Personal finance can be a tricky topic. Some people are on top of their finances, accounting for every penny spent and earned, while others fall more into the “if I ignore them, the problems don’t exist” camp of keeping track of spending, saving and debt repayment. And while you may need to spend some time getting better acquainted with your habits, there are small changes that can make a big impact when it comes to your overall financial health—and none of them have to do with tracking your spending in an app.
Keep reading for personal finance changes you haven’t considered yet (but really should):
Create an un-budget budget
As someone who is obsessed with personal finance, I take a lot of advice with a grain of salt. But after I read Shannon Lee Simmons’ Worry-Free Money (and later Living Debt-Free), I realized her advice was sage and, in fact, game-changing (her insight into how social media affects our spending habits is incredibly on-point). She maintains that traditional budgets don’t work when you consider that you may not spend your “designated” amount each month and traditional budgets can make it difficult to track spikes in spending, such as unforeseen repairs or things like pricey wedding gifts. Instead, she proposes you categorize your spending into categories such as fixed expenses (anything that has a set, unchanging amount), debt repayment, savings (and even these are further broken down) and then all other spending, creating a more realistic snapshot of where your money is going.
If you’re feeling indifferent about your bank and do the majority of your banking online, consider switching to a financial institution that wants to see you succeed. While these are often those that do not have brick and mortar locations (and require a bit more patience when you have to make the occasional call to customer service), you could be saving yourself the cost of your Netflix subscription every month in bank fees. Some banks offer little services such as savings top-ups (they’ll round up to the nearest dollar amount from a transaction and put that in a savings account) or cash-back in certain categories. Plus, most banks are now armed with their own spending trackers, making it much easier for you to see how much you’re spending and where, so you can have all of this consolidated in one place.
Make Your Credit Card Work For You
Credit cards don’t have to be the devil when it comes to a healthy relationship with your finances, as long as you’re on top of paying them down (though this can be easier said than done). But if you’re going to have a credit card anyway, you may as well make it work in your favour and get one that is going to benefit you. Identify what some of your financial goals and priorities are: Is it to free up cash flow? Find a credit card that offers a cash-back rate or helps you accumulate points for free groceries and other goods so that you can reduce your monthly spending in those areas. Looking to travel more? Don’t underestimate the power of having a travel credit card that will allow you to bank points for upcoming flights (and maybe even travel for free) that much easier.
Once you’ve devoured Worry-Free Money (I won’t stop telling people about this book until everyone has read this gospel) and have your savings accounts set up (and since you’re now banking with an FI that doesn’t charge you, you’re free to have a few different savings accounts without racking up any fees or requiring minimum balances), you can be more strategic with how you approach your savings. Know you have a wedding (or several) coming up? Figure out how much you’d spend on a gift anyway and divide that by the amount of time you have to save or frequency with which you’ll be chipping away at it. Say you want to have $200 ready 10 weeks from now, you’ll save $20 a week until that wedding. Then, once the wedding rolls around, you’ll already have the money sitting and waiting, designated for this purpose alone, making it feel like less of a financial hit (because you were preparing for this spike all along) and probably less resentful for making a larger withdrawal.
Take The Shame Out of Spending
This may seem like a fluffy cop-out, but one of the best pieces of financial advice I’ve ever received is to stop feeling ashamed of your “guilty” pleasures. As long as the bills are paid at the end of the day and you’re on top of your debt repayment and savings goals (whatever those look like for you and your lifestyle), how you spend the rest of your hard-earned money shouldn’t matter. Like getting your nails done? Like going out for coffee instead of brewing it at home or at the office? Do you live for travel? Going to the movies? It’s important to still be mindful about spending so that you don’t sink yourself into a debt hole, but life is meant to be lived. You can be both responsible and enjoy some financial freedom at the same time—in fact, removing the shame and the “I should spend less money on this” can arguably help heal some of your financial hang-ups.
(Story by Contributing Editor, Ashley Kowalewski-Pizzi)