Have you considered the role your surroundings play in your everyday life? It turns out that one of the easiest ways to bring about change in our lives is actually to change our environments. What if the layout of your bedroom or the distance from your desk to the kitchen was impacting your productivity and decision making? There’s plenty of room for each of us to improve. Here’s how and why making some changes to your environment works.
Your brain is efficient
Making decisions is draining. (Heard of “decision fatigue”? It’s real!) We can only make so many choices per day before we start to run out of steam and need a rest. But we’re faced with countless choices every time we wake up! Should I go back to sleep? Should I shower or brush my teeth first? What will I wear to work? Should I try out that new shortcut to the office? It can become stressful for your brain to struggle with a choice every time one of these little prompts presents itself. That’s why we rely on decision shortcuts called habits.
A habit is just a routine that you regularly perform. Most of the time we don’t even notice that we’re engaging in a habit because it’s second nature to us. And there’s a reason for that. It’s your brain saving energy by going on autopilot to perform an action without having to make a decision. That way you can use the bulk of your mental power on unique and important problems that might pop up during the day, not on thinking about when you should brush your teeth!
Trick yourself into making wise decisions
What does your brain’s love of shortcuts have to do with your environment? Let’s look at an example.
Your alarm clock is right next to your bed. It goes off every morning at 7:30am. It doesn’t take you long to figure out that you can smack the snooze button and go straight back to sleep with hardly any effort. Before long you’re hitting the snooze button every time the alarm goes off without even thinking about it. You’ve trained yourself to sleep in later by making your alarm easier to turn off. But what if your alarm was on the other side of your room? What if to silence it you had to stand up, walk over, and hit a button? That simple change could give you the jolt that you need to wake up and get your day started on time!
Take a look at your surroundings and ask yourself what kind of behavior it encourages. Is it more convenient for you to grab a soda from the fridge or fill up your water bottle? When you work at home, are you in the middle of distractions like the kids playing or too close to the TV? At work, does your office layout lend itself to productivity or socializing with your co-workers?
It might take some legwork to get started, but try to arrange your life in a way that makes wise decisions easier. You might be surprised by the results!
Even though it’s not always obvious, we carry lots of assumptions and attitudes about money that might not be grounded in reality. How we perceive wealth and finances can impact how we make decisions, prioritize, and handle the money that we have. Here are a few common money mindsets that might be holding you back from reaching your full potential!
I need tons of money to start saving
It’s simple, right? The rich are swimming in cash, so they’re able to save. They get to build businesses and live out their dreams. The rest of us have to live paycheck to paycheck, shelling out our hard earned money on rent, groceries, and other essentials.
That couldn’t be further from the truth! Sure, you might not be able to save half your income. But you might be surprised by how much you can actually stash away if you put your mind to it. And however much you can save right now, little as it might be, is much better than putting away nothing at all!
I need to save every penny possible
On the other side of the coin (get it?) is the notion that you have to save every last penny and dime that comes your way. There are definitely people in difficult financial situations who go to incredible lengths to make ends meet. Just ask someone who survived the Great Depression! But most of us don’t need to haggle down the price of an apple or forage around for firewood. And sometimes, the corners we cut to save a buck can come back to bite us. Set spending rules and boundaries for yourself, but make sure you’re not just eating ramen noodles and ketchup soup!
I don’t need to budget
There are definitely times when you might not feel like you need to be proactive with your finances. You don’t feel like you’re spending too much, debt collectors aren’t pounding down your door, and everything seems comfortable. Budgeting is for folks with a spending problem, right?
The fact of the matter is that everyone should have a budget. It might not feel important now, but a budget is your most powerful tool for understanding where your money goes, areas where you can cut back, and how much you can put away for the future. It gives you the knowledge you need to take control of your finances!
Breaking mediocre money mindsets can be difficult. But it’s an important step on your journey towards financial independence. Once you understand money and how it works, you’re on the path to take control of your future and make your dreams a reality.
It’s linked to lung cancer and heart disease, and is associated with nearly 1 in 5 deaths in the United States.(1) But smoking damages more than your body. It can also seriously hamper your financial health in ways that might surprise you.
The upfront cost of smoking
Cigarettes aren’t cheap. Prices per pack vary from $5.25 in Missouri to $12.85 in New York, but the national average comes out to around $6.28.(2, 3) Smoking a pack per day will run you $44 per week, $188 per month, and $2,292 per year. Over 20 years you’ll have spent $91,671 on cigarettes. That’s a lot of money to light up!
Health care costs of smoking
But smoking carries more subtle costs. Hospital bills, medication, and treatment all cost money, and smoking bumps up your chances of needing those at some point in your future. In total, smoking-related illness costs the United States over $300 billion per year.(4) Smokers also have to face higher insurance costs because of the health risks presented by their habit. All told, smoking one pack per day costs around $15,000 a year, or $40 per pack.(5)
The opportunity cost of smoking
What would you do with $15,000? If you’re smoking a pack per day, your answer is to spend it on a highly addictive chemical that feels great in the moment but will damage your health long-term. But what would happen if you put that $15,000 to work? Could that be the cash you need to start building a business? Maybe that could be the foundation of your child’s college fund or inheritance. That nicotine hit might be what you think you need to destress or get out of bed in the morning, but it’s costing you more than short-term cash. It’s denying you the potential to live on your terms and start building your future.
Quitting cigarettes can feel daunting. They’re an easy coping mechanism that you might depend on. Imagining a day without lighting up with your morning coffee could be downright terrifying. But smoking costs you more than just 6 bucks per pack. It costs you more than your future health. The price of a quick nicotine fix could be stopping you from reaching your full potential and stealing life-changing opportunities.
Trying to quit? Check out these resources from the CDC.
Habits are behaviors that we do so frequently that they feel second nature. So your friend who’s woken up at 5:00 AM to work out for so long that it seems normal to him? He’s unlocked the power of habit to wake up, get out of bed, and make it happen.
Healthy money habits are the same way; they open up a whole new world of financial fitness! Here are a few great habits you can start today.
Begin with a Budget
Developing a budgeting habit is foundational. Consistently seeing where your money is going gives you the power to see what needs to change. Notice in your budget that fast food is hogging your paycheck? Budgeting allows you to see how it’s holding you back and figure out a solution to the problem. The knowledge a budget gives you is the key to help you make wise money decisions.
Pay Yourself First
Once you’re budgeting regularly, you can start seeing who ends up with your money at the end of the day. Is it you? Or someone else? One of the best habits you can establish is making sure you pay yourself by saving. Instead of spending first and setting aside what’s left over, put part of your money into a savings account as soon as you get your paycheck. It’s a simple shift in mindset that can make a big difference!
And what easier way to pay yourself first than by automatically depositing cash in your savings account? Making as much of your saving automatic helps make saving something that you don’t even think about. It can be much easier to have healthy financial habits if everything happens seamlessly and with as little effort as possible on your part.
Healthy financial habits may not seem big. But sometimes those little victories can make a big difference over the span of several years. Why not try working a few of these habits into your routine and see if they make a difference?
It represents a transition from student to adult for millions of people. But leaving university and joining the workforce can be intimidating. Looking for a job, paying bills, commuting, and living independently are often uncharted territory for recent grads.
Here are a few tips for fresh graduates trying to get on their feet financially.
Figure out what you want
It’s one thing to leave college with an idea of what career you want to pursue. It’s something else entirely to ask yourself what kind of life you want. It’s one of those big issues that can be difficult even to wrap your head around!
However, it’s something that’s important to grapple with. It will help you answer questions like “What kind of lifestyle do I want to live” and “how much will it cost to do the things I want?” You might even find that you don’t really need some of the things that you thought were necessities, and that happiness comes from places you might not have expected.
Come up with a budget
Let’s say you’ve got a ballpark idea of your financial and lifestyle goals. It’s time to come up with a strategy. There are plenty of resources on starting a budget on this blog and the internet on the whole, but the barebones of budgeting are pretty simple. First, figure out how much you make, how much you have to spend, how much you actually spend, then subtract your total spending from how much you make. Get a positive number? Awesome! Use that leftover cash to start saving for retirement (it’s never too early!) or build up an emergency fund. Negative number? Look for places in your unnecessary spending to cut back and maybe consider a side hustle to make more money.
Looking at your spending habits can be difficult. But owning up to mistakes you might be making and coming up with a solid strategy can be far easier than the agony that spending blindly may bring. That’s why starting a budget is a post-graduation must!
Meet with a financial professional
Find a qualified and licensed financial professional and schedule an appointment. Don’t let the idea of meeting with a professional intimidate you. Afterall, you trust your health, car, and legal representation to properly trained experts. Why wouldn’t you do the same with your financial future?
Being scared of starting a new chapter of life is natural. There are a lot of new experiences and unknowns to deal with that come along with leaving the familiarity of college. But the best way to overcome fear is to face it head on. These tips are a great way to start taking control of your future!
Different spending habits and conflicting money management values are sometimes sources of tension between partners. Finances are the number one cause of arguments within relationships. In fact, it’s one of the most common reasons for divorce.
With bills to pay, emergency expenses, and a child’s college tuition and retirement on the horizon, many couples find their finances are stretched as they seek solutions to cover the cost of everyday life. The following 5 tips may help you and your spouse gain control of your finances.
1. Set Goals
The goal-setting phase allows a couple to talk openly about their financial history, current obligations, and future objectives. Gauging your spouse’s retirement preferences can often be a challenging obstacle before establishing a financial strategy.
2. Identify Risky Spending
Overspending and making frivolous purchases may damage your financial future. Discussing mistakes respectfully on both sides of the relationship can help prevent poor decisions in the future. If an expense proves to be a blunder, own up to the fact and move on.
Review the household “record of accounts” (that is, your budget) and your current financial landscape before adjusting your strategy. This may help protect your family from further problems that might delay the timeframe you want to retire.
3. Pay off Bills
Be fair. If—or when—your spouse admits to overspending, try not to blow up. We live in a consumerist society designed to push our buttons and trick us into spending. Even worse, it’s a pattern that can be difficult to break because it’s a very socially acceptable addiction.
Instead of exploding, ask them open-ended questions about their spending habits. The key here is working towards a compromise in a way that doesn’t villainize your partner but also protects your financial future together.
4. Periodic Review
Due to the dynamics of financial decision-making between spouses, it’s clear that periodic review has a benefit. Changes in income, lifestyle, and family or business obligations can alter a couple’s financial goals for retirement. Try to meet at least once a month (maybe over a cup of coffee) to review your finances and update your budget.
5. Don’t forget to have some fun!
The goal of getting in control of your finances is not to make life miserable. Sure, you might need to cut back on frivolous spending in the present to have more in the future, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life. Set aside a little each month for a movie night or dinner with friends. You actually might discover that things like budgeting free up cash!
Building a financially sound relationship takes time. It takes a willingness to listen, to compromise, to take responsibility, and to prepare. Sometimes it might take some experience as well. Contact a qualified and licensed financial professional to help you and your loved one come up with a strategy to build your future together.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. The morning hours can be times of relaxation, focus, and self-improvement. Here are a few practical habits that can take your mornings from pointless to productive!
Go to bed early
Stayed up too late watching just one more episode of your favorite show? Don’t expect to wake up feeling motivated. A productive morning starts the night before. Try to stay away from screens before going to bed (at least one hour) and make sure you turn in at a reasonable time. You may also want to dial back when you wake up. Having a quiet hour or two before everyone else wakes up is a great way of freeing up time to invest in things you care about. Just remember that your new sleep schedule will take some time to adjust to!
Exercise first thing
One of the best habits to fill your new-found morning hours is exercise. It’s a great way to get your blood flowing and boost your energy. Plus, the feeling that you’ve accomplished something can help carry you through the day and boost your confidence.
Prioritize your tasks
But let’s say you’ve started getting up an hour and a half earlier and you work out for 30 minutes. How are you going to spend the next hour before you start getting ready for work? One great habit is to start planning out your day and prioritizing your tasks. Write down what specifically you want to accomplish and when. You might be amazed by how empowering it is to make a plan and to see your goals on a piece of paper. Start off with your biggest task. The morning is when you’re at your peak brain power, so commit your best efforts to the hardest work. The feeling of accomplishment from knocking out the task will carry you through the smaller things!
Mornings don’t have to be rough. Incorporating these tips and habits into your daily routine can help make the first hours of the day a time you look forward to. Start inching your alarm closer towards sunrise and use that extra time to absolutely crush your day!
But that doesn’t stop “budget” from being an intimidating word to many people. Some folks may think it means scrimping on everything and never going out for a night on the town. It doesn’t! Budgeting simply means that you know where your money is going and you have a way to track it.
The aim with budgeting is to be aware of your spending, plan for your expenses1, and make sure you have enough saved to pursue your goals.
Without a budget, it can be easy for expenses to climb beyond your ability to pay for them. You break out the plastic and before you know it you’ve spent fifty bucks on drinks and appetizers with the gang after work. These habits might leave you with a lot of accumulated debt. Plus, without a budget, you may not be saving for a rainy day, vacation, or your retirement. A budget allows you to enact a strategy to help pursue your goals. But what if you’ve never had a budget? Where should you start? Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how to get your budgeting habit off the ground!
Track your expenses every day
Start by tracking your expenses. Write down everything you buy, including memberships, online streaming services, and subscriptions. It’s not complicated to do with popular mobile and web applications. You can also buy a small notebook to keep track of each purchase. Even if it’s a small pack of gum from the gas station or a quick coffee at the corner shop, jot it down. Keep track of the big stuff too, like your rent and bill payments.
Add up expenses every week and develop categories
Once you’ve collected enough data, it’s time to figure out where exactly your paycheck is going. Start with adding up your expenses every week. How much are you spending? What are you spending money on? As you add your spending up, start developing categories. The goal is to organize all your expenses so you can see what you’re spending money on. For example, if you eat out a few times per week, group those expenses under a category called “Eating Out”. Get as general or as specific as you wish. Maybe throwing all your food purchases into one bucket is all you need, or you may want to break it down by location - grocery store, big box store, restaurants, etc.
Create a monthly list of expenses
Once you’ve recorded your expenses for a full month, it’s time to create a monthly list. Now you might also have more clarity on how you want to set up your categories. Next, total each category for the month.
Adjust your spending as necessary
Compare your total expenses with your income. There are two possible outcomes. You may be spending within your income or spending outside your income. If you’re spending within your income, create a category for savings if you don’t have one. It’s a good idea to create a separate savings category for large future purchases too, like a home or a vacation. If you find you’re spending too much, you may need to cut back spending in some categories. The beauty of a budget is that once you see how much you’re spending, and on what, you’ll be able to strategize where you need to cut back.
Once you develop the habit of budgeting, it should become part of your routine. You can look forward to working on your savings and developing a retirement strategy, but don’t forget to budget in a little fun too!
¹Jeremy Vohwinkle, “Make a Personal Budget in 6 Steps: A Step-by-Step Guide to Make a Budget,” The Balance (March 6, 2020).
The good news is, you don’t need a perfect relationship or perfect finances to have productive conversations with your partner about money, so here are some tips for handling those tricky conversations like a pro!
Respect should be the basis for any conversation with your significant other, but especially when dealing with potentially touchy issues like money. Be mindful to keep your tone neutral and try not to heap blame on your partner for any issues. Remember that you’re here to solve problems together.
It’s perfectly normal if one person in a couple handles the finances more than the other. Just be sure to take responsibility for the decisions that you make and remember that it affects both people. You might want to establish a monthly money meeting to make sure you’re both on the same page and in the loop. Hint: Make it fun! Maybe order in, or enjoy a steak dinner while you chat.
Take a team approach
Instead of saying to your partner, “you need to do this or that,” try to frame things in a way that lets your partner know you see yourself on the same team as they are. Saying “we need to take a look at our combined spending habits” will probably be better received than “you need to stop spending so much money.”
It can be tempting to feel defeated and hopeless that things will never get better if you’re trying to move a mountain. But this kind of thinking can be contagious and negativity may further poison your finances and your relationship. Try to focus on what you can both do to make things better and what small steps to take to get where you want to be, rather than focusing on past mistakes and problems.
Don’t ignore the negative
It’s important to stay positive, but it’s also important to face and conquer the specific problems. It gives you and your partner focused issues to work on and will help you make a game plan. Speaking of which…
Set common goals, and work toward them together
Whether it’s saving for a big vacation, your child’s college fund, getting out of debt, or making a big purchase like a car, money management and budgeting may be easier if you are both working toward a common purpose with a shared reward. Figure out your shared goals and then make a plan to accomplish them!
Accept that your partner may have a different background and approach to money
We all have our strengths, weaknesses, and different perspectives. Just because yours differs from your partner’s doesn’t mean either of you are wrong. Chances are you make allowances and balance each other out in other areas of your relationship, and you can do the same with money if you try to see things from your partner’s point of view.
Discussing and managing your finances together can be a great opportunity for growth in a relationship. Go into it with a positive attitude, respect for your partner, and a sense of your common values and priorities. Having an open, honest, and trust-based approach to money in a relationship may be challenging, but it is definitely worth it.
But as you head out for a night on the town with friends or maybe cuddle up next to your kids to watch their favorite movie, did you ever consider how you spent your after-work time during the week?
Whether you’re routine-driven, a free spirit, or somewhere in between, setting aside a few minutes every day to spend on your finances has the potential to make a huge difference in the long run. By adding these 3 financial habits to your daily routine, you have the potential to give yourself a little more power over your finances.
1. Check your inbox (or mailbox). Whether you pay your bills via credit card, automatic withdrawal, or a hand-written check that you mail in to the company, a daily look-see will help you stay on top of any alerts you get. Spend a few minutes every day glancing over incoming bills, payment receipts, and new online transactions. Being aware of the exodus (or pending exodus) of your money can help fend off late fees, overdrawing your accounts, or maxing out your credit card.
2. Review your spending. Every evening, take quick stock of any spending you did that day – whether in brick-and-mortar stores or online. This exercise can be eye-opening. For instance, are you in the habit of grabbing a piping hot cup of coffee from the drive-thru on your morning commute? Depending on your coffee preference, that can cost up to $5 a day! Maybe 5 bucks isn’t a huge deal, but consider this:
Just staying aware of those little daily expenditures may make a huge difference in your financial health; when you know how much you’re paying over time for something you could prepare at home (for far less money), you may decide to scale back on the barista-brewed coffee so you can help boost your financial future – and keep yourself on the path to financial independence.
3. Learn a little more. Knowing how money works is a vital part of achieving and maintaining financial independence. Taking a few moments every day to educate yourself a little more about money can make a huge difference in the long run. It can keep you aware of best practices for money management and all the ways your money can work for you. Try a blog post, YouTube video, or a best-seller on finances to keep yourself informed and up to date.
As you start putting these simple financial habits in place, contact me any time! Together we can assess how these small changes could help strengthen your financial strategy and get you closer to financial independence.
Much like physical health, financial health can be affected by binging, carelessness, or simply not knowing what can cause harm. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – as with physical health, it’s possible to reverse the downward trend if you can break your harmful habits.
A household without a budget is like a ship without a rudder, drifting aimlessly and – sooner or later – it might sink or run aground in shallow waters. Small expenses and indulgences can add up to big money over the course of a month or a year. In nearly every household, it might be possible to find some extra money just by cutting back on non-essential spending. A budget is your way of telling yourself that you may be able to have nice things if you’re disciplined about your finances.
Frequent use of credit cards
Credit cards always seem to get picked on when discussing personal finances, and often, they deserve the flack they get. Not having a budget can be a common reason for using credit, contributing to an average credit card debt of over $9,000 for balance-carrying households.[i] At an average interest rate of over 15%, credit card debt is usually the highest interest expense in a household, several times higher than auto loans, home loans, and student loans.[ii] The good news is that with a little discipline, you can start to pay down your credit card debt and help reduce your interest expense.
Mum’s the word
No matter how much income you have, money can be a stressful topic in families. This can lead to one of two potentially harmful habits.
First, talking about the family finances is often simply avoided. Conversations about kids and work and what movie you want to watch happen, but conversations about money can get swept under the rug. Are you a “saver” and your partner a “spender”? Is it the opposite? Maybe you’re both spenders or both savers. Talking (and listening) about yourself and your significant other’s tendencies can be insightful and help avoid conflicts about your finances. If you’re like most households, having an occasional chat about the budget may help keep your family on track with your goals – or help you identify new goals – or maybe set some goals if you don’t have any. Second, financial matters can be confusing – which may cause stress – especially once you get past the basics. This may tempt you to ignore the subject or to think “I’ll get around to it one day”. But getting a budget and a financial strategy in place sooner rather than later may actually help you reduce stress. Think of it as “That’s one thing off my mind now!”
Taking the time to understand your money situation and getting a budget in place is the first step to put your financial house in order. As you learn more and apply changes – even small ones – you might see your efforts start to make a difference!
Some finance articles quote experts or outspoken parents hailing an allowance, stating it teaches kids financial responsibility. Others argue that simply awarding an allowance (whether in exchange for doing chores around the house or not) instills nothing in children about managing money. They say that having an honest conversation about money and finances with your kids is a better solution.
According to a recent poll, the average allowance for kids age 4 to 14 is just under $9 per week, about $450 per year.¹ By age 14, the average allowance is over $12 per week. Some studies indicate that, in most cases, very little of a child’s allowance is saved. As parents, we may not have needed a study to figure that one out – but if your child is consistently out of money by Wednesday, how do you help them learn the lesson of saving so they don’t always end up “broke” (and potentially asking you for more money at the end of the week)?
There’s an app for that.
Part of the modern challenge in teaching kids about money is that cash isn’t king anymore. Today, we use credit and debit cards for the majority of our spending – and there is an ever-increasing movement toward online shopping and making payments with your phone using apps like Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Samsung Pay.
This is great for the way we live our modern, fast-paced lives, but what if technology could help us teach more complex financial concepts than a simple allowance can – concepts like how compound interest on savings works or what interest costs for debt look like? As it happens, a new breed of personal finance apps for families promises this kind of functionality. Just look at the App Store!
Money habits are formed as early as age 7.² If an allowance can teach kids about saving, compound interest, loan interest, and budgeting – with a little help from technology – perhaps the future holds a digital world where the two sides of the allowance debate can finally agree. As to whether your kids’ allowance should be paid upon completion of chores or not… Well, that’s up to you and how long your Saturday to-do list is!
Despite this well-known fact, credit card debt is at an all-time high, rising another 3% this past year.¹ The average American now owes over $6,300 in credit card debt. For households, the number is much higher, at nearly $16,000 per household.² Add in an average mortgage of over $200,000, plus nearly $25,000 of non-mortgage debt (car loans, college loans, or other loans) and the molehill really is starting to look like a mountain.
The good news? You have the potential to handle your debt efficiently and deal with a molehill-sized molehill instead of a mountain-sized one.
Focus on the easiest target first.
Some types of debt don’t have an easy solution. While it’s possible to sell your home and find more affordable housing, actually following through with this might not be a great option. Selling your home is a huge decision and one that comes with expenses associated with the sale – it’s possible to lose money. Unless you find yourself with a job loss or similar long-term setback, often the best solution to paying down debt is to go after higher interest debt first. Then examine ways to cut your housing costs last.
Freeze your spending (literally, if it helps).
Due to its higher interest rate, credit card debt is usually the first thing to tackle when you decide to start eliminating debt. Let’s be honest, most of us might not even know where that money goes, but our credit card statement is a monthly reminder that it went somewhere. If credit card balances are a problem in your household, the first step is to cut back on your purchases made with credit, or stop paying with credit altogether. Some people cut up their cards to enforce discipline. Ever heard the recommendation to freeze your cards in a block of ice as a visual reminder of your commitment to quit credit? Another thing to do is to remove your card information from online shopping sites to help ensure you don’t make mindless purchases.
Set payment goals.
Paying the minimum amount on your credit card keeps the credit card company happy for 2 reasons. First, they’re happy that you made a payment on time. Second, they’re happy if you’re only paying the minimum because you might never pay off the balance, so they can keep collecting interest indefinitely. Reducing or stopping your spending with credit was the first step. The second step is to pay more than the minimum so that those balances start going down. Examine your budget to see where there’s room to reduce spending further, which will allow you to make higher payments on your credit cards and other types of debt. In most households, an honest look at the bank statement will reveal at least a few ways you might free up some money each month.
Have a sale. To get a jump-start if money is still tight, you might want to turn some unused household items into cash. Having a community yard sale or selling your items online can turn your dust collectors into cash that you can then use toward reducing your balances.
Transfer balances prudently.
Consider balance transfers for small balances with high interest rates that you think you’ll be able to pay off quickly. Transferring that balance to a lower interest or no interest card can save on interest costs, freeing up more money to pay down the balances. The interest rates on balance transfers don’t stay low forever, however – typically for a year or less – so it’s important to make sure you can pay transferred balances off quickly. Also, check if there’s a balance transfer fee. Depending on the fee, moving those funds might not make sense.
Don’t punish yourself.
Getting serious about paying down debt may seem to require draconian measures. But there likely isn’t a need to just stay home eating tuna fish sandwiches with all the lights turned off. Often, all that’s required is an adjustment of old spending habits. If your drive home takes you past a mall where it would be too tempting to “just pick a little something up”, take a different route home. But it’s important to have a small treat occasionally as well. If you’re making progress on your debt, you deserve to reward yourself sometimes. All within your budget, of course!
Check out these ideas on how you can do it!
Fortunately for us, we live in the electronic age, which can make streamlining financial goals a lot easier than in decades past. Whether building savings, investing for the future, paying down debt, or any other goals, take advantage of the apps and information available online. Savings can be put on autopilot, taking a fixed amount from your bank account each month or each pay period. The same can be done for IRAs or other investment accounts. Many mobile apps offer to automatically round up purchases and invest the spare change. (Hint: Compare your options and any associated fees for each app.)
Be Mindful of Small Purchases
It can be much easier to be aware of making a large purchase (physically large, financially large, or both). Take a physically large purchase, for instance: it’s difficult to go into a store and come out with a washing machine and not have any memory of it. And for large financial purchases like a laptop or television, some thought usually goes into it – up to and including how it’s going to get paid for. But small, everyday purchases can add up right under your nose. Ever gone into a big box store to grab a couple of items then left having spent over $100 on those items… plus some throw pillows and a couple of lamps you just had to snag? What about that pricey cup of artisan coffee? Odds are pretty good that the coffee shop has some delicious pastries, too, which may fuel that “And your total is…” fire. $100 here, $8.50 there, another $1.75 shelled out for a bottle of water – the small expenses can add up quickly and dip right into the money that could go toward your financial strategy.
Paying with plastic has a tendency to make the tiny expenses forgettable… until you get that credit card bill. One easy way to cut down on the mindless purchases is to pay in cash or with a debit card. The total owed automatically leaves your wallet or you account, perhaps making the dwindling amount you have to set aside for your financial future a little more tangible.
Do What Wealthy People Do
CNBC uncovered several habits and traits that are common among wealthy individuals. Surprisingly, it wasn’t all hard work. They found that wealthy people tend to read – a lot – and continue learning through reading.¹ Your schedule may not allow for as much reading time as the average billionaire – maybe just 30 minutes a day is a good short-term goal – but getting in more reading can help you improve in any area of life!
Another thing wealthy people do? Wake up early. This may help you find that extra 30 minutes for reading. You’ll get more done in general if you get up a little earlier. A 5-year study of self-made millionaires revealed that nearly 50% of this industrious group woke up at least 3 hours before their work day started.²
Making these healthy financial habits a part of your regular routine might take some time and effort, but hang in there. Often, success is about the mindset we choose to have. If you stay the course and learn from those who’ve been where you are, you can experience the difference that good habits can make as you keep moving toward financial independence!
¹ Paine, James. “5 Billionaires Who Credit Their Success to Reading.” Inc., 12.5.2016, https://bit.ly/2LvAM94.
² Elkins, Kathleen. “A man who spent 5 years studying millionaires found one of their most important wealth-building habits starts first thing in the morning.” Business Insider, 4.7.2016, https://read.bi/2aXjejh.
Recent studies indicate that 76% of Millennials don’t have a basic understanding of financial literacy.¹ Combine that with having little in savings and mountains of debt, and you have the ingredients for a potential financial crisis.
It’s not only Millennials that lack a sound financial education. The majority of American and Canadian adults are unable to pass a basic financial literacy test.²³ But what is financial literacy? How do you know if you’re financially literate? It’s much more than simply knowing the contents of your bank account, setting a budget, and checking in a couple times a month. Here’s a simple definition: “Financial literacy is the education and understanding of various financial areas including topics related to managing personal finance, money and investing.”⁴
Making responsible financial decisions based on knowledge and research are the foundation of understanding your finances and how to manage them. When it comes to financial literacy, you can’t afford not to be knowledgeable.
So whether you’re a master of your money or your money masters you, anyone can benefit from becoming more financially literate. Here are a few ways you can do just that.
Consider How You Think About Money
Everyone has ideas about financial management. Though we may not realize it, we often learn and absorb financial habits and mentalities about money before we’re even aware of what money is. Our ideas about money are shaped by how we grow up, where we grow up, and how our parents or guardians manage their finances. Regardless of whether you grew up rich, poor, or somewhere in between, checking in with yourself about how you think about money is the first step to becoming financially literate.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Pay Some Attention to Your Spending Habits
This part of the process can be painful if you’re not used to tracking where your money goes. There can be a certain level of shame associated with spending habits, especially if you’ve collected some debt. But it’s important to understand that money is an intensely personal subject, and that if you’re working to improve your financial literacy, there is no reason to feel ashamed!
Taking a long, hard look at your spending habits is a vital step toward controlling your finances. Becoming aware of how you spend, how much you spend, and what you spend your money on will help you understand your weaknesses, your strengths, and what you need to change. Categorizing your budget into things you need, things you want, and things you have to save up for is a great place to start.
Commit to a Lifestyle of Learning
Becoming financially literate doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t feel overwhelmed if you’re just starting to make some changes. There isn’t one book, one website, or one seminar you can attend that will give you all the keys to financial literacy. Instead, think of it as a lifestyle change. Similar to transforming unhealthy eating habits into healthy ones, becoming financially literate happens over time. As you learn more, tweak parts of your financial routine that aren’t working for you, and gain more experience managing your money, you’ll improve your financial literacy. Commit to learning how to handle your finances, and continuously look for ways you can educate yourself and grow. It’s a lifelong process!
¹ Golden, Paul. “Millennials Show Alarming Gap Between Financial Confidence and Knowledge.” National Endowment for Financial Education, 2.9.2017, https://bit.ly/2Hu9TRV.
² Pascarella, Dani. “4 Stats That Reveal How Badly America Is Failing At Financial Literacy.” Forbes, 4.3.2018, https://bit.ly/2ANtQU5.
³ Shmuel, John. “When it comes to financial literacy, Canadians really overestimate their knowledge.” text in italic, LowestRates.ca, 6.27.2017, https://bit.ly/2nhNUnU.
⁴ “Financial Literacy.” Investopedia, 2018,https://bit.ly/2JZJUkW.
In some cases, the warnings might have been heeded but in other cases, we may have learned the cost of credit the hard way.
Using credit isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it may be a costly thing – and sometimes even a risky thing. The interest from credit card balances can be like a ball and chain that might never seem to go away. And your financial strategy for the future may seem like a distant horizon that’s always out of reach.
It is possible to live without credit cards if you choose to do so, but it can take discipline if you’ve developed the credit habit.
It’s budgeting time
Here’s some tough love. If you don’t have one already, you should hunker down and create a budget. In the beginning it doesn’t have to be complicated. First just try to determine how much you’re spending on food, utilities, transportation, and other essentials. Next, consider what you’re spending on the non-essentials – be honest with yourself!
In making a budget, you should become acutely aware of your spending habits and you’ll give yourself a chance to think about what your priorities really are. Is it really more important to spend $5-6 per day on coffee at the corner shop, or would you rather put that money towards some new clothes?
Try to set up a budget that has as strict allowances as you can handle for non-essential purchases until you can get your existing balances under control. Always keep in mind that an item you bought with credit “because it was on sale” might not end up being such a great deal if you have to pay interest on it for months (or even years).
Hide the plastic
Part of the reason we use credit cards is because they are right there in our wallets or automatically stored on our favorite shopping websites, making them easy to use. (That’s the point, right?) Fortunately, this is also easy to help fix. Put your credit cards away in a safe place at home and save them for a real emergency. Don’t save them on websites you use.
Don’t worry about actually canceling them or cutting them up. Unless there’s an annual fee for owning the card, canceling the card might not help you financially or help boost your credit score.[i]
Pay down your credit card debt
When you’re working on your budget, decide how much extra money you can afford to pay toward your credit card balances. If you just pay the minimum payment, even small balances may not get paid off for years. Try to prioritize extra payments to help the balances go down and eventually get paid off.
Save for things you want to purchase
Make some room in your budget for some of the purchases you used to make with a credit card. If an item you’re eyeing costs $100, ask yourself if you can save $50 per month and purchase it in two months rather than immediately. Also, consider using the 30-day rule. If you see something you want – or even something you think you’ll need – wait 30 days. If the 30 days go by and you still need or want it, make sure it makes sense within your budget.
Save one card for occasional use
Having a solid credit history is important, so once your credit balances are under control, you may want to use one card in a disciplined way within your budget. In this case, you would just use the card for routine expenses that you are able to pay off in full at the end of the month.
Living without credit cards completely, or at least for the most part, is possible. Sticking to a budget, paying down debt, and having a solid savings strategy for the future will help make your discipline worth it!
Why is that? You might suspect it’s because we set unrealistic goals or lack the proper motivation.
If you’ve got some financial resolutions you want to stick to, the key is to set realistic goals and have the proper discipline to hang in there, especially when the going gets tough.
Consider the following tips. Everyone can improve their finances and – as a bonus – you won’t end up with a basement full of barely-used exercise equipment that’s standing in for clothes drying racks.
Put away your credit cards
Do you have a fireproof box at home? (You probably should to store your extra-important documents, like the title to your car or your will.) This might be the perfect place for your credit cards. Many families struggle with credit card debt and in many cases, they aren’t even sure where the money actually went.
Credit can be a crutch that only ends up helping us postpone healthy financial habits. The frequent result is years of accumulating interest payments and growing balances that may prevent you from maximizing your savings. (Debt also may lead to household friction.) Lock the credit cards in the strongbox and make a pact with the rest of your household to use a credit card just for when you have a real emergency – and this would only occur if you’ve depleted your normal emergency fund.
Get your own life insurance policy
It’s great to see families insured by at least an employer-sponsored policy, but how insured are they really? Employer plans usually don’t follow you to the next job, and the benefit for your family is typically limited to a fixed amount, such as $50,000, or in some cases up to one to two times your salary.[i] That’s probably not enough coverage for your family – and it might disappear at any time if you were to change jobs. Get a quote for your own life insurance policy that better meets your needs and that you can control.
Make a budget
Many of us think we know where our money goes, but making a budget will illuminate your spending in vivid, full-color detail. You might startle your family with loud exclamations as you realize how much you actually spend on gourmet coffee stops, eating out, clothes, golf accessories, etc. It can add up quickly. A budget may not only help you cut spending, but it may also help you build your emergency savings (yes, this should be a budget item) and start piling away more money for retirement (another necessary budget item).
Know your number
Nope, not the winning lottery number. In this case, your number is the one that can help you reach a financial goal. Saving for retirement without knowing how much you’ll need or how much you can put away each month is like running a race blindfolded. You need to see the course and the finish line ahead. That’s your number. Whether saving, paying down debt, or accomplishing any other financial goal, you need to identify the number that will define your short-term targets and help you reach your ultimate destination.
If you need help with your goals or aren’t sure how to find the number you need to know to prepare for your future, reach out. I have some ideas we can discuss.
But maybe you – or a friend – learned about those consequences the hard way. Most late bill payers fall into 1 of 3 camps: they forget to pay on time, they don’t have enough income, or they have enough income but spend it on other things.
In case you – or your friend – are stuck in 1 of these camps, consider the following tips to help pay the bills on time.
I forget to pay my bills on time.
If this is you, you’re actually in a more advantageous position. There are many easy fixes that can help get you back on track.
I don’t have the money to pay all my bills.
If your income doesn’t cover your outgo no matter how diligently you pinch those pennies, it won’t matter what type of bill payment method you use, you’re going to have trouble. If you’re in this situation, there are 2 solutions: increase your earnings or decrease your expenses.
I overspend and don’t have enough left to pay my bills.
Managing income and expenses takes some practice and persistence, but it is doable! If you find yourself consistently overspending without enough left over to cover your bills, try the following:
Good Financial Habits
If you feel bill-paying-challenged, or you have a friend who is, try some of the above tips. Taking care of your obligations when you need to can relieve stress, build good credit, and reinforce healthy spending habits for life!
He reads about 50 books per year. His reason why: “[R]eading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.”
On his blog gatesnotes, Gates recommended Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, the personal story of a man who worked his way out of poverty in Appalachian Ohio and Kentucky into Yale Law School – and casts a light on the cultural divide in our nation. Gates wrote:
“Melinda and I have been working for several years to learn more about how Americans move up from the lowest rungs of the economic ladder (what experts call mobility from poverty). Even though Hillbilly Elegy doesn’t use a lot of data, I came away with new insights into the multifaceted cultural and family dynamics that contribute to poverty.”
We all have stories about our unique financial situations and dreams of where we want to go. And none of us want money – or lack thereof – to hold us back.
What things, ideas, or deeply-ingrained habits might be keeping you in the financial situation you’re in? And what can you do to get past them? I have plenty of ideas and strategies that have the potential to make big changes for you.
Contact me today, and together we can review your current financials and work on a strategy to get you where you want to go – including some reading material that can help you in your journey to financial independence.
Your map might have your future adventures outlined with tacks and twine. It may be patched with pictures snipped from travel magazines. You would know every twist and turn by heart. But to get where you want to go, you still have to make a few real-life moves toward your destination.
Here are 5 tips for making money goals that may help you get closer to your financial goals:
1. Figure out what’s motivating your financial decisions. Deciding on your “why” is a great way to start moving in the right direction. Goals like saving for an early retirement, paying off your house or car, or even taking a second honeymoon in Hawaii may leap to mind. Take some time to evaluate your priorities and how they relate to each other. This may help you focus on your financial destination.
2. Control Your Money. This doesn’t mean you need to get an MBA in finance. Controlling your money may be as simple as dividing your money into designated accounts, and organizing the documents and details related to your money. Account statements, insurance policies, tax returns, wills – important papers like these need to be as well-managed as your incoming paycheck. A large part of working towards your financial destination is knowing where to find a document when you need it.
3. Track Your Money. After your money comes in, where does it go out? Track your spending habits for a month and the answer may surprise you. There are a plethora of apps to link to your bank account to see where things are actually going. Some questions to ask yourself: Are you a stress buyer, usually good with your money until it’s the only thing within your control? Or do you spend, spend, spend as soon as your paycheck hits, then transform into the most frugal individual on the planet… until the next direct deposit? Monitor your spending for a few weeks, and you may find a pattern that will be good to keep in mind (or avoid) as you trek toward your financial destination.
4. Keep an Eye on Your Credit. Building a strong credit report may assist in reaching some of your future financial goals. You can help build your good credit rating by making loan payments on time and reducing debt. If you neglect either of those, you could be denied for mortgages or loans, endure higher interest rates, and potentially difficulty getting approved for things like cell phone contracts or rental agreements which all hold you back from your financial destination. There are multiple programs that can let you know where you stand and help to keep track of your credit score.
5. Know Your Number. This is the ultimate financial destination – the amount of money you are trying to save. Retiring at age 65 is a great goal. But without an actual number to work towards, you might hit 65 and find you need to stay in the workforce to cover bills, mortgage payments, or provide help supporting your family. Paying off your car or your student loans has to happen, but if you’d like to do it on time – or maybe even pay them off sooner – you need to know a specific amount to set aside each month. And that second honeymoon to Hawaii? Even this one needs a number attached to it!
What plans do you already have for your journey to your financial destination? Do you know how much you can set aside for retirement and still have something left over for that Hawaii trip? And do you have any ideas about how to raise that credit score? Looking at where you are and figuring out what you need to do to get where you want to go can be easier with help. Plus, what’s a road trip without a buddy? Call me anytime!
… All right, all right you can pick the travel tunes first.