Budgeting is a good way to practice this particular fiscal religion. On a modest income, the difference between halfhearted money management and smart money management can be hundreds of dollars a year, which can be cash in your pocket or cash down the drain. As the years go by, the difference can amount to thousands and thousands of dollars added to your net worth.
How to reach this blessed state? Start with four simple, common sense principles of smart money management.
1. Don't surround yourself with cash. Do you keep large amounts of cash around the house instead of putting it in the bank, where it will earn interest, or in an investment plan, where it can grow? This will deprive you of chances to let your money make more money.
2. Don't pay your bills early. Paying bills before they are due won't improve your credit standing. Prepaying reduces the time your money can be earning interest for you and gains you absolutely nothing in return. (But be sure not to cut it so close that you trigger late penalties that can wipe out the extra interest you earn!)
3. Don't have more taxes withheld than you owe. Many people deliberately have too much taken out of their salaries to avoid a large tax bill in April or to accumulate a refund (see our easy-to-use withholding calculator). Those excess withholdings could be put to work earning interest, leaving you with even more left over after your taxes are paid.
4. Get the max from your savings. For most people, the difference between depositing a check today and depositing it next week amounts to nickels and dimes in lost interest, and nickels and dimes aren't going to make you rich. The real aim here is to establish good money-management habits. As your income grows, the payoff will grow along with it.
Any plan to maximize your future savings must begin with an up-to-date record of the savings you have now. There are lots of opportunities for squeezing more out of your savings. Following is a guide to the kinds of accounts that will do it, plus some tips on how to use them.