By Barbara Meyer


Are you one of the millions of Americans who lives paycheck-to-paycheck with little to no savings and maxed-out credit cards? 2016 can be the year that you change that through your own smart money moves. Get ready to improve your spending and savings strategies with these financial tips. 
Maintain an emergency fund
Most cases of bankruptcy aren’t due to reckless purchases, but to unforeseen financial events like job loss or serious illness. Be prepared for emergencies with an easily accessible source of income, enough to cover six months of expenses, more if you have dependents. 
Create a budget – and stick with it
Having a monthly budget gives you control over how you allocate your money and helps you identify spending patterns that you can improve upon. 
Pay yourself first
Put away a small amount of money in a savings account each week, an amount that you won’t miss, like $20. Due to the magic of compound interest, those dollars – and your savings – will begin to multiply quickly. 
Keep things organized
Establish an online bank account and paperless billing to help cut down on clutter and give you fast access to your records. To get the big picture, track everything through an Excel spreadsheet, software such as Quicken, or a web-based service like
Another plus: your organizational efforts will make things much easier at tax time.  

Assume that the future will take care of itself 
It’s never too soon – or too late – to start preparing for retirement through prudent savings and investments. There is a wealth of information available online and at your local bookstore.  Many employers offer free resources for managing company 401(k) plans. Consider hiring an independent financial advisor. 
Use credit cards unwisely
Credit cards are convenient, but they can also lead to overspending. Exceeding your credit limit or missing a payment can result in a hefty penalty fee and can damage your credit score. 
Never charge more on your card than you have saved in your bank account unless it’s an emergency. Pay off more than the minimum payment every month – if not the entire balance – to avoid paying interest. Avoid putting large expenses, like student loans and medical bills on cards, where high interest rates rapidly inflate your balance. You are better off working out a payment plan or financing through your credit union or bank. 
Confuse needs and wants
True needs are simple: shelter in the form of mortgage payments or rent, food, basic clothing, and transportation to get to and from work. Wants are things like a bigger home, newer car, or designer clothing that are nice to have but not essential. We get in financial trouble when we justify overspending on discretionary items for the wrong reasons. 

Ready – set – save!
Ready to learn more about financial fundamentals? There are many personal finance classes offered online and at community colleges.
Many charities provide financial literacy services to those in need. Get useful tips and information through the books, websites and
Twitter feeds of experts like Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey.

The Huffington Post reports that the number one reason couples fight is financial issues.  
According to the Business Insider, 17 states in the U.S. now require that students in public high schools take a personal finance class before they graduate. Less than 20 years ago, only one did (Illinois).