How how much should you have saved for retirement today, based on your age? How much should you be saving for retirement each month? Do you have the best credit cards in your wallet, in terms of APR, transfer fees and rewards? Can you or should you pay off your student loan faster? What do you need to get the best mortgage, or how much can you save if you refinance? So many finance planning questions, so little time!
However, you need to get credible, professional help answering these questions. But not everyone can afford to pay for financial planning advice on a regular basis. So, here are eight ways to get much of the budgeting, investing, saving and retirement planning advice you need without paying a dime for it.
1. Meet with a credit counselor
Nonprofit credit counseling services help you examine your income, debt and expenses and then create a plan for stabilizing and improving your situation. The Federal Trade Commission has a helpful article to help you choose the right counselor for you. If you belong to a credit union, look for free personal finance workshops it offers. Your city, library, community college or other local group might offer free personal finance classes, workshops or lectures.
Market Watch, a personal finance website, shares some sources of free community advice. Look to see if a Financial Planning Day event has scheduled a free workshop in your area. These sessions are created by sponsored by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Financial Planning Association, Foundation for Financial Planning and U.S. Conference of Mayors.
2. Use online tools and apps
Create a bookmark folder on your browser toolbar and fill it with credible personal finance website: Don’t Waste Your Money, The Motley Fool, Bankrate.com, Investopedia and other websites from personal finance gurus are packed with information in easy-to-understand terms to help you make the smartest financial decisions.
Also financial gurus such Dave Ramsey, Suze Orman, Clark Howard, Robert Kiyosaki (Rich Dad, Poor Dad), Ed Slott, David Bach and others have made their fortunes selling books, DVDs and other personal finance products to consumers. To boost their sales, they give lots of free advice, host TV shows and offer radio programs and podcasts. Find a guru, look for some reviews, and then visit their websites to get free advice. Gurus update their websites regularly, notifying you of changes in federal personal finance laws, new or expiring tax deductions, etc
And don’t forget about your smartphone! Need an app to help you create and manage a budget? The Balance has a list of 12 personal finance apps that can help you stay current and update your information anytime, anywhere.
3. Rely on Google
You can find answers to virtually any personal finance question you have from a credible source just by putting your question into a search engine. For example, do you know the difference between term, whole and universal life insurance policies? Which one is best for single people or people with children? What are the pros and cons of debt consolidation? Should you buy or lease your next car? It’s easy to quickly find the right answer to many personal finance questions with a quick web search. Of course, refer to your trusted list of financial sources (see tip #2.)
4. Enjoy a free lunch
Many certified financial planners offer free seminars that include a breakfast or lunch talk for prospective clients. You’ll have to sit through a sales pitch at the end, and most likely have to provide your phone, email and street address. However, you’ll get professional advice and get to take a potential personal financial consultant for a “test drive” before you sign up with him or her.
5. Join or start an investing group
Thanks to online stock trading websites, more and more people are starting investment groups. Group members share research, data, recommendations for stocks and other investing information. These are extremely popular in retirement communities, where they’ll be happy to have younger people join.
6. Excel at budgeting
Creating a personal finance budget using a simple spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel gives you more than a one-way document. In addition to inputting your data, you’ll get lots of free “advice” and warnings from your spreadsheet. As you update your expenses each week or month, your column totals will alert you that you might be overspending or have a cash flow problem coming in a month or so. Create annual budgets to give you a more “heads-up’s” farther in advance.
Personal finance writer Sam Ashe-Edmunds has a variety of free articles at TheNest.com for creating personal and household budgets depending on your stage of life, income level or information needs.
Still not sure about budgets? Just remember: you don’t have to live on a shoestring budget to live with a budget. The Penny Hoarder busts five myths that make many people hesitant about starting a budget.
7. Sit down with family and friends
Many of your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors have already paid for finance planning advice and done the research you want. Ask if they’ll share what they’ve learned with you. You’ll get free tips on paying off credit cards, qualifying for or refinancing a mortgage, financing a vehicle, cutting your household expenses and saving for retirement. Much of the advice you get will come from financial pros they’ve paid or researched.