6 Surprising Personal Finance Tips

Of course you want to use our free tool to compare and find the best possible credit card promotions. But beyond that, how can you streamline & dramatically improve your personal finances?

Good question. Here are five free and fast ways to take greater control of your money.

Personal finance tip #1: Use a free personal finance tracking/analysis service like Mint.com to get an aggregate view of all your accounts and what you’re worth. Mint, in particular, does a fantastic job of showing your total cash across all of your accounts and investments — and your total debts, including a mortgage, student loans, or credit card debt.

This “disciplines” you into spending less, and saving more. Additionally, I love seeing how my personal expenses fluctuate from month to month, and precisely which spending categories are eating up most of my money (dining out, travel, entertainment, etc). I use Mint personally and definitely recommend them. I don’t have any financial relationship with them.

Personal finance tip #1b: Ruthlessly avoid cash-based “phantom expenses.” These are expenditures which are almost always paid for in cash, making them very hard to track — only the most self-disciplined individual will remember to input every single cash transaction into Mint’s app. Most won’t bother with this tedious task, meaning several hundred dollars per month (or perhaps several thousand dollars per month, for some) are completely unaccounted for in your personal budget. Phantom expenses include: filling up your gas guzzler at the gas station using cash instead of credit, visiting strip clubs or night clubs too frequently ($15 drinks and cover charges add up), gambling, purchasing lottery tickets, etc.

Personal finance tip #2: Ditch bad credit cards. I’m frankly shocked by how many people tolerate mediocre garbage in their wallets. If your credit card isn’t rewarding you with valuable air miles or cold, hard cash back… you can almost certainly do better. Use our completely free credit card deals comparison tool to find an extraordinary credit card offer. Many of the offers there give you tempting sign-up bonuses, and don’t even have an annual fee. More than 2million visitors have used our tool since we first launched it to find better cards.

Personal finance tip #3: Aggressively pay down your debts, and don’t carry a balance. Few things drag down a credit score more than large outstanding credit card or personal loan debts. Not only will you get better offers from banks with a higher credit score, you’ll pay far less in interest charges — and you’ll have less stress. I hate paying interest. I don’t believe in giving anyone my hard-earned money if I can help it. That’s why, ideally, you should treat your credit card as a debit card — which is to say, spend less than you have in the bank, and pay off the balance in full each month so that you won’t pay a single penny in interest or finance charges! Plus you’ll earn air miles, reward points, or cash back! It takes discipline, to be sure, but I love the feeling of getting cash back for nothing.

Personal finance tip #4: If you’re going to spend money on unnecessary or frivolous luxuries, remember that buying EXPERIENCES is more psychologically rewarding than buying THINGS. In other words, after 2 or 3 weeks the “new car excitement” will wear off and your morning commute will be much the same as before. But an extraordinary backpacking adventure through Europe or South America may cost far less than a new car, and the memories & stories would likely stay with you for years.

Similarly, a day at the spa may be more rewarding than buying a $150 shirt that you’ll soon lose interest in — or that will soon get stained, damaged in the wash, etc.

Personal finance tip #5: You can only slash your personal expenses so much before it becomes ridiculous, demoralizing, and frankly counterproductive. It’s good not to spend on unnecessary things constantly, but I’ve never met (or heard of) a billionaire who earned their wealth by denying themselves things like a morning coffee or evening glass of wine. Boosting your REVENUE/INCOME is a far more effective way of achieving financial freedom, rather than looking only to lowering your EXPENSES.

This list of personal finance tips originally appeared in slightly different form on Outlaw.

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