Survey participants who were content with their finances felt both secure and free. They reported feeling in control of their daily finances and confident in their ability to rebound from a financial setback. They were free to set their own priorities so they could enjoy life without jeopardizing their ability to meet longer-term financial goals.
You’re in controlFinancial well-being is a scalable concept. You may feel in control if you pay your credit card balance in full each month, meet your employer match in your 401(k), and take a modest family vacation each summer. Others may have different parameters: They may feel in control only if they’re debt-free, ready to retire, and travel abroad twice a year.
“Regardless of where you fall on the scale,” said Giordano, “keep in mind that you’re defining what you need to feel content—which may, in and of itself, give you a feeling of control.”
5 ways to move closer to contentmentAlthough contentment depends, in part, on your mindset, it also depends on the health of your finances. The tips below can help you make the most of your money.
Live within your meansBe familiar with your financial resources. Even if you don’t have the motivation to make a detailed budget, understand what you have coming in versus going out—and avoid going into the red. “Outlining your financial priorities can help you distinguish between your wants and needs,” said Giordano.
Use credit responsiblyLiving within your means and using credit aren’t mutually exclusive. A credit card can help you track your expenses, build your credit history, provide some fraud protection, and even help you earn rewards—such as cash back, money for college, or airline miles. “If you use credit cards responsibly, you can take advantage of the benefits and essentially eliminate the risk of getting into debt,” Giordano said.
“If you only charge what you can afford to pay off within that billing period—and you make your payments on time—you’ll pay no interest on your purchases, but you’ll still be eligible for all the perks, including rewards.”
You’re in control . . . but you’re not alone
Make smart decisionsWhenever you make a purchase, you’re trading your hard-earned money for a product or a service. Make sure it’s a fair trade.
“Whether you rely on word-of-mouth, recommendations, or online reviews, taking time to carefully consider your options before making a monetary commitment can help you find the right product or service for your needs, ensure that you’re paying a reasonable price, and help you avoid buyer’s remorse,” Giordano said.
Make goals and work toward themSet yourself up for success. “Set goals that are measurable and attainable,” said Giordano. “For example, rather than having a really broad goal like ‘save for retirement,’ break it down. Start by figuring out how much income you’ll need in retirement. Then backtrack and set a specific savings goal. When you have a specific number to work toward, you can pinpoint exactly how much you need to save each paycheck, each month, or each year. And you may even find that you can ‘afford’ to direct some of your savings to another goal, like saving for college.”
People are generally more successful when they set goals for themselves and make a plan to achieve them. “The tools and calculators on vanguard.com can help you make a plan, or if you want more help, you can partner with an advisor,” said Giordano.
Save. Invest. Repeat.Save for the short term and invest for the longer term. Bank accounts and money market funds are ideal when you don’t want to take a chance that your money will go down in value—and when you’re building an emergency fund.
Retirement accounts offer tax advantages that can help you save more for retirement, and 529 college savings plans offer tax perks that can help you save more for higher education. You can also invest for other goals—like buying a house or a car.
First, open an account. Then contribute. Then contribute again, and again, and again. Financial contentedness is likely to follow suit.
*Financial well-being: The goal of financial education. U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 2015.
All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.