What Is Personal Finance, and Why Is It Important?

While your children are young, take the time to teach them about the value of money and how to save, invest, and spend wisely.

What Is Personal Finance?

Personal finance is a term that covers managing your money as well as saving and investing. It encompasses budgeting, banking, insurance, mortgages, investments, and retirement, tax, and estate planning. The term often refers to the entire industry that provides financial services to individuals and households and advises them about financial and investment opportunities.

Individual goals and desires—and a plan to fulfill those needs within your financial constraints—also impact how you approach the above items. To make the most of your income and savings, it’s essential to become financially savvy—it will help you distinguish between good and bad advice and make intelligent financial decisions.

Key Takeaways

  • Few schools have courses on managing your money, so it is important to learn how through free online articles, courses, blogs, podcasts, or books.
  • The core areas of managing personal finance include income, spending, savings, investments, and protection.
  • Smart personal finance involves developing strategies that include budgeting, creating an emergency fund, paying off debt, using credit cards wisely, saving for retirement, and much more.
  • Being disciplined is important, but it’s also good to know when you shouldn’t adhere to the guidelines.


The Importance of Personal Finance

Personal finance is about meeting your personal financial goals. These goals could be anything—having enough for short-term financial needs, planning for retirement, or saving for your child’s college education. It depends on your income, spending, saving, investing, and personal protection (insurance and estate planning).


Areas of Personal Finance

The five areas of personal finance are income, saving, spending, investing, and protection.



Income is the starting point of personal finance. It is the entire amount of cash inflow that you receive and can allocate to expenses, savings, investments, and protection. Income is all the money you bring in. This includes salaries, wages, dividends, and other sources of cash inflow.



Spending is an outflow of cash and typically where the bulk of income goes. Spending is whatever an individual uses their income to buy. This includes rent, mortgage, groceries, hobbies, eating out, home furnishings, home repairs, travel, and entertainment.

Being able to manage spending is a critical aspect of personal finance. Individuals must ensure their spending is less than their income; otherwise, they won’t have enough money to cover their expenses or will fall into debt. Debt can be devastating financially, particularly with the high-interest rates credit cards charge.



Savings is the income left over after spending. Everyone should aim to have savings to cover large expenses or emergencies. However, this means not using all your income, which can be difficult. Regardless of the difficulty, everyone should strive to have at least a portion of savings to meet any fluctuations in income and spending—somewhere between three and 12 months of expenses.

Beyond that, cash idling in a savings account becomes wasteful because it loses purchasing power to inflation over time. Instead, cash not tied up in an emergency or spending account should be placed in something that will help it maintain its value or grow, such as investments.



Investing involves purchasing assets, usually stocks and bonds, to earn a return on the money invested. Investing aims to increase an individual’s wealth beyond the amount they invested. Investing does come with risks, as not all assets appreciate and can incur a loss.

Investing can be difficult for those unfamiliar with it—it helps to dedicate some time to gain an understanding through reading and studying. If you don’t have time, you might benefit from hiring a professional to help you invest your money.



Protection refers to the methods people take to protect themselves from unexpected events, such as illnesses or accidents, and as a means to preserve wealth. Protection includes life and health insurance and estate and retirement planning.


Personal Finance Services

Several financial planning services fall under one or more of the five areas. You’re likely to find many businesses that provide these services to clients to help them plan and manage their finances. These services include:

  • Wealth Management
  • Loans and Debt
  • Budgeting
  • Retirement
  • Taxes
  • Risk Management
  • Estate Planning
  • Investments
  • Insurance
  • Credit Cards
  • Home and Mortgage
  • Personal Finance Strategies

The sooner you start financial planning, the better, but it’s never too late to create financial goals to give yourself and your family financial security and freedom. Here are the best practices and tips for personal finance.


Know Your Income

It’s all for nothing if you don’t know how much you bring home after taxes and withholding. So before deciding anything, ensure you know exactly how much take-home pay you receive.


Devise a Budget

A budget is essential to living within your means and saving enough to meet your long-term goals. The 50/30/20 budgeting method offers a great framework. It breaks down like this:

Fifty percent of your take-home pay or net income (after taxes) goes toward living essentials, such as rent, utilities, groceries, and transport.

Thirty percent is allocated to discretionary expenses, such as dining out and shopping for clothes. Giving to charity can go here as well.

Twenty percent goes toward the future—paying down debt and saving for retirement and emergencies.

It’s never been easier to manage money, thanks to a growing number of smartphone personal budgeting apps that put day-to-day finances in the palm of your hand. Here are just two examples:

YNAB (an acronym for You Need a Budget) helps you track and adjust your spending to control every dollar you spend.

Mint streamlines cash flow, budgets, credit cards, bills, and investment tracking from one place. It automatically updates and categorizes your financial data as information comes in, so you always know where you stand financially. The app will even dish out custom tips and advice.


Pay Yourself First

It’s important to “pay yourself first” to ensure money is set aside for unexpected expenses, such as medical bills, a significant car repair, day-to-day expenses if you get laid off, and more. The ideal safety net is three to 12 months of living expenses.

Financial experts generally recommend putting away 20% of each paycheck every month. Once you’ve filled up your emergency fund, don’t stop. Continue funneling the monthly 20% toward other financial goals, such as a retirement fund or a down payment on a home.


Limit and Reduce Debt

It sounds simple enough: Don’t spend more than you earn to keep debt from getting out of hand. But, of course, most people have to borrow from time to time, and sometimes going into debt can be advantageous—for example, if it leads to acquiring an asset. Taking out a mortgage to buy a house might be one such case. Still, leasing sometimes can be more economical than buying outright, whether renting a property, leasing a car, or even getting a subscription to computer software.

On the other hand, minimizing repayments (to interest only, for instance) can free up income to invest elsewhere or put into retirement savings while you’re young when your nest egg gets the maximum benefit from compounding interest. Some private and federal loans are even eligible for a rate reduction if the borrower enrolls in auto pay.


Only Borrow What You Can Repay

Credit cards can be major debt traps, but it’s unrealistic not to own any in the contemporary world. Furthermore, they have applications beyond buying things. They are crucial to establishing your credit rating and a great way to track spending, which can be a considerable budgeting aid.

Credit needs to be managed correctly, meaning you should pay off your entire balance every month or keep your credit utilization ratio at a minimum (that is, keep your account balances below 30% of your total available credit).

Given the extraordinary reward and incentives offered these days (such as cashback), it makes sense to charge as many purchases as possible—if you can pay your bills in full.


Tip: Avoid maxing out credit cards at all costs, and always pay bills on time. One of the fastest ways to ruin your credit score is to constantly pay bills late—or even worse, miss payments.

Using a debit card, which takes money directly from your bank account, is another way to ensure that you will not be paying for accumulated small purchases over an extended period with interest.


Monitor Your Credit Score

Credit cards are the primary vehicle through which your credit score is built and maintained, so watching credit spending goes hand in hand with monitoring your credit score. If you ever want to obtain a lease, mortgage, or any other type of financing, then you’ll need a solid credit report.


Plan for Your Future

To protect the assets in your estate and ensure that your wishes are followed when you die, be sure you make a will and—depending on your needs—possibly set up one or more trusts. You also should look into insurance and find ways to reduce your premiums, if possible: auto, home, life, disability, and long-term care (LTC). Periodically review your policy to ensure it meets your family’s needs through life’s major milestones.

Other critical documents include a living will and a healthcare power of attorney. While not all of these documents directly affect you, all of them can save your next of kin considerable time and expense when you fall ill or become otherwise incapacitated.

Retirement may seem like a lifetime away, but it arrives much sooner than expected. Experts suggest that most people will need about 80% of their current salary in retirement. The younger you start, the more you benefit from what advisors call the magic of compounding interest—how small amounts grow over time.


Important: While your children are young, take the time to teach them about the value of money and how to save, invest, and spend wisely.


Investing is only one part of planning for retirement. Other strategies include waiting as long as possible before opting to receive Social Security benefits (which is smart for most people) and converting a term life insurance policy to permanent life.


Buy Insurance

As you age, it’s natural for you to accumulate many of the same things your parents did—a family, home or apartment, belongings, and health issues. Insurance can be expensive if you wait too long to get it. Health care, long-term care insurance, life insurance; it all increases in cost the older you get. Additionally, you never know what life will send your way. If you’re the sole breadwinner for the family, or you and your partner both work to make ends meet, a lot depends on your ability to work.

Insurance can cover most of the hospital bills as you age, leaving your hard-earned savings in your family’s hands; medical expenses are one of the leading reasons for debt. If something happens to you, life insurance can give those you leave behind a buffer zone to deal with the loss and get back on their feet financially.


Maximize Tax Breaks

Due to an overly complex tax code, many people leave hundreds or even thousands of dollars sitting on the table every year. By maximizing your tax savings, you’ll free up money that can be invested in your reduction of past debts, enjoyment of the present, and plans for the future.

You should start saving receipts and tracking expenditures for all possible tax deductions and tax credits. Many office supply stores sell helpful “tax organizers” that have the main categories already labeled.

After you’re organized, you’ll want to focus on taking advantage of every tax deduction and credit available, as well as deciding between the two when necessary. In short, a tax deduction reduces the amount of income on which you are taxed, whereas a tax credit reduces the amount of tax that you owe.


Give Yourself a Break

Budgeting and planning can seem full of deprivations. Make sure you reward yourself now and then. Whether it’s a vacation, a purchase, or an occasional night on the town, you need to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Doing so gives you a taste of the financial independence you’re working so hard for.

Last but not least, don’t forget to delegate when needed. Even though you might be competent enough to do your own taxes or manage a portfolio of individual stocks, it doesn’t mean you should. Setting up an account at a brokerage and spending a few hundred dollars on a certified public accountant or a financial planner—at least once—might be a good way to jump-start your planning.


Personal Finance Skills

The key to getting your finances on the right track is using skills you likely already have. It’s also about understanding that the principles that contribute to success in business and your career work just as well in personal money management. Three key skills are finance prioritization, assessing the costs and benefits, and restraining your spending.


Finance Prioritization

This means that you can look at your finances, discern what keeps the money flowing in, and make sure that you stay focused on those efforts.

Assessing the Costs and Benefits

This key skill keeps professionals from spreading themselves too thin. Ambitious individuals always have a list of ideas about other ways that they can hit it big, whether it is a side business or an investment idea. While there is a place and time for taking a flier, running your finances like a business means stepping back and honestly assessing the potential costs and benefits of any new venture.

Restraining Your Spending

This is the final big-picture skill of successful business management that must be applied to personal finances. Time and again, financial planners sit down with successful people who still manage to spend more than they make. Learning to restrain spending on non-wealth-building assets until after you’ve met your monthly savings or debt reduction goals is crucial in building net worth.

Personal Finance Education

Personal money management isn’t one of the most popular topics in educational systems. Many college degrees require some financial education, but it isn’t geared toward individuals, which means that most of us will need to get our personal finance education from our parents (if we’re lucky) or learn it ourselves.

Fortunately, you don’t have to spend much money to find out how to manage it better. You can learn everything you need to know for free online and in library books. Almost all media publications regularly dole out personal finance advice, too.

The most important thing is to find resources that work for your learning style and that you find interesting and engaging. If one blog, book, course, or podcast is dull or difficult to understand, keep trying until you find something that clicks.

Education shouldn’t stop once you learn the basics. The economy changes, and new financial tools like the budgeting apps mentioned earlier are always being developed. Find resources you enjoy and trust, and keep refining your money skills through retirement and beyond.

What Personal Finance Classes Can’t Teach You

Personal finance education is a great idea for consumers, especially people starting out who want to learn investing basics or about credit management; however, understanding the basic concepts is not a guaranteed path to financial sense. Human nature can often derail the best intentions to achieve a perfect credit score or build a substantial retirement

Breaking Personal Finance Rules

The personal finance realm may have more guidelines and tips to follow than any other. Although these rules are good to know, everyone has their own circumstances. Here are some rules prudent people, especially young adults, are never supposed to break—but can break if necessary.

Saving or Investing a Set Portion of Your Income

An ideal budget includes saving a portion of your paycheck every month for retirement—usually around 10% to 20%. However, while being fiscally responsible is important and thinking about your future is crucial, the general rule of saving a given amount for retirement may not always be the best choice, especially for young people just getting started.

For one thing, many young adults and students need to consider paying for their biggest expenses, such as a new car, home, or postsecondary education. Taking away 10% to 20% of available funds would be a definite setback in making those purchases.

Additionally, saving for retirement doesn’t make much sense if you have credit cards or interest-bearing loans to pay off. The 19% interest rate on your Visa card probably would negate the returns you get from your balanced mutual fund retirement portfolio five times over.

Finally, saving money to travel and experience new places and cultures can be especially rewarding for a young person who’s still unsure about their life path.

Long-term Investing/Investing in Riskier Assets

The rule of thumb for young investors is that they should have a long-term outlook and stick to a buy-and-hold philosophy. This rule is one of the easier ones to justify breaking. Adapting to changing markets can be the difference between making money or limiting your losses and sitting idly by and watching your hard-earned savings shrink. Short-term investing has its advantages at any age.

Common investing logic suggests that because young investors have such a long investment time horizon, they should be investing in higher-risk ventures; after all, they have the rest of their lives to recover from any losses that they may suffer; however, you don’t have to take on undue risk in your short- to medium-term investments if you don’t want to.

The idea of diversification is an important part of creating a strong investment portfolio; this includes both the riskiness of individual stocks and their intended investment horizon.

At the other end of the age spectrum, investors near and at retirement are encouraged to cut back to the safest investments—even though these may yield less than inflation—to preserve capital. Taking fewer risks is important as the number of years you have to earn money and recover from bad financial times dwindles, but at age 60 or 65, you could have 20, 30, or even more years to go. Some growth investments could still make sense for you.


Frequently Asked Questions FAQ

What Is Personal Finance?

Personal finance is the knowledge, instruments, and techniques used to manage your finances. When you understand the principles and concepts behind personal finance, you can manage debt, savings, living expenses, and retirement savings.

What Are the 5 Main Components of Personal Finance?

The five main components are income, spending, savings, investing, and protection.

What Is an Example of Personal Finance?

One of the key ideas behind personal finance is not to spend more than you make.

Why Is Personal Finance So Important?

The concepts behind managing your personal finances can guide you in making intelligent financial decisions. In addition, the decisions you make throughout your life on what to buy, sell, hold, or own can affect how you live when you can no longer work.

Personal finance is managing your money to cover expenses and save for the future. It is a topic that covers a broad array of areas, including managing expenses and debt, how to save and invest, and how to plan for retirement. In addition, it can include ways to protect yourself with insurance, build wealth, and ensure wealth is passed on to the people you want it to pass to.

Understanding how to manage your finances is an important life-planning tool that can help set you up for a life without debt; you gain control of financial stresses and have a way to manage the expensive surprises that life can throw at you.

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First Home Debt is something, usually money, owed by one party to another. Debt is used by many individuals and companies to make large purchases that they could not afford under other circumstances. Unless a debt is forgiven by the lender, it must be paid back, typically with added interest.

First Home Debt is something, usually money, owed by one party to another. Debt is used by many individuals and companies to make large purchases that they could not afford under other circumstances. Unless a debt is forgiven by the lender, it must be paid back, typically with added interest.

Second Home Debt is something, usually money, owed by one party to another. Debt is used by many individuals and companies to make large purchases that they could not afford under other circumstances. Unless a debt is forgiven by the lender, it must be paid back, typically with added interest.

Second Home Debt is something, usually money, owed by one party to another. Debt is used by many individuals and companies to make large purchases that they could not afford under other circumstances. Unless a debt is forgiven by the lender, it must be paid back, typically with added interest.

Third Home Debt is something, usually money, owed by one party to another. Debt is used by many individuals and companies to make large purchases that they could not afford under other circumstances. Unless a debt is forgiven by the lender, it must be paid back, typically with added interest.

Third Home Debt is something, usually money, owed by one party to another. Debt is used by many individuals and companies to make large purchases that they could not afford under other circumstances. Unless a debt is forgiven by the lender, it must be paid back, typically with added interest.