10 Signs You're No Longer a Personal Finance Rookie

How are you doing with your money? Is your checking account flourishing? Do you have a well-stocked savings account, a growing 401(k), and an emergency fund ready to save you from life's unexpected money mishaps? That's great news. These are all signs you're out of the minor leagues and are now a major player in the world of personal finance. Here are a few more.

1. You're not panic-checking your financial accounts

When you are in full control of your finances, you know where your money is going, when it's coming in, and you have a pretty good idea of all your balances at all times. You keep track of your spending and you see the numbers you expect to see when you log into your bank or credit card account.

This is a far cry from the days when checking your accounts was like a horrible game show moment ('Let's see if there's any money behind door Number 1!'). You may not even notice this good habit anymore, but you can feel good knowing those panicky peeks at your balances are over.

2. You never get a huge tax refund (but you don't owe anything, either)

A massive tax refund is not a smart way to manage your money. By overpaying your taxes, you are giving the government an interest-free loan all year while you miss out on investment opportunities and the benefits of compound interest. Finance rookies overpay their taxes because a refund feels like a windfall. The fact of the matter is that money should have been in your paycheck all along.

No one wants to owe money at tax time, but if you calculate your withholdings correctly, you should come out as close to $0 as possible. That means you're taking advantage of every cent you earn throughout the year.

3. You have almost no monthly debt

Most of us are going to carry at least some debt for a chunk of our lives; after all, it's difficult to pay for a home with cold, hard cash. But excessive monthly debts mean that your finances are not as shipshape as they could be.

It's better to buy a car in cash, upfront, than it is to pay a lease or car payment. Credit card debt that lingers for years is a huge drain on your finances. Other loans or monthly debts almost always carry interest, and that means you're continuously throwing money away. If you're living with little to no monthly debt, you have financial freedom; and that means you're no rookie. (See also: The Fastest Method to Eliminate Credit Card Debt)

4. Your credit score is doing really well

When was the last time you checked out your credit score? It's a good idea to do it once a month, because erroneous things can creep up. Now, take a look and see where you are on the credit rating scale.

If you're above 700, it means you're doing great. Above 750, you're doing even better. And if you are in that magic 800+ category, you are considered by all credit agencies to be one of the best customers around. This means you have low debt, you pay everything on time, and you have accounts that date back many years. This is all evidence that you are definitely not a finance rookie. Congrats! (See also: 5 Ways Life Is Amazing With an 800 Credit Score)

5. You're automatically putting money away

Saving money when you can is great, and you should always try and pay yourself first. However, if you have automated this system, you have taken a much bigger step toward financial freedom.

By automating payments to savings accounts, retirement accounts, and an emergency fund, you have prioritized your future. Now, saving isn't just something you do if there is money left over at the end of the month. Instead, saving comes first, and you budget with what's left. It's tougher to do it this way, and it often requires discipline. But it's the best way to go about it. (See also: 5 Ways to Automate Your Finances)

6. You're not living paycheck to paycheck

This is a tough one. The sad state of affairs is that as many as 78 percent of Americans are currently living paycheck to paycheck, according to a poll by CareerBuilder. Wages have stagnated, and the cost of living has risen dramatically compared to income. However, a chunk of that 78 percent are living this way due to a lack of budgeting, discipline, and overwhelming debt. Even people earning over $100,000 a year are living like this, and that's just unacceptable.

If you don't live above your means, don't try and keep up with the Joneses, and don't make rash decisions with your money, you should be able to escape this paycheck to paycheck existence. It's not only bad for your finances, but extremely bad for your health and mental wellbeing. (See also: How to Escape the Paycheck-to-Paycheck Cycle)

7. You have an emergency fund

An emergency fund is just that; a stash of money that can be used for a crisis, such as losing your job, unexpected home repairs, medical care, and even emergency travel. Ideally, this fund should cover at least six months' worth of daily living expenses for you and your family — even more if you have a high-paying job or unique living expenses such as a medical condition.

Socking away a few months' worth of expenses can be daunting, but if you at least have a few thousand dollars put away, you're off to a great start and doing better than the majority of the population. You'll thank yourself when a financial speed bump comes along. (See also: 5-Minute Finance: Start an Emergency Fund)

8. You pay all your bills on time

Have you ever seen people play fast and loose with their bills? They will choose to pay some one month, and others the next. But sooner or later, everyone has to pay the piper. Utilities will get shut off, debt collectors will call, and credit scores will tumble. And, it often costs even more money to put things right. If you pay all your bills on time, every month, you're doing a fantastic job with your finances.

9. You don't make impulse purchases

It takes willpower to shed the 'personal finance rookie' title, and if you are no longer throwing money at purchases without thinking, you have moved beyond that role.

Impulse buying should not be confused with taking advantage of a sale on a needed item or even an occasional treat. If you carefully consider the purchase and decide it is one you need or deserve, that's great. The problem arises when you see a 75 percent off sticker and automatically grab the item regardless of whether or not you would ever actually use or need it. In that case, you didn't 'save' 75 percent … you wasted money on the remaining 25 percent. (See also: 7 Effortless Ways to Prevent Budget-Busting Impulse Buys)

10. You have a monthly budget and stick to it

Perhaps the most important item on the list is a monthly budget. In fact, if you adhere to a monthly budget, most of the other habits on this list will follow naturally.

A monthly budget is the linchpin of financial stability. It tells you exactly what money is coming in, what is going out, where it's being spent, and what you can expect to see when you look in your different accounts. By sticking to a monthly budget, you have fewer financial surprises. Even if you're not yet at the point where you can save, you are at least managing the money you have, and that will lead to financial freedom down the road. (See also: Stop Using These 5 Excuses Not to Budget)

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10 Signs You're No Longer a Personal Finance Rookie

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