6 Ways To Safeguard Your Income

Kimberly, who writes the U.S. News & World Report’s Alpha Consumer blog and has a new book out, wants you to control your finances rather than let them dominate you.

She emailed us some tips on how to maintain your financial standing, positioning yourself for financial freedom and success:

1. Save one-third of your income. — Putting one out of every three dollars you earn into the bank might sound like a lot, and it is. At some times in your life, such as shortly after graduation, or the birth of a child, when your budget is strained to capacity, it’s impossible. But at some point, it will become not only possible but essential to creating stability in your financial life. That’s because significant savings are the only way to weather the inevitable tough periods, such as lay-offs, as well as move towards longer term dreams, such as starting our own businesses. Yes, saving such a big chunk of money each month means sacrificing some comforts and indulgences for the short-term, but it’s the only way to get closer to that ultimate goal of financial security.

2. Don’t scrimp on career-related investments. — There’s one area where it’s okay to be a spendaholic, and that’s when it comes to investing in your future earning power. The category includes not only education expenses, but also voice lessons for an aspiring podcaster, how-to books for those with potentially lucrative hobbies, and even a new wardrobe for office workers who need to impress the higher-ups. Even hiring a maid service is an investment in your future if you use the time it creates to work on your writing, or website.

3. Cultivate your most ambitious dreams. — The primary reason many people don’t reach their long-term financial goals is that they fail to ever articulate — even to themselves — what they are. Do you want to quit your day job and knit full-time? Or open the next big cupcake shop? Or star on your own reality television show? If you’re having trouble putting your finger on it, ask the people who know you best. Brainstorming with your significant other, family members, and friends can help shake loose any latest thoughts from your own head.

4. Pay off all but your cheapest student loans early. — Student loans that carry a 5 or 6 percent interest rate (or higher) are costing you much more than your savings can earn in our current low-interest rate environment. That means paying off a chunk of your loans will immediately start saving you more money than you could if you continue to make those slow and steady monthly payments. Of course, not everyone has the cash to pay off a big chunk of their loans, and it will probably take five-plus years after graduation to get to the point when you can even consider it. But once you have a healthy bank account, don’t wait too long to start paying off big chunks of those more expensive student loans.

5. Don’t wait to invest until you have “extra money.” — Waiting to start a retirement account until you feel like you can afford it might mean you can never retire. Don’t wait to open up a 401(k) account if your workplace offers it, even if you start by contributing just 2 percent of your salary. Soon, you can raise that percentage to 4 percent, and eventually to 10 percent or higher. For extra motivation, plug your numbers into a retirement calculator on bankrate.com, and see how much you need to fund your golden years – it’s probably much more than $1 million.

6. Give back – on your own terms. — Companies know that we want to make a difference in the world, and they want to profit off that desire. That’s why so many of them are cashing in on the $600 billion plus “green” industry by claiming to be environmentally-friendly when they’re not. The problem is so common it has a name, “greenwashing.” Don’t be fooled by all-natural labeling; investigate why the company is claiming to be good for the Earth before spending your money. A similar lesson applies to giving to charitable donations: Use Charity Navigator to check up on the background of your chosen organization before donating any money to make sure they’re going to use the money the way you want them to.

What would you add to Kimberly’s advice?