3 Pieces of Advice I Got From The Ascent and Actually Started Following

I’ve been copy editing for The Ascent for almost five years, and in that time, I’ve worked on many thousands of articles. I certainly don’t remember the specifics of a lot of them (like the tidal wave of cryptocurrency articles in 2021), but I’ve learned tons while working here.

I don’t come from a finance background, so a lot of the information I’ve edited has been new to me, just as it is to many of our readers. It’s inevitable that I would pick up some tips from the articles I read, especially when the advice is so sound that it gets repeated over and over. Here are three pieces of advice in particular that I took to heart and ended up acting on.

1. Set up a budget

I started working for The Ascent about six months after I left my full-time job, moved to a new state, and went freelance. At the time, I felt really unsure about how to handle my new financial picture. It was nerve-racking having a fluctuating paycheck and a whole different set of expenses to calculate. I knew I was making money, but I didn’t have a good grasp on how much it would end up being over an entire year and how it stacked up to my spending.

One of the earliest pieces of advice I remember seeing repeated in articles by The Ascent’s writers was to set up a budget, and I jumped on it quickly. One night, I opened up a spreadsheet, logged into my bank account, and got to work categorizing my expenses over the prior six months, as well as my monthly income over that time. It was a little tedious to do, but by the end of it, I had a much better understanding of where my money was going.

I don’t think of budgeting as a constraint; rather, it shows me how I’m using my money and what areas I can afford to adjust. And now that my budget is set up, I only have to make tweaks here and there when my expenses change, so it takes almost no time to maintain. But it’s given me a lot of peace of mind to have such a clear picture of my finances.

2. Create an emergency fund

This is another tip you’ll find again and again all over The Ascent. An emergency fund is money set aside in savings that can be accessed whenever the need arises. Common advice is to have anywhere from three to six months’ worth of necessary expenses saved up. You’ll want to have enough so you can cover any unexpected expense that pops up, like a hospital bill or major appliance repair, or to cover your regular bills in the event that you can’t work for a period of time or lose your job.

I’ve always been a saver, but I never had a purpose for my savings. Once I read this advice on The Ascent, I opened a high-yield savings account and transferred over enough money to give me a nice emergency cushion. I’ve been lucky so far and haven’t had to tap into it, which means that the amount has only grown over the years, thanks to compound interest.

3. Max out your IRAs

Yes, I’ve always been inclined to save, but I’ve also always been a little bit allergic to making moves that require big decisions, paperwork, and speaking to people on the phone. It took me several years into my career to finally set up a 401(k) plan, and it took me many months when I switched jobs to roll over my retirement plan to my new company. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that I’d let my retirement accounts sit on the back burner again while I was getting my freelance feet under me.

Reading other writers’ advice on The Ascent about how important it is to fund your retirement accounts was the kick in the pants I needed. I set aside some time to figure out my options for individual retirement accounts (IRAs). After that, I made sure to set up automatic transfers into my traditional and Roth IRAs every month so that I was maxing out my contributions. (For reference, in 2024, total IRA contributions top out at $7,000, or $8,000 for those age 50 and over.)

Because I had already set up a budget (point 1!) and created an emergency fund (point 2!), I knew I was in good shape to max out my IRA contributions with the income I had. This means I’ve set golden-years me up with a better financial situation, since I’ve prioritized saving now.

Good advice can be easy to find

Each of these moves has benefited me a lot by steadying my financial picture. None of them are groundbreaking or super-secret tips, but maybe that’s what makes them so great. They’re really easy pieces of advice for anyone to follow, but they can have a huge impact.

Sure, it would be cool to work as a taste tester at a burrito joint or a lounge chair expert at a beach resort (don’t fact-check me on whether those jobs exist), but I think it’s pretty cool I’m able to get a paycheck and sound financial advice from the same place.

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