If you get off to a good start, you’ve got the framework for a secure future.

 

One of the things you discover as you start out on your own is that making decisions about money—especially managing your money—plays an increasingly larger part in your life.

Things that you may have taken for granted when you were in school or living at home—everything from where you sleep and what you eat to how to pay your credit card bills—suddenly require a lot more time and energy than they did before.

What you may also start to realize is how much you need to know to make smart financial decisions. While your common sense can get you through a lot, sooner or later you’ll have to make choices you’re not sure how to handle.

That’s why this guide explores all of the important financial issues you’ll face, from banking basics to picking a credit card, from reducing your current taxes to creating a long-term investment strategy.

DAY IN AND DAY OUT

Some of the financial questions that come up day-to-day can seem pretty minor. Should you be using a debit card or a credit card to buy your groceries? What’s the best way to share living expenses with your roommate?

Other issues can be more perplexing: Should you pay off your student loans to wipe out your debt? Should you work freelance so you’ll have time to pursue a project that’s important to you?

On an even bigger scale, you may be wondering if it really makes sense to be putting money into a retirement savings plan when you expect to work another 40 years. And if you have a plan at work, should you also be putting money into an individual retirement account—an IRA?

BUMPS IN THE ROAD

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by financial decisions, especially when they come at you all at once. Your parents may be so happy that they don’t have to do your taxes anymore that they dump files on your desk. And you may be baffled by the complexities of IRS Form W-4, which you have to fill out when you start each new job.

Similarly, if you’re not sure what to do, you may pay more attention to convenience than cost, for example, in choosing a bank or a checking account. You may be tempted to buy a car you can’t afford or sign up for phone services you don’t use. And it’s entirely likely you’ll be offered credit cards you don’t need.

Without realizing what’s at stake, you may postpone contributing to a 401(k) or other employer sponsored retirement plan because you don’t think you can afford it. Or you may decide that since you’ve always been pretty healthy you can postpone paying for health insurance until your bank balance is in the black.

If even one of these situations is familiar to you, it’s time to get some financial basics under your belt.

JUST THE BEGINNING

The frustrating thing about financial decisions is that you can’t just make them and forget about them because each one has potential long-term consequences. That’s why it’s crucial to re-evaluate your situation periodically to make sure your earlier decisions are still the best ones. It’s not too soon to set aside a day each year to examine every aspect of your financial life, decide what’s working okay, and what you ought to change.

It’s also smart to take a close look at your finances any time your life changes—if you move, for example, or change jobs, get married, have a child, or gain or lose a lot of money.

BY THE BOOK

In this book, you’ll find a section on just about every financial subject you’ll have to deal with.

You can start in the early chapters with the basics—like choosing bank accounts and evaluating job-related benefits—and go on to potentially more complex topics, like financial planning and investing. Or you can skip around, finding the information you need when you need it.

Throughout the book, you’ll also find real-life stories from people like you who have been through some of the same financial situations you’re facing. Check out what they have to say, and see what you can learn from their experiences.