Celebrating Financial Literacy Month

Happy family of four.

Financial Literacy Month is a celebration and a challenge. It's a chance to reflect on the state of our personal finances and an opportunity to improve those finances, one step at a time. The 30 steps of Financial Literacy Month are designed to help you identify your money weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

If you want more from your money, commit to completing these 30 steps in the next 30 days. 

Step 1: Commit to change

The first and most important step in developing and following a financial plan is to examine your attitudes about money.

  • Are you ready to accept responsibility for changing your financial situation?
  • Do you believe that you can and will change the way you make financial decisions?
  • Can you identify at least one benefit you hope to gain by changing your money management behavior?

For your first step, take the time to self-reflect on your relationship with money up to this point and set goals for what you'd like it to look like going forward.

Read more: Member of the President's Council for Financial Literacy Talks about Commitment

Step 2: Assess Your finances

How are you doing financially? What are your strengths? What are your areas of improvement?

The second step is to write down your feelings and findings. Be specific. What have you done well? What hasn't gone well?

There are no wrong answers!

Read more: Gerri Detweiler Discusses the Importance of Assessing Your Financial Situation

Step 3: Clear out the financial clutter

You may be anxious to get started, but it is hard to get motivated when you are knee-deep in paperwork. Getting your financial house organized is a great way to begin on your path toward financial wellness. But before you bulldoze that pile, you should know that some things are worth hanging on to. The key is to know what keep and what to toss.

Organize and sort your financial documents. The third step is about putting things in an order that feels good to you and is easy to maintain.

Read more: What to Keep and What to Toss
Read more: Karen McCall Talks about Clearing out the Clutter

Step 4: Set yourself up for success

While all members should be aware of the family’s overall financial situation, choosing one person to conduct the day-to-day financial tasks is a good way to stay on top of things. The appointed individual should be organized and a good communicator. They should be given uninterrupted time to do their tasks effectively.

Make sure all tasks are assigned in a way that suits your abilities and that expectations are always clearly communicated.

Read more: How to Organize Your Personal Household Finances
Read more: Time Management Expert Teaches You How to Set Yourself Up for Success

Step 5: Get copies of your credit reports

Your credit reports can provide a snapshot of your overall financial situation. Reviewing your credit reports for accuracy can also help you to identify errors or fraudulent activity.

Fortunately, it is easier than ever to obtain copies of your reports. The FACT Act gives every consumer the right to a free credit report every year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. To get your free report, simply visit annualcreditreport.com.

Need help understanding your credit report? MMI offers one-on-one credit report reviews. Learn more today.

Read more: Adam Levin on the Importance of Financial Literacy

Step 6: Clean up your credit report

If you find an error on your credit reports, you’ll need to know your rights. Your most effective weapon in dealing with the credit bureaus is the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Legally, the FCRA protects you by requiring credit bureaus to furnish correct and complete information to companies requesting credit histories for evaluation.

Read more: How to Locate and Correct Errors on Your Credit Report
Read more: Andy Jolls on How to Clean Up Your Credit Report

Step 7: Make your money count

To develop an accurate picture of the amount of money you will have in the future, take a look back. How much have you been earning? What do you expect to earn in the future? How does your income compare to inflation and your expenses? 

Read more: Jim from Bargaineering on How to Make Your Money Count

Step 8: Identify your starting point

Where do you stand today? Do your assets outweigh your liabilities, or is it the other way around?

Calculating your net worth is a crucial start toward understanding where you stand today as compared to where you want to be.

Read more: How to Determine Your Net Worth
Read more: Multitasking Mommy on Calculating Your Net Worth

Step 9: Review your debt situation

A big reason why we sometimes struggle to reach our financial goals is debt. Depending on the amount and interest rate, it may sometimes feel impossible to dig yourself out of debt.

But freedom from debt is an achievable goal for every family. The first step in regaining control is to take an honest look at your existing obligations.

Read more: PT Money Gives You 5 Great Reasons to Have Less Debt

Step 10: Set your priorities

The path to financial freedom can be long and complicated. So it's important to know what's most important to you and family.

Creating a list of needs and wants can help you establish your financial priorities.

Read more: Personal Marketer Discusses How to Set Financial Priorities... & Remember Them!

Step 11: Set SMART financial goals

Before you think about setting goals, review the five parts of SMART goals.

S for specific. It pinpoints something you want to change to achieve.
M for measurable. You can measure or count a SMART goal.
A for achievable. Setting goals too high can lead to frustration.
R for rewarding. Reaching the goal should be a reward for your hard work.
T for trackable. Set milestones and schedules for your goals.

Read more: Grant Baldwin on setting SMART goals

Step 12: Set short-, mid-, and long-term goals

Personal financial goals will differ in the length of time needed to achieve them. Short-term goals are priorities that can be accomplished within two years. Be sure every goal has a specific purpose, a dollar amount that it will cost, and a realistic target date.

Mid-term goals are priorities that can be accomplished within two to five years. Make sure your goals are realistic and flexible. If you set your goals too high, frustration will keep you from reaching them.

Long-term financial goals are priorities that may take more than five years to accomplish. Most long-term goals require regular savings.

Read more: Wise Bread Blogger Linsey Knerl on Goal Setting

Step 13: Pay down your debt

There are two popular methods that people use to tackle debt.

The first is to concentrate on paying off the debt with the smallest balance first (never forgetting to make required payments to all debts, of course). After that balance is repaid, you can then apply that payment to the card with the next smallest balance and continue the process until all debts are satisfied. This method can be very rewarding because you see progress quickly.

The second popular method is to first concentrate on repaying the debt with the highest interest rate. This method will save you the most in interest charges over time. Regardless of the method you choose, be patient and persistent.

Read more: Snowball vs. Avalanche: What’s the Best Way to Pay Off Your Debt?
Read more: How to Pay Off a Lot of Debt in a Hurry

Step 14: Expect the unexpected

Unfortunately, bad things sometimes happen to good people. In fact, bankruptcy filers often site an “unforeseen” event as the cause of their financial demise. In addition to long-term savings, financial experts agree that consumers should aim to have three to six months living expenses saved for emergencies.

By learning to expect the unexpected, you can keep a minor financial setback from turning into a major financial crisis.

Read more: Financial Planning Specialist on Creating a Safety Net 

Step 15: Secure your financial future

Don’t despair if you are behind on your retirement goals. If it is any consolation, you aren’t alone; studies show many households are not adequately prepared for retirement.

Read more: Pinyo from Moolanomy talks about securing your financial future
Read more: Retirement Investment Strategies

Step 16: Make a commitment

One trick to keeping your financial goals is to remind yourself of your goals on a regular basis. At the very least, you should document your high priority goals and post them where you will see them every day.

Read more: SimplyForties Covers Commitment

Step 17: Save for your goals

Most likely, reaching your financial goals will require you to commit to saving. That is one reason saving is an essential part of any money management plan. Set money aside each month to save for your short-, mid-, and long-term goals. If you are having trouble establishing a nest-egg, don’t despair.

Read more: Simple Steps to Big Savings
Read more: Green Panda on How to Save Automatically and Minimize Fuss

Step 18: Follow where the money goes

For most people, financial health doesn’t depend on how much they earn, but how much they spend. To help you find out where your money is going, the next three steps involve tracking expenses.

Read more: Frugal Homemaker on Where the Money Goes

Step 19: Identify and document fixed monthly expenses

Fixed expenses are those that do not vary from month to month. Examples of fixed expenses include car payments and mortgage or rent payments. Fixed expenses are the most difficult to manipulate.

Read more: Money Coach on the Proper Way to Handle Your Finances

Step 20: Identify and plan for periodic expenses

You may have a good idea of where the money is going on a day-to-day basis, but before you start working on a spending plan or budget, it is important to call attention to the top budget breaker: periodic expenses.

Periodic expenses are those that are not paid on a regular monthly basis. For example, both holiday and tax debts are periodic, meaning they are not part of regular monthly expenditures. In that regard, they join the ranks of other expenses such as auto registrations and vacations.

Read more: Mastering Your Periodic Expenses
Read more: Wide Open Wallet on Planning for Periodics

Step 21: Document your spending

It's time to record all of your expenses - fixed, periodic, and variable - on this handy worksheet and see where your income and expenses meet (or possibly fail to meet).

Read more: Doctor, Educator, & Author on Discipline & Dedication

Step 22: Identify ways to reduce spending

To create a balanced budget or increase savings, most people will have to find a way to earn more or spend less. If the idea of spending less sounds challenging, try starting small.

In addition to making small changes, resolve to boost your savings by including all of your "windfall" money. This “free money” includes increased income from a pay increase, birthday gifts, insurance settlements, escrow overages, tax refunds, and inheritances.

Read more: Bargain Babe on 13 Ways to Reduce Spending
Read more: A Quick Guide to Step Down Spending

Step 23: Save money on groceries

Saving money on groceries doesn’t have to be hard work. Making just some small changes can net big rewards to your pocketbook. Simple changes in the way you plan and shop can help you reduce the amount you’re spending on groceries.

Read more: Ultimate Guide to Reducing Your Grocery Bills

Step 24: Start an open dialogue

When you identify ways to reduce spending, you are being honest with yourself about your finances. Being honest with yourself and others about your finances will ensure your success.

Read more: Why is it So Hard to Talk About Debt?

Step 25: Document your desired spending

Now that you have identified some areas where you would like to make some changes, it is time to revisit your budget. Remember, this is not about sacrifice; it is about making choices to help you achieve your goals. After you have made adjustments, you can move forward using this spending plan as a road map for achieving your goals.

Read more: Lynnae of BeingFrugal.net on Documenting Your Desired Spending

Step 26: Protect yourself by performing financial check-ups

Being in charge of the family’s finances is an awesome responsibility. In addition to providing your family with the basic necessities of life, you may feel responsible for their overall financial well-being. One of the best ways to care for your family is to be sure that you are prepared if something were to happen to you or another member of your family.

Read more: Give Yourself a Financial Self-Exam
Read more: The Debt Advisor on Protecting Your Financial Future

Step 27: Understand the cost of credit

It is important to carefully weigh your options before making a credit decision. When you sign or cosign an application for credit, you are agreeing to all its terms. Moving forward, commit to understand everything to which you are agreeing.

Read more: How to Evaluate Credit Card Offers
Read more: Counting the Cost of Credit

Step 28: Assemble a financial team

Managing your finances can be like putting together a puzzle; all the pieces need to fit in order to be rewarded with the “big picture.” Working with one or more of these financial professionals can help put the pieces in place.

Read more: The Weakonomist on Assembling a Financial Team

Step 29: Appreciate the benefits

Change may be hard, but the payoff can be priceless. In addition to improving your financial situation, you may also find your money management skills can benefit other aspects of your life.

Read more: Finally Frugal on Tools for Success

Step 30: Keep moving forward

Congratulations! You have given a great deal of thought to your financial situation, your spending habits, and the change process. You now have the knowledge necessary to make positive decisions that will ensure a successful financial future.

Read more: Dr. Robert Duvall on Moving Forward

Tagged in Advice for families, Goal setting

Jesse Campbell photo.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, with over ten years of experience creating valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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