Personal finance is a term that you probably hear often. However, while it’s widely used, some people shy away from it and believe financial literacy is a subject best left to financial experts.

But it’s apparent more people need to learn more about their finances, especially since it’s generally not taught in schools. Many Americans are increasingly spending more than they make, and household debt across the country has reached record levels of more than $13.5 trillion.

However, you don’t have to be a financial genius to live comfortably now while building a solid retirement fund. Dan Orfin & Associates states that there are some basics you can learn early to set yourself on the right path, and here are a few of them.

Don’t Live Beyond Your Means

While there are some unexpected expenses that can put you in debt, staying out of debt basically means spending less than your income. But a surprising number of Americans have no financial cushion and are living paycheck to paycheck – more than half of them, according to a survey. Additionally, 19% of Americans are not even living paycheck to paycheck but are accruing debt.

Dan Orfin & Associates explains that the more debt you have, the more interest you’ll have to pay – which means less money put toward your retirement or other purposes. Don’t borrow money you can’t pay back. Instead, try to pay for items in cash if possible, and don’t carry around high-interest credit cards that can tempt you to make purchases you’ll regret later.

Create a Budget

You might recognize that you’re spending more than you make, but without writing down all of your expenses, you won’t know the culprit.

Dan Orfin & Associates says that creating a budget allows you to examine your expenses while assessing how much money you have coming in. It will allow you to make more informed choices about costs when you’re considering a purchase, and it will also help you identify problem expenses that need to be trimmed or eliminated.

An effective budget will give you a picture of how much money you’ll have left over once you’ve covered all of your financial responsibilities. From there, you can decide how to invest in your savings or pay down existing debt.

Get Ahead of Your Taxes

Taxes are another area of personal finance that seems to get away from people easily. While a lot of people come to rely on a tax return to give them a financial boost, about 21 percent of Americans are expected to owe money to the government in 2019. What’s more is that many of these taxpayers didn’t count on having to pay, and don’t have the necessary funds to cover the shortfall.

Some tax deductions were removed recently and that may be responsible for the increase in the number of people expected to pay taxes this year. Be sure to stay on top of tax changes that could affect you. Partner with an accountant or bookkeeper to help you in this area, it’s likely worth the fee if taxes are not your area of expertise.

See Insurance as an Investment

Having the right insurance in place can save you from financial ruin. For example, if you get injured or sick, you’re going to want to have disability income insurance to keep you afloat while you recover. Not everyone has health insurance, citing high costs as a reason, but consider that more than 72 million people in the country struggle with medical bills.

The same protection goes for your dwelling – if you’re a renter, you’ll want renter’s insurance to protect your belongings in the case of a fire or theft. That could include equipment you use to make a living, for example a computer.

Start Saving For Retirement Now

After you’ve established that you’re making more than you’re spending, then it’s time to start saving for retirement no matter what your age.  

Dan Orfin & Associates explains that you can look into company-sponsored retirement plans that match part of your 401k contributions for bigger gains (in other words, free money.) These plans are generally based on pre-tax dollars, and your taxable income for the year will be reduced by the amount you contribute to the plan.

Investing in stocks or real estate are other ways to grow your retirement money, but you may want to seek advice to decide which is the best route for you depending on your financial goals.

Dan Orfin, founder of Orfin & Associates, knows it takes effort and discipline to master personal finance. But by following these general tips and developing more self-discipline, you can create a rosier financial picture for now and the future.