5 Effective Finance Habits You Should Start Now

We all have bad spending habits and vices, and while you may not think about them, bad money habits can wreak havoc on your budget. They can also have damaging, long-term consequences to your financial security. In ‘5 Ways to Save Money on a Low Income', we covered how cutting down on unnecessary expenses is an excellent way to start budgeting and reduce spending.

After all, taking control of your money is all about making it work for you. Good money habits can help you spend wisely, save, and reach your financial goals faster. So, let's have a look at five effective ways to take control of your finances and separate the ‘needs' from the ‘wants.'

Set up an automatic transfer to your savings Let's face it, unless you're forced to save, you're like most people and forget to put money into savings regularly. The solution? An automatic transfer. It's one of the easiest ways to help your money grow. You can set it up to come out every payday from your checking account or have it directly taken out of your paycheck through your employer.

How much should you put away? In the feature on ‘Saving for Millennials', 20% of your disposable income was a recommended start. Based on your expenses, however, it's best to put away an amount that works for you and fits your lifestyle. The hardest thing is to start, but once you do and you watch your balance grow, it will become addictive.

Pay your bills online Paying your bills online is a convenient and safe way to take charge of your finances. You can pay anything from your credit cards to cable and your mobile phone bills online. You'll be able to register most service providers with your financial institution's online banking and set up either one time or recurring payments.

Not only can you save time with online payments, but you can also save money. By scheduling your payments ahead of time before the bill's due date, you'll avoid the headache of late fees and other charges.

Have an emergency fund An emergency fund can be a lifesaver in case a major cost rears its ugly head. Are you ready for the expense if your home or car needs urgent repairs? How about illness or unemployment?

It's a good idea to put your emergency funds in a separate account that will earn you higher interest and help your money grow quicker. As mentioned in ‘Emergency Fund: How To Start & Why You Need One,' money market savings accounts are a great option for emergency funds. They provide you with higher interest rates than regular savings accounts.

What you put away in your emergency savings fund should be enough to cover your living expenses. An ‘Emergency Fund Guide' by Marcus explains how there should be three to six months' worth of living expenses set aside. Start by depositing payments like tax refunds, work bonuses and other significant payments and from there work on devoting a percentage of every paycheck to your emergency fund.

Use a personal finance app The days of manually balancing a checkbook are gone, so keeping track of your expenses and bank balance can get a little tricky. Using a personal finance app can help you keep track of your spending and manage your investment portfolio. Many are available for both iOS and Android, and they're a free way to make your money work for you.

Apps like Intuit's Mint, YNAB (You Need a Budget) or Clarity Money can help you link your credit and debit cards to one account. They can then pull transactions and categorize them to show you how you're spending your money. They can also keep track of bills and create budgets that are easy to follow. YNAB claims that the average user saves $600 in the first two months and more than $6,000 in the first year.

Participate in your employer-sponsored 401(k) One of the most important financial habits to get into early on is saving for your retirement. The benefit of a 401(k) tax-deferred investment over your entire career can add up. If your employer also offers a matching contribution based on your contributions, it's essential to contribute the maximum you can. The employer-matched portion is essentially free money so make sure you're taking advantage of the full amount they offer.

If your employer does not offer a retirement savings plan, look into a self-directed individual retirement account (IRA), so you can take advantage of tax-deferred savings. You can choose to manage your own investments that will be part of your IRA or use an online robo-advisor. These robo-advisors will ask for your goals, risk preferences, and select investments to match. Just keep in mind that IRAs have annual contribution limits and in 2019 you can invest up to $6,000 if you're under 50 and $7,000 if you're 50 and older.