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See the results of our 2022 Personal Finance Study!

The OppU Money Guide: A Financial Management Tool

By
Kelly Zimmerman
Kelly Zimmerman managed and edited all content as editor-in-chief for OppU. She has been published in national publications and newswires, including The Associated Press, McClatchy, and MarketWatch.com.
Fact Checked by
Barbara Takle Carpenter
Barbara Takle Carpenter is Principal Consultant and Owner of Takle Consulting Group, LLC. From discovery to ideation, her work improves the understanding of audiences and engagement. She is a data analyst and fact-checker for Oppu, vetting survey data and providing industry insight into consumer personal finance habits.
Read time: 6 min
Updated on December 1, 2022
woman looking at phone
Pick up best practices for managing finances, from budgeting for all types of households to dealing with income challenges.

Money Guide: Take Control of Your Finances

If anything, the past year has shown us that life is unpredictable — especially when it comes to money. The tips and tools in this guide will walk you through four major areas of managing your money — budgets, financial planning, income, and bills — and help you prepare for even the most unexpected financial circumstances.

Your Budget

For Americans who are in a steady financial position, sticking to a budget is key.

  • 8%: Workers who couldn’t get by at all if they missed a paycheck
  • 14%: Employees working for federal minimum wage or less
  • 32%: People who struggle to pay their personal debts each month

Source: OppU 2021 Family Budget Survey

Budgeting doesn't have to be complicated. Master your budget with these three tips.

No. 1: Stretch your dollar

  • Come to terms with your income and bills
  • Find alternatives to mainstream services
  • Schedule your bills to work with payday

No. 2: Make a plan

  • Spread out your bills and obligations
  • Identify where to skimp and reallocate funds
  • Schedule automatic transfers to savings

No. 3: Hone your spending habits

pull quote from Michael Collins

Does this sound like you? Let's take a look at your household.

Your Household

Maybe you live alone. Maybe you have a spouse and children. Or maybe your household situation is more complicated than that. Regardless of how many people live under your roof, your household situation and finances are most likely intertwined.

Couples

Talking about finances with a partner may not come naturally. In fact, it’s downright stressful for 58% of Americans who are married or living with a partner.

Money and your relationship

Feeling insecure about your financial future with your significant other? You are not alone. 48% of Americans who are married or live with a partner resent that person when it comes to finances, according to a 2021 OppU survey.

4 quick tips to support your money talk:

  • Don’t be embarrassed or let shame stop you from talking about money
  • Zero in on your feelings about money
  • Come clean to your partner
  • Hold each other accountable

Families

Adding children to the mix makes finances even more complex. From child care to medical bills, additional family members translates to higher expenses.

Money and kids

Formula. Wipes. Diapers. Child care. Those baby expenses can add up quickly. Are you prepared to cover it? According the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost for the first two years of a child’s life is $12,680.

Make the most of your family budget:

  • Start saving as soon as possible
  • Prioritize quality and safety over the latest and greatest gear
  • Identify potential tax breaks and employer benefits

Learn more about how to budget for a baby without going into debt.

Singles

Single Americans are likely to stick to a budget and have enough money to cover monthly essentials, yet they still have financial challenges.

Money and you

Does this sound like you?

  • 30%: “I do not invest in a retirement account.”
  • 58%: “I typically live paycheck to paycheck.”
  • 47%: “I feel that I cannot get ahead financially.”
  • 42%: “I have more than $15,000 in personal debt.”

Source: OppU 2021 Family Budget Survey

It is possible to change your fate and start saving now:

  • Save before you spend - even if it’s just a little
  • Set it and forget it with automatic transfers
  • Start small - even with $10/week
  • Give yourself an allowance

If you're living paycheck to paycheck these 5 budget strategies may help.

pull quote from Michael Collins

Your Income

Top 3 expenses financial decision-makers struggle to pay:

  • Food/groceries
  • Personal debts
  • Medical expenses

Source: OppU 2021 Family Budget Survey

Income options and resources

Are you coming up short on your bills each month? Here are some tips for boosting your income.

  • Explore available resources
  • Give yourself a raise or new savings opportunities
  • Consider passive income opportunities
  • Adjust your income tax withholdings

You may be eligible for:

  • Government relief checks
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Nonprofit relief funds

Did your stimulus check fall short of giving your income the boost it needs? Find out what other benefits you may be eligible to receive.

Government relief: Did you receive a paycheck boost?

  • More than 8-in-10 Americans who received a stimulus check felt the money improved their financial situation in some way.
  • About 16% used their stimulus money to pay off debt or bills.
  • However, 16% felt the extra income had minimal impact on their financial situation.

Source: OppU 2021 Family Budget Survey

Take advantage of employer benefits:

  • Health savings accounts
  • Commuter plans
  • Pretax dependent care

Learn more about pretax savings options to help your bank account.

Earn money without investing much effort or time:

  • Rent a room in your home
  • Rent out your car
  • Create an online course

Learn more about passive income ideas for trying times.

Did you receive a tax refund?

Problem: Many Americans receive a tax refund and view it as free money — but it’s not.
A tax refund indicates:

  • You overpaid throughout the year
  • The government is reimbursing you for money that was already yours
  • Your regular take-home pay could be higher

Learn how to read:

Your Bills

Personal debt can impact your ability to pay for necessities. One-quarter of surveyed American’s with more than $30,000 in personal debt struggle with paying personal debts, food, and mortgage/rent each month.

What is a utility bill?

The basic resources that service your home:

  • Water
  • Gas
  • Electricity
  • Internet
  • Phone
  • Cable

Learn how bad credit can affect your utility bills.

Other monthly bills:

  • Rent/mortgage
  • Car payment
  • Childcare
  • Other personal debts

Paying bills

What options are there for paying bills?

Paying bills with cash:

  • Ask for a receipt
  • Be aware of fees
  • Request a discount

Red flag: If a property management company expects cash payments and does not offer receipts.

If you're paying bills by check, here is a step-by-step checklist for filling one out:

  • Write the date
  • Write the name of the company or person you are paying
  • Write the amount you owe in numerals
  • Write out the amount you owe in words
  • Optional: Note the purpose of payment
  • Sign your name

Pay on time to avoid:

  • Negative impact to your credit score
  • Loss of security deposits
  • Late fees and penalties
  • Termination of services

Can’t pay your bills?

  • Call your lenders and service providers
  • Find out if you’re eligible for government relief
  • Check for potential deadline extensions, ie federal student loans

For a second consecutive year, OppU commissioned an online survey through Pollfish to interview 800 U.S. household financial decision-makers regarding their budgeting practices and attitudes towards managing their finances. Fieldwork was undertaken on April 12th, 2021. Respondents ranged from ages 18 to 65. Each of the four census regions was equally represented. The data was weighted to ensure proportional representation of U.S. consumers by age and geography. Margin-of-error is ± 3.46%, at a 95% confidence level, meaning if the study were repeated, 95 out of 100 times, results would range about 4% in either direction.

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