are also many other areas where you can save money if you know how to negotiate successfully. If not, here’s a video with some good information about the art of negotiating.