If you feel overwhelmed by your finances — be it managing your monthly budget, saving for retirement or purchasing a new car — you’re not alone. Although we all deal with money in some capacity just about every day, many of us don’t feel confident with our financial knowledge and decisions. The good news is that knowledge is something you can control! Increasing your financial knowledge is within your grasp and can help you achieve not only your financial goals, but also your life goals — everything from a fun vacation, to a comfortable retirement, to a college education for your child. Here are a few easy ways to start empowering yourself with your finances. DO YOUR RESEARCH When it comes to your finances, knowledge really is power and will be your key to both financial freedom and security. There are many free resources online to help you get started. Free online financial calculators can help you set savings goals, determine how much loan you can afford and find out how much you could potentially save by refinancing your existing debt. Online cost estimators can help you get a good idea of what you can expect to spend on purchases — everything from groceries to a new car — so you can shop with confidence and keep within your budget. If you’re looking to reduce debt or save money, there are a variety of free budget worksheets and savings plans available online that can easily be customized to meet your needs. Not sure where to start? Try a reputable source, such as bankrate.com or wisebread.com, and you’re sure to find tools and articles to increase both your financial IQ and your confidence with your financial decisions. If online research isn’t your thing, check out free and inexpensive seminars and courses to help you learn about different financial topics. Your financial institution, employer, local community centers and colleges may provide these types of courses, and the library offers a variety of books and resources to help you acquire knowledge about all areas of your finances. LEARN THE LANGUAGE If you don’t work in finance, it’s easy to feel confused by a loan agreement, account disclosure or investment portfolio overview. When you’re opening an account or applying for a new loan or financial service, take the time to read through the documents related to your accounts, highlight anything that needs further research and then take to the Internet to find out more. Don’t be shy about contacting your financial institution or a professional with questions. Understanding the terms and conditions of your accounts will allow you to be more in control of how your finances are handled, and it will help you ensure you have the accounts that make the most sense for you. GET PREAPPROVED Purchasing a vehicle or home is a financial activity that people often note as being stressful and one that comes with feelings of insecurity. When you’re looking to finance a major purchase, such as a car or home, empower yourself by getting preapproved before you shop. Knowing exactly how much you can afford will give you the negotiating power when you make your purchase. You’ll be able to speak to a car dealer or home broker with confidence when you know you’re in complete control of the purchase’s financing. TAKE YOUR TIME Never feel pressured to make financial decisions without prep time. Spontaneity is great in life but generally not when it comes to money. Do your research so that you’ll feel confident and empowered with your choices. If you’re considering a major purchase, be sure to sleep on it and avoid impulse buys. Feeling empowered financially is an ongoing process, so set some small, achievable goals to get yourself started and don’t give up! Be sure to take advantage of all the free and inexpensive resources available online to increase your knowledge, consider setting up an appointment with a financial advisor to review your goals, or contact your financial institution for additional advice.
Christina Minnis is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Michigan State University Federal Credit Union (MSUFCU), the world's largest university-based credit union, where she loves finding innovative ways to help members achieve their financial goals and dreams.