When I started to take control of my money, the first place I went was online. Thanks to articles, blogs, and forums, I learned more about money management, budgeting, and savings than I ever had before. Since I couldn’t afford a financial advisor, getting free advice was a lifesaver.
But with the vast amount of differing opinions out there, how do you know what advice to follow and what to ignore? Where should you even look for free financial information? Like I did, start with the internet.
9 Pieces of Free Financial Advice to Learn and Implement
There’s lots of free financial advice available, but there are also a lot of people trying to scam or dupe you into buying their services. However, these pieces of financial advice withstand the test of time.
1. Take advantage of employer benefits.
Whether you’re a new or veteran employee with your company, take a look at what benefits you have available. If you have a 401(k) plan, your employer might match your contribution up to a certain amount.
“If your employer offers a 401(k) match, it’s crucial to contribute up to that percentage to take advantage of ‘free money,’” said AnnaMarie Mock, a Certified Financial Planner™ at Highland Financial Advisors.
Even if you can only afford to save $50 a month, it can set you up for a great retirement. In addition to a 401(k) match, other benefits like life insurance or disability insurance are typically more affordable through your employer.
You can also explore options like Flex Spending Accounts (FSAs) or Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). You can use these to pay off medical bills, including trips to the doctor, lab work, or prescriptions.
“These are great ways to save dollars that can grow tax-free and be withdrawn tax-free if used for qualified expenses,” said Christine Centeno, a Certified Financial Planner™ at Simplicity Wealth Management.
You might even be eligible for discounts on cell phone plans, car insurance, or gym memberships. Talk with your HR representative or review your onboarding paperwork if you’re not sure what benefits your employer provides.
2. Think about your priorities.
Imagine you’re 80 years old. You’re sitting at home, reflecting on your life while waiting for your grandkids to arrive, and you start asking yourself some questions.
What have you done that makes you smile? Where have you traveled that stands out? Are you proud of the work you did? Are there things you wish you had done that you haven’t or places you wanted to volunteer but didn’t?
As you go through this exercise, write down your answers. Read them when you’re done and start aligning your finances to match your long- and short-term priorities. “If you build a great life first, you’ll be shocked at how quickly your finances fall in line to support it,” explains Patrick King, a Certified Financial Planner™ and founder of Transformative Financial.
You can revisit this list as often as you’d like, and make sure you readjust your budget to match your new answers.
3. Negotiate your job offer.
When you get a job offer, there’s room to negotiate salary, benefits, and other variables like vacation days. Instead of taking the first offer, try to bargain with your future employer. Failing to negotiate your salary can leave thousands of dollars on the table.
“Over time, earning even a few thousand dollars more can really add up,” Haynes said. “For example, your ability to save, your 401(k) match, and perhaps your bonus formula may all be based on your salary.”
Make sure you’re advocating for yourself and getting the best offer possible.
4. Create a budget for your cash flow.
A cash flow budget shows you how much cash you have coming in and how much cash you have going out. Creating a cash flow budget can be tedious, especially if you’ve never done one before, but it will provide you with a clear picture of your situation in the long run.
“A cash flow budget can help you achieve your short and long-term financial goals by creating a clear path for what and how much you need to save,” Mock said.
If you’ve never made a budget before, consider starting with something simple like the 50/30/20 method, zero-based budgeting, or the envelope system. As you get more comfortable with having a budget, you can adjust or switch the type of budgeting system you use.
5. Automate your savings.
Automating your savings is essential because it helps you save consistently, which is the key to building wealth. It’s often difficult to remember to make manual contributions. Instead, set up automatic transfers, either directly from your paycheck or your checking account.
After determining how much money you need to save to reach your financial goals, transfer a set amount of money to your savings or retirement account each payday (or whatever day you decide).
This ensures that you’re saving what you need to and eliminates the need to remember and manually do it. “This way, you won’t even see it and be tempted to spend the extra dollars that sit in your checking account,” Ceneno said.
6. Track your spending.
Take the time to jot down what you spend money on each month for a few months.
“You may be surprised by what you spend money on once you see it in an app or on paper,” said Jason Howell, Certified Financial Planner™ and president of Jason Howell Company.
Tracking your spending can help you realize you’re spending hundreds of dollars on Postmates when you could be putting that money toward student loans, saving for a down payment on a house, or a vacation with your spouse.
If you prefer to track your expenses digitally, consider using an app like Mint or Tiller. They can link to your bank account and provide easy-to-read reports so you can analyze your spending patterns.
7. Start small now rather than wait.
Don’t make the mistake of waiting until you’re older and earn a higher wage to save money. It’s better to start saving a small amount now than to wait until a time when you can save a “substantial” amount. That’s because the power of compound interest can turn what feels like meager savings into a meaningful nest egg.
“Compound interest is the unofficial 8th wonder of the world,” Haynes said. “Let your money and time do the heavy lifting. Saving money is a habit, and even if it’s a small amount, it’s helpful to start thinking of yourself as a saver.”
8. Speak with a financial advisor.
Long-term money decisions can be tough to make on your own. It may be worth the time and money to find a financial advisor with a deeper, broader knowledge of money management who can guide you toward the right financial path.
If you decide to work with a financial advisor, Haynes recommends asking them to sign a fiduciary oath to you. This ensures that they have your best interests in mind and won’t be making recommendations because of possible referral fees or commission.
9. High income does not guarantee financial success.
While your income matters, how much you save is more important. A high income does not guarantee financial success. You can earn a mid-range income and still reach your financial goals. It’s also possible to earn six figures and have a negative net worth and no savings.
“I see plenty of high-earners with very little in the way of assets, and I also see moderate earners who consistently save and are building a great nest egg,” said Lauren Haynes, a Certified Financial Planner™ at Spark Financial Advisors
Regardless of income, make sure you have a savings plan, debt payoff strategy, and emergency fund in place. Your salary doesn’t mean anything if you have no tangible assets to show for it.
Where to Find Free Financial Advice
If you’re doing all of the above and still want more information, there are a variety of places you can turn to for free financial advice.
Personal finance blogs
Personal finance blogs and websites help connect readers with practical and personal finance advice and first-person narratives. They teach you what worked for that individual, how they implemented systems to manage their finances, and they may even recommend products, books, and other helpful resources.
Some sites offer advice on ways to make extra money with side hustles, travel hacks, and how to improve your financial life in a way that’s entertaining, engaging, and relatable.
Unlike some financial experts, personal finance bloggers are often more relatable and accessible. If you have questions, you can reach out to them and you may receive a response.
Remember, most blogs and websites are for informational or entertainment purposes only. If you want legal or professional advice, seek out a qualified, credentialed finance professional.
Personal finance books
There are countless personal finance books loaded with sound financial advice. To save money, you can check them out at the library or buy used copies online.
Some of the more popular ones include Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover, and The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko.
These books provide solid personal finance advice including how to handle your money, how your behaviors and habits influence you, and how to make smarter financial choices.
You can also check out the personal finance or money management sections on Amazon and browse the titles. Read the summaries and see which sound most interesting.
Don’t forget about personal finance podcasts. If you spend a lot of time in the car or you’re not a big reader, download a few podcasts like Paychecks and Balances, Stacking Benjamins, and Bad with Money with Gaby Dunn.
Reputable online sources
The internet has no shortage of reputable online sources that can offer financial advice for free. If you like to read longer, in-depth articles, or stay up-to-date on new financial regulations, there’s the Your Money section on the New York Times website.
Bank websites are also invaluable since they’re often updated with articles and financial resources. For example, Bank of America has a Better Money Habits section on its website where you can access tips and tricks on budgeting, emergency savings, family money management, saving, and more.
Ally Bank has a Do It Right online resource center that’s full of articles and free resources like a car payment calculator, CD ladder tool, and courses on financial basics like budgeting, banking and investing, and credit.
Following Expert Financial Advice Could Change Your Life
The way you think about and manage your money can have a significant impact on your future. Think of personal finance as a lifelong course and something you need to follow regularly to stay current.
Once you know the basics, you can start to dive into investing, starting a business, and other wealth-building tactics. But you need a solid foundation first.
By following the experts and avoiding bad financial advice, you can set yourself up for a financially stable future and even change your legacy for future generations.