Too bad we’re not born knowing how to deal with money. If you had a financial literacy class in high school, you were pretty lucky. For many of us, much of what we know about personal finance we learned from our parents or our own mistakes. It’s not too late to learn those critical lessons you may have missed. Here are some tips on being better with your money.

Read about money.

You don’t have to completely immerse yourself in personal finance, but learn what you need to better manage your money through books, blogs, magazines, and other people.

A few books:

There are thousands of personal finance blogs, not necessarily tailored to finances for freelance writers, but they provide sound advice nonetheless. A few of my favorites (and most popular): Get Rich Slowly, Wise Bread, and The Simple Dollar. A drawback of personal finance blogs is that the information is not presented in a progressive way. Many sites are mature and the current posts may cover advanced personal finance topics.

Pay attention to your own habits.

Watching your own money may be an even better way to improve your finances than reading about money, particularly if you’re having trouble. Financial management software like Quicken or Mint.com can help you track your spending by showing you how much you’re spending in specific categories.

Also pay attention to when and how you spend money is also important. Sometimes we build purchasing habits that we don’t necessarily realize, like picking up random items when you’re bored in the grocery store checkout line or purchasing things to quiet a whiny child.

Make better decisions.

Knowing what to do is only part of the quest to be better. You also need to make researched, fact-based (not emotional or impulsive) spending decisions. For every money decision you make consider a few things:

  •  Can you afford this?
  • Is this something you need or just something you want?
  • Is there a cheaper alternative? (Be careful about sacrificing quality when you go with less expensive alternatives)
  • What does this purchase cost? Not just in terms of dollars spent today, but also ongoing maintenance costs
  • What will you have to give up to make this purchase?
  • Will this purchase make it harder to pay for a future necessity?
  • Can you buy this later?

Some things you know you have to pay – mortgage or rent, auto loan, utility payments. You have to make sure you can pay them, first by generating enough income to make these payments, then by not spending that income on something with a lower priority.

Don’t run from money problems.

If you’re having financial problems, one of the worst mistakes is to ignore them (trying to borrow your way out is another big mistake). Avoiding money problems can often make them worse, and if you’re hiding it from your spouse, it can create relationship problems as well. Face your money problems head on.

Reflect on what led to the problem and consider the most effective ways to get out of your problem. Be realistic about the time it will take to solve the issue; many problems can take months to sort out.

Never stop improving.

There’s so much breadth and depth to personal finances, you can never know too much. Make it a point to continue improving your financial management, no matter how comfortable you may feel.

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