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AJ Smith: Financial Expert Profile

AJ Smith didn’t always focus on personal finance. She liked to work and earn money – that was about as far as she planned. But over the course of her career she came to see just how important personal finance is. It touches every part of our lives. She also saw that there wasn’t enough good content out there to help people make the tough financial decisions that we all have to make in our lives. Now she works to create educational and engaging content for SmartAsset.

Top Financial Advice From AJ Smith

A big piece of advice from AJ Smith is to look at your finances… today! It’s easy to avoid thinking about your money. This is especially true when you have a tough time making ends meet. It’s easier to avoid a situation than confront it head on. The trouble is that it will catch up to you. For example, financial expert Dave Ramsey used to work in real estate. He was making great money but he was also putting himself deep into debt. He ignored his debt until he couldn’t. It reached the point where he filed for bankruptcy and had to figure things out.

How does AJ Smith say to look at your finances? Well, the goal is to understand your financial situation as well as possible. As she told us, “From a place of knowledge, you can make a plan and start to take action to achieve your financial, and truly your life, goals.”

So as you think about your money, figure out how much you’re spending and what you’re spending on. Do you struggle with overspending? Well it’s hard to cut back if you don’t know what you spend on. Look up your credit score. It affects how financial institutions view your finances. Once you know what it is, you can work on improving it (or maintaining it if you have a high score).

While you’re at it, you should check out your full credit report. It will tell you all the accounts you have and it will also tell you if you owe money with any of them. Do you carry a credit card balance? Learn how much you are paying in credit card interest. Interest is usually the most expensive part of credit card debt. Knowing how much your cards charge in interest can also help you decide which cards to pay off first.

Getting to know your finances is important because everyone’s financial situation is slightly different. That’s why it’s hard to make smart financial decisions if you don’t know your exact situation. Smith echoes this in her role as SmartAsset’s vice president of content strategy and financial education. As she says:

“The answer to your finance question is always, ‘It depends.’ The right answer for you will always be dependent on your personal situation. So while it might be a good time for your cousin to buy a home, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good time for you. That will depend on factors including your credit score, income, savings, location, etc.”

There’s another part of this too. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! A lot of people feel embarrassed to ask questions about money. They assume that everyone else has it all together and that asking questions will make them look foolish. However, most people do not have it all together. As AJ Smith’s experience has shown her, “Even educated people can be in the dark when it comes to finance.”

So don’t just nod along with things you don’t understand because you’re afraid to ask questions. If you dedicate to asking questions when you have them, you will only make things easier. It isn’t worth spending your life uncomfortable or confused about your money.

A Brief Bio of AJ Smith

AJ Smith: Financial Expert Profile

Smith has always enjoyed working. When she was 9, she spent the summer earning some early experience and a little money as a “mother’s helper.” Years later she applied for her first “real” job on the very day that she legally could.

However, like many of us, Smith wasn’t planning out what she would do with her money after she earned it. Putting money into something like an IRA certainly wasn’t a priority for her. As she says, “While I was always interested in making money, I didn’t really focus on what I did with it once I had it.”

That has changed though as she has advanced in her career and learned more about finance. Now she is sure to put some of each paycheck toward her retirement, her short-term savings goals and a strong emergency fund. She has even worked to grow her emergency fund recently because with a child, you never know what unexpected expenses will come up.

AJ Smith has worked in news and journalism for years and now serves as the vice president of content strategy and financial education for SmartAsset.

Financial Focus and Philosophy

AJ Smith believes that you should learn everything you can about personal finance and your financial situation in particular. As she said in her interview with us, “The more informed you are, the better decisions you can make for yourself and your family.”

It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your educational background is. It’s OK if you haven’t thought much about your finances in the past. Make the decision now to start leaning. Think about what’s important to you and start making a financial plan. You’ll find that education is empowering and that things get easier as you learn more. Smith also believes that as you take control of your finances, you’ll find it easier to achieve your other life goals, too.

Current Projects and Where You Can Find AJ Smith

You can connect with AJ on Twitter with the handle @_AJ_Smith.

Outside of her work with SmartAsset, AJ Smith also writes, illustrates and self-publishes a series of children’s books with her husband. Their books don’t focus on financial literacy (at least not yet) but they are educational. The Hickory Dickory series has focused on subjects like math, numbers, geography and science. Smith and her husband are currently working on the next book in the series and you can keep up with the latest news by checking out the Hickory Mouse Twitter page.

The Takeaway

AJ Smith: Financial Expert Profile

Like many of us, AJ Smith didn’t focus on personal finance when she first started working. Allocating a certain amount of money to savings or retirement was an afterthought. As she has gone through life though, she has found that there is a hole in the way people learn about personal finance. She works to fill that hole at SmartAsset by providing people with straightforward financial advice.

Her advice is simple and centers around learning as much as you can about your finances. She’s also a new mother. If you’re someone who’s trying to juggle a family with your professional life, Smith might just provide you with the inspiration you need.

Tips to Help You Learn More About Personal Finance

AJ Smith makes sure to allocate her money toward all her different savings goals. Here are some tips to help you do the same.

  • Making a budget is a great place to start. Some people dislike budgeting because it makes them feel restricted. A budget will only restrict you if you let it. The idea of a budget is simply to help you spend your hard-earned money on the things you care about and the things that are important to you. Do you unwind and have fun by eating out with friends every Saturday? Well then you should do it. Just make sure to allocate money toward eating out in your budget. If you’re looking for a sample budget to get your started, here’s a budget calculator that you might find useful.
  • Saving for retirement is very important. If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, you should try to put some money into it every month. You may also want to look at an IRA or Roth IRA. No matter how you choose to save for retirement, start now. Start with just a little if that’s all you have, but keep contributing. The longer you contribute to your retirement savings, the more you’ll have thanks to compound interest. Though you don’t have to take our work for it. Try this retirement calculator to see just how much you can save by starting now.
  • As Smith mentioned, she likes to put money toward an emergency fund. An emergency fund is a great way for you to protect yourself from the unexpected expenses that will surely come up in your life. It feels great to know that you have a backup plan in case you lose your job for a bit or you have to pay some unexpected medical bills. An emergency fund can come in especially handy if you recently had a child or want to start a family soon. If you’re just starting,  there are many places to put your emergency fund. Some people like to keep in their savings account. If it’s too tempting to spend that money, you can create a separate savings account or try something like a money market account.

Photo credits: Courtesy of AJ Smith

Derek Silva, CEPF® Derek Silva is determined to make personal finance accessible to everyone. He writes on a variety of personal finance topics for SmartAsset, serving as a retirement and credit card expert. Derek is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® (CEPF®). He has a degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and has spent time as an English language teacher in the Portuguese autonomous region of the Azores. The message Derek hopes people take away from his writing is, “Don’t forget that money is just a tool to help you reach your goals and live the lifestyle you want.”
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