Do you ever get overwhelmed by your personal finance numbers? With every piece of mail that comes through the front door come so many questions. Should I shred that? (probably.) How did they get my address? (It’s everywhere.) Should I take them up on any of their offers? (Hard to say, more research needed.)
Personal finance is a sticky subject. In some families, it’s considered taboo to talk about it at all outside the home. This can make the learning process so much more difficult both as a child and as an adult. How do we learn when everyone else is so tight-lipped?
The first place to start with personal finance is simply drawing up a list of the things you didn’t know you need to know. It can be a little overwhelming, but once you have it all written down you can go about filling in all the blanks.
Brace yourself, it may mean making phone calls, setting phone reminders for following up and finding out some hard truths. But once you have it all in hand, you can go about making sure you have the best situation possible.
Your Cost of Living
For most, cost of living generally includes rent or a mortgage, utilities, the costs of transportation and food. Of course, that’s just the basics. Anything that’s a fixed and required cost in your life falls into this category, like necessary medications.
In the long run, you’ll want to know what your daily, weekly, monthly and annual fixed costs are so that you can budget for them. That will allow you to compare these numbers to your income. A common personal finance mistake is to forget to budget for annual or 6-month expenses (like your car insurance, for example).
Your Emergency Fund Goal
Many financial experts would call your emergency fund contributions part of your cost of living, but we’ll separate it out here. The exact number is a judgment call on your part. Read some different opinions (there are many) on how much to save and see which one makes the most sense to you.
Your Credit Score
Your credit score is a number that many ignore…until they can’t. While it’s often a way to determine your interest rates for loans, it can also be pulled when you’re renting a new place. If it suddenly take a nosedive off the high board, it might also let you know that your identity has been stolen. Someone opening new credit cards in your name can bring your score down.
Your Gross Income per Paycheck
This one should be pretty easy! Figure out what you make per paycheck BEFORE anything is taken out and write down how often you get paid.
“Gross” just means the amount before anything like taxes are taken out. It’s a good personal finance number to know, even if it’s not what you get to take home. We’ll get to what those deductions might be in a bit. Hang on to both numbers if you have them, though.
Your Net Income per Paycheck
“Net” income is the amount that actually gets deposited in your account or written on your check. That’s minus any of those deductions we mentioned above. It’s not just taxes, either. Some deductions can be your retirement contributions or the amount you pay for your health insurance.
The Number of Paychecks You Get per Year
Paychecks usually come weekly, biweekly, twice a month (yes, this is different from biweekly!) or monthly. Students might get their funds once a semester or at the beginning of the school year, too.
Why is this important? For people who are biweekly, they generally have two 3-paycheck months each year. Knowing this will help you budget better.
Your Annual Gross and Net Income
If your income is the same for each paycheck, simply multiply this by the number of paychecks you get in a year. As we mentioned, someone on a biweekly schedule will have a couple more than a person on a bimonthly schedule, so make sure to check.
If your income varies, try taking the average of a few paychecks for a better idea of your income. Remember to keep your gross and net numbers separate, though!
Make sure you can find out what deductions there are from your pay (if any) for things like insurance, retirement and state and federal income taxes. If you don’t see at least tax deductions, make sure you know your plan for those before April next year so you don’t have a nasty surprise.
Your Expected Taxes
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach here. You’ll need to roll up your sleeves and do a bit of research if you don’t want to hire a tax person or file with one of those online programs that walk you through it.
If you don’t have taxes taken out of your paychecks, you’ll need to know how much you’re likely to owe in taxes in advance. This estimate is useful, because paying you taxes all at the end of the year will likely result in a fine. Quarterly payments to the IRS will avoid this fine, but you’ll need to know your annual income so you can make the estimate.
Debt Is a Personal Finance Number, Too
Car payments. Student loans. A mortgage. Credit Cards. Each of these is a common debt that many adults have. Make a list of any debts, their interest rates and the balances left on them. When you have all this information together in one place, it’s easier to figure out better ways to approach debt repayment. For example, a credit card with a higher interest rate should probably be receiving extra payments compared to one that has a lower rate.