Whether you are headed off to college, starting a job, saving for your first home, or a parent preparing a child for life on their own, money management and budgeting can create anxiety. Can I afford college? How do I save for a down payment? How will I pay my bills, save and still be able to have some fun? These three simple steps will help ease the uncertainty and set you on a path toward financial independence.

Make Financial Literacy a Goal
Tap into online resources for an easy way to become more financially savvy:

CashCourse  offers free online personal finance tools to help you build financial skills.
• Mint pulls all your financial accounts into one place. This free tool allows you to set a budget, track your goals and do more with your money.
• The MyMoney website contains budgeting tools and tips for parents who want to begin financial education.
• Social media also offers easy access to helpful tips. If you are a fan of Twitter, here are some handles to follow: @20sMoney @EFXFinanceBlog@ModestMoney

Group of college students studying at campus

Create a budget
Differentiate between needs and wants and create a budget to track income and expenses. Give yourself some breathing room and estimate low for income and high for expenses. Calculate 10% of your total expenses and add that amount to a miscellaneous expense category. Also include savings as an expense. To get started, check out this budget worksheet specifically designed for a college student.

Understand Credit Card Debt and Avoid It
It’s easy to get carried away with the spend now/pay later benefits of a credit card. The trick is to understand the terms of the agreement and not spend more than you can afford to pay. Here’s a list of items to consider in the fine print.

• What is the credit limit? You will be charged an extra fee if you spend over that limit, even if you are able to pay it off.
• Try not to carry a balance. But if you must, be prepared for the fees you will be charged. The interest rate is the cost of borrowing money expressed by a percentage rate. Interest is charged each        month that an outstanding balance is carried. Also check APR which may be how a company refers to the interest rate plus other fees associated with the account.
• What is the grace period for payments? The grace period is the number of days you have to pay your bill in full without triggering additional charges.
• What additional fees are there? Annual? Monthly? Transaction fees?

It’s never too early to begin your financial education. Awareness and planning, mixed with some discipline, will get you closer to your financial goals with a lot less anxiety along the way.
By Amy Malloy