I’ve been passionate about personal finance for a little over a year now. It all started when I got my first full-time job, and I decided that I wanted to truly learn how to manage my money responsibly. My wife and I started tracking our spending closely, putting money towards our 401Ks, and aggressively paying down our student loans.
What really got me paying closer attention to money was the desire to remove the “stress factor” from our financial lives. Anyone who’s struggled through a period of job hunting knows just how suffocating that pressure can become. My goal was to get to a point of financial stability so that I would never experience that where-is-the-next-paycheck-going-to-come-from pressure again, or at least work to limit those experiences to few-and-far-between occurrences.
A few weeks ago, I came across a fantastic post on Frugal Rules, titled “31 Signs You’re Financially Stable.” This post was also featured on one of my favorite sites, Rockstar Finance (thanks, J. Money!). The article is incredibly helpful because it details a variety of ways you can give yourself a “financial checkup” of sorts. I would highly recommend reading through the post in full. After thinking through these 31 signs — and seeing how many of them I fulfilled — I want to highlight a few that are directly relevant to my life at this point, and may also be relevant for you!
1. You Can Handle An Emergency.
Our first step on our financial journey was to build up a solid emergency fund to protect against whatever life threw at us. We focused on this before we started making extra payments towards our student loans. Simply having this money in savings reduced our stress about how unexpected expenses would be covered.
2. You Have No Problem Splurging On Yourself.
I’ve never been much of a spender, so this one is still a bit of a work in progress. However, this is the important part of this sign: I don’t feel like we CAN’T spend money. I just prefer to spend money in ways that will directly help us reach our long-term goals. Our biggest splurges are putting money towards our “Vacation Fund” every month, so that we can take trips together and create new memories.
3. You Invest Every Month.
We contribute to our 401Ks every month and have been since we first started our jobs. It’s comforting to know that we are making progress and creating a better future for ourselves with every month that passes.
4. You Use Credit Cards Wisely.
Credit cards can be a controversial topic in the personal finance community, but I believe they can be used wisely. We put all our bills and expenses on credit cards and then pay them off weekly, which establishes a solid credit record. We have never missed a payment; that means we never pay any interest while getting hundreds of dollars in cash back rewards.
5. You Don’t Fight With Your Partner.
Money can be one of the biggest sources of conflict in a relationship. Thankfully, by taking control of our finances and keeping an open dialogue, my wife’s and my disagreements about money are very few and far between.
6. You’re Not Scared Of The Future.
Seeing our net worth improving and our debt shrinking every month has me extremely excited about all of life’s future opportunities. If you’re financially stable, there’s no need to be scared of the future; it’s taken care of.
7. Killing Debt Is Your Top Goal.
As previously mentioned, our first goal was to build up an emergency fund. Now that we’ve accomplished that goal, we are full steam ahead in our debt repayment phase and are seeing significant progress. Being in debt can be discouraging, but once you start seeing progress it can make a world of difference.
8. You Live Below Your Means.
This principle is one of the most important ways to become successful with managing your finances. Simply put, if you live above your means, no amount of income is ever going to be enough for you; you won’t ever accomplish long-term savings goals, because you’re living paycheck to paycheck for lifestyle reasons. My wife and I maintain a careful budget that leads to investing, saving, and extra debt payments every month. In this way, we’re living below our means to improve our financial future. We’re also being careful to avoid lifestyle inflation, so that we can build wealth more quickly.
9. You Track Your Spending In Some Fashion.
I’ve written a few times about how we use Mint to track our spending, and highlighted some of the main reasons why. There are also plenty of other helpful finance apps out there. This simple step has been the biggest factor in improving our financial stability and reaching the point we’re at today. It’s extremely hard to improve your financial state if you neglect your spending and don’t pay attention to where your money is going every month.
10. You Make Extra Money On The Side.
While I believe it’s possible to be financially stable without an additional source of income, side jobs certainly help a lot. From April to September, I work a second job in the evenings and on weekends. It’s a job doing something I enjoy, and we’ve been putting all the extra income towards our debt repayment. It’s helped us make huge progress these last few months.
11. Your Net Worth Goes Up Each Year.
As previously mentioned, by focusing so much of our cash flow on debt repayment, we’re seeing significant progress: Debt going down + 401K contributions going up = Positive improvement on our net worth every month. The main number to focus on with your finances is whether your net worth is improving every month, because that shows whether or not you’re heading in the right direction.
12. You Control Your Finances — Not The Other Way Around.
One of the main reasons why I want people to care more about their finances is that it puts you in control. There’s no wondering about how much money you have left, over-drafting your checking account, or missing a bill. Being in control of your financial situation is a seriously empowering feeling.
13. Spending Money Just To Spend Doesn’t Appeal To You.
The more you track your expenses, the easier it becomes to avoid mindless spending. My wife and I allocate a small amount of our budget each month to “fun money” that we can spend however we want. This helps keep clear boundaries on how much we spend frivolously. An added bonus for financial harmony: we both prefer to spend our fun money on experiences, rather than possessions.
14. You Automate Savings.
Automation brings so much peace of mind for bills, savings, and investments. Ensure that you’re “paying yourself first” by setting up automatic payments into an online savings account. This way, you don’t have to worry about your own discipline: the savings deposit just happens without you having to think about it every month. The same goes for other financial goals: my wife and I automate our debt payments, investments, and vacation savings.
Overall, I found the “31 Signs You’re Financially Stable” article both an encouraging and a challenging read. While my wife and I are still not completely debt-free, and we’re towards the beginning of our financial journey, we also can check off the large majority of the items on this Financially Stable Signs list. We’ve become MUCH more financially stable the past few years, and — if you take some time to read through the signs above and change your actions to get in step with those values — you can, too.
When you can break out of the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle that plagues most Americans, you’ll discover a much more peaceful way of living. Track your spending, cut down in areas of high spending, pay off debt aggressively, and continuing trying to learn as much as possible.
Which items on this list do you feel most confident in? Least confident in? Feel free to comment and reach out to me with any questions you may have. Thanks for reading!
A lifelong Bay Area native, Matt Spillar graduated in May 2013 from Fresno State with a Sports Marketing degree. He currently works on the Content Management team for DealsPlus.com and has worked four seasons with the San Jose Giants. You can read more of his writing on the DealsPlus blog, or his personal blog. He is also on Twitter.
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