If you're like most entrepreneurs, chances are you're balancing your time between managing your team, making sales, improving customer service, marketing your business and creating new products or services. The last thing you want to do is add managing your personal finances into the mix. But if you don't have your own financial house in order, you're only adding to the chaos and stress in your life --whether you're aware of it or not.
Here are seven ways to make sure your financial house is in order as you continue to expand your business:
1. Get educated.
Take the time to educate yourself about various personal finance topics. Schedule weekly money dates with yourself and spend a few hours managing your personal finances and reading financial books, blogs or magazines. The more you know about your own finances, the more confident you will feel about managing your money for the long haul. If you need even more support, consider hiring a certified financial planner who can help you understand your money and create a financial plan to help you reach your goals.
2. Check your credit regularly.
Your credit report is like a file on you and your credit history. It basically tells lenders how risky a borrower you are. When it comes time to purchase a new home or new car, you want your credit report and credit score to be in top financial shape so you qualify for good interest rates. Get in the habit of checking your credit report and credit score at least annually to confirm its accuracy. Do it on your birthday to make keeping track easy. You can access your credit report for free once per year at www.annualcreditreport.com, then pay an additional fee to get your credit score.
3. Create a budget.
Although this sounds very basic, many entrepreneurs have no budget in place to track their monthly personal income and expenses. You can use online systems like mint.com to track your income and expenses, or simply an Excel spreadsheet. Whatever budgeting system you decide to use, just make sure it works for you and your lifestyle. If you're serious about cleaning up your finances and getting ahead financially, you must allocate time and energy to updating your budget every week. This will ensure you're not spending more than you earn and that you're able to save for your financial goals.
4. Automate your finances.
Technology makes it super easy to manage day-to-day finances. Set up your finances so that a majority of the process is automated. You can use online bill pay or set up automatic transfers every month for your bills. That way you don't have to worry about whether you're paying your bills on time or being charged late fees for late payments. If you're concerned about having all your bills automated, set up corresponding calendar alerts to check your statements and payments to ensure accuracy. Also, strive to automate your savings every month. The more you can automate your finances, the less you have to worry about on a day-to-day basis.
5. Pay off debts.
Make a plan to pay off your personal debts as soon as possible. Start by making a list of all your debts -- car loans, credit cards, student loans, etc. Include the current balance, minimum monthly payment and interest rate. Then review your budget to determine how much money you can add toward additional debt payments. From there, you can do some more research on the best debt-reduction strategy to confirm you're paying off your debts in the most efficient and effective manner. When working on debt reduction, it is important that you have an adequate cash cushion or money in the bank for any short-term emergencies that may arise.
6. Build your own cash cushion.
Having a cash cushion is an integral part of your financial foundation. It allows you to use cash to pay for those random expenses or emergencies that arise in your day-to-day life instead of creating more debt or tapping into long-term investments. As an entrepreneur, you should strive to have a cash cushion of six to 12 months of your committed expenses. A cash cushion will allow you to pay for your personal bills and not worry about making ends meet if you need to reduce your income due to tight business cash flow.
7. Start investing outside your business.
While it is very important to always invest in yourself and your business, you don't want to have all your eggs in one basket. Diversification is extremely important, as it will help spread out your investment risk over the long haul. Work with a financial planner to create a long-term investment portfolio of stocks, bonds and real estate that is aligned with your financial goals and risk tolerance.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Brittney Castro is the founder and CEO of Financially Wise Women, a Los Angeles-based financial planning firm for women where she offers a free 30-minute financial planning session. She is a certified financial planner and specializes in working with busy professional and entrepreneurial women who are passionate about life and want to gain clarity around their money.