How many times are we told to “act like an adult”, “grow-up” or “get a bit of maturity”… whatever that means.
Whether it’s behaviour, humour, manners or lifestyle there’s a level of expectation which governs the opinions of others. To make grown-up decisions.
It’s the same with money. Financial adulthood means taking ownership of your money rather than just letting it happen. Using your money to match your values and to finance your dreams.
Just like adulthood, there’s no really strict definition of financial maturity to benchmark ourselves against. So here’s our checklist to what we think you need to tick off to reach monetary adulthood.
1. Have a credit and a debit card. Be able to pay your monthly credit card balance on time and in full… without going into overdraft on your transaction account.
2. Know your credit score and check your credit report at least annually. It’s pretty easy by going to www.getcreditscore.com.au. Knowing your score gives you power to negotiate better deals and checking it ensures there are no costly mistakes.
3. Consolidate your superannuation into one fund, which you understand and check regularly. Ideally, you’d be making extra annual contributions up to your age limit. Remember superannuation is the second biggest asset of most Australians. It accounts for 26 per cent of our net worth.
4. Have an emergency fund. As a general rule, the ideal is to have 6 months worth of salary in a separate savings account to use in case of a financial or medical emergency.
5. You have adequate insurance protection. For you (life, income protection), health, car and household insurance. The amount of cover depends on your age, commitments and circumstances. Often it’s best to get expert advice and recommendations.
6. Have some form of a financial budget… in writing. There are so many budget templates out there and a huge number of good smartphone apps. There is absolutely no excuse not to have one but also make sure it’s constantly updated.
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7. Know your take-home pay every month…after tax. We know this can sound a bit simple, but you’d be amazed at how many people don’t know the amount they earn. Add in any regular overtime or part-time jobs. This is the cornerstone of your budget.
8. Know your net worth. It is simply the value of your assets (house, investments, superannuation balance, car etc) less the debts you owe (home loan, credit card balance, personal loans etc). Do this calculation annually as it provides a concise barometer on whether your personal wealth is improving or not.
9. Spend less than you earn. Living within your means is the absolute foundation of financial maturity. It’s not complicated. Don’t spend what you don’t have.
10. Have a system for remembering and paying your bills on time. Whether that’s setting up a direct debit for regular costs or a calendar alert in your smartphone, you shouldn’t be forgetting about bills, or leaving them unpaid. If you automate payments, regularly check the statements are correct.
11. Know when you’re going to be debt-free. Credit card debt (and to a lesser extent personal loans) has extremely high interest rates. A rule of thumb is that if you have consumer debt you should have no savings… it should be used to pay off debt.
12. Know your financial goals and how you’ll achieve them. Looking after your money better can be pretty boring if there are no goals you want to achieve. Could be buying a house, going on a big holiday, paying off the car, putting the kids through school… the goals are endless. Having a goal provides an automatic map of how your finances will be used to make your life better and more enjoyable. It also gives you an incentive to stick to your plan.
13. Plan your tax better. Everyone has to pay tax to do our bit for keeping Australian society and services the way they should be. The aim is to pay the right amount of tax and not more than necessary. Start by improving your record keeping, use good tax software or meet with an accountant or tax agent.
14. Organise your important documents. We have what we quaintly call our “death file”. One spot where all the important documents are kept in case one of us (or both) die. The deeds to the house, wills, bank details, investment records etc. In other words, records of your financial life should be kept in the death file. Many people digitally scan the documents into a folder and email them to their loved ones for safekeeping.
15. Be able to confidently negotiate a better deal or challenge a payment. But be polite while doing it. If you don’t speak up for your money, no one will. For example, never automatically pay an insurance premium without asking for a better deal or question an unknown expense on your credit card statement.
16. Be able to say no to expenses you can’t afford or don’t want. On the other hand, know when it’s most important for you to be able to say yes, and figure out how to afford the things that mean the most to you. Being a savvy spender is crucial to financial security. Determining which is an important expense and which is frivolous can save you a fortune.