(BPT) - When did money get so complicated? From spending and charity to saving and investing, it's hard to know exactly what to do with your finances. Cut through the confusion and consider five smart ways you can use your money to your advantage today.
Bruce Helmer, award winning financial services advisor, author and radio host, believes in a straightforward, values-based approach to managing wealth. 'Money itself doesn't matter; it's the people and things you love that provide real wealth in life. Using your time and money to support what you value is the foundation of a rewarding financial plan.'
Helmer co-founded Wealth Enhancement Group and recently wrote the book 'Real Wealth: How to Make Smart Money Choices for What Matters Most to You.' He recommends five smart things to do with your money:
1. Spend it
Everyone spends money, but the key is to make thoughtful choices and determine necessities versus luxuries. Based on your personal values, necessities will vary, so it's important to take a realistic look at your priorities. Then you can determine what you need now and what can wait for the future.
Remember to avoid consumer debt and only spend what you currently have for day-to-day expenses. If you can't pay off a credit card each month, don't use it. Not only are you paying high rates of interest, but you're forfeiting the return you could be earning on those dollars if they were invested.
2. Save it
There are three main reasons to save: emergencies, spending and investing. Start with an emergency fund. Prior to the Great Recession, most people saved three month's worth of expenses. Today, with continued economic instability, six months is a wiser choice. Life is unpredictable, and you never know when injury or job loss will affect your income.
How much of your income should you save? A good goal is at least 10 percent. Remember, saving and investing are different. Saving puts money in a secure place readily available to you - making it a liquid asset. Investing puts money away, allowing it to grow for future use.
3. Invest it
Investing is a key part of growing your finances and securing your future. Smart investors make it a habit to pay themselves first, meaning each payday they designate a specific amount of money to investment accounts. Remember, a long-term investment plan with consistency and stability will overcome market swings. Start investing as soon as you can - time is a great ally.
The first step is to identify your individual goals and how much time you have to achieve them. Then talk with a trusted financial advisor about expected rate of return and risk levels of different investments and diversity your portfolio.
4. Manage your tax burden
Taxes are an often overlooked part of financial planning. But knowing how your money will be taxed today and in the future can help you make wise decisions. It's safe to say most people want to pay as little taxes as possible, and your decisions today will help you do that.
Balance taxable investments like CDs, money market accounts and bonds with tax-deferred investments like 401(k)s and traditional IRAs. Do not forget about the importance of tax-advantaged investments like Roth IRAs and life insurance too. Balancing these three types of taxable investments is important to a long-term financial strategy.
5. Give it away
At face value, giving money away may sound a little crazy, but sharing your wealth can be a rewarding part of a financial plan. Whether it be to a nonprofit, a faith community or to your own children, sharing money either during your lifetime or upon death is gratifying and can have many economic benefits.
Charitable donations done now are tax deductable this year, but other types of giving provide benefits in the future. For example, donating money in a will can possibly lower the estate tax liability to your heirs. Because tax laws are complex, it's important to work with a professional who can guide you in the right direction.
Helmer uses these five areas in his own financial plan and you can help secure your financial future by doing so also. For more expert money tips and to buy Helmer's book, visit www.BruceHelmer.com.