Adulting sucks. Unfortunately, sooner or later shit is going to hit the fan.
So when it does, the big question is: can your finances weather the storm?
Hopefully you’ve adopted a few good financial habits so the storm blows over, causing only a minor disturbance.
But, if you are on the other end of the spectrum and have turned a blind eye to your finances, then a shit storm could cause some serious, long-term damage.
Fortunately, there’s hope!
I’m a strong believer that no matter where you are on the financial health scale, you can make changes to create a healthier financial life.
So if your finances need a little whipping into shape, you’ve come to the right place. It will take a few tweaks, determination and perseverance, but it’s worth it. And if you ask me, it’s pretty darn fun!
Watch out bank accounts! You’re about to experience some financially savvy adulting.
1. GET INTIMATE WITH YOUR SPENDING
Many of us are like ostriches with our heads in the sand when it comes to our spending.
Ignorance is bliss, right? But what’s this attitude truly doing to our financial health?
Here’s what happens: we end up with spending habits that don’t align with our priorities.
For example, imagine spending $200 at Starbucks each month when you don’t even like coffee! Ludicrous! Right?
They key is to determine what’s important to you and if your spending is supporting that dream.
Maybe you want to go on a vacation, but all of your extra money is feeding your taco obsession. Now here is where you need to choose— tacos or vacation? Or maybe it’s less tacos and a vacation?
Everyone’s priorities are different and we each get to decide our own path. This is where personal finances starts to get fun.
In the end, getting a firm handle on how you spend your money is like shining a bright light into a dark financial cave. You may find a few scary monsters in there, but once you shine the light on them, they might actually be friendly, hold your hand, and help lead you out of the cave.
It’s all about awareness and being completely honest with yourself about your spending and priorities.
Three ways to start a relationship with your spending:
- Bank and credit card statements. Credit cards and banks will often categorize your spending on your statements to help understand where your money is going.
- Spreadsheets. Some of us love our spreadsheets. If that is you, using them can be a great way to track your spending each month. Most credit cards and banks allow you to export your data.
- Budgeting Apps. Apps like You Need A Budget and Mint are great for tracking spending. They also are great tools for setting up a budget.
So now that you understand your spending and priorities, it’s time to take your financial game to the next level.
2. MAKE YOUR BUDGET YOUR BFF
Budgets are the wet blankets of personal finances.
Or at least that is how most of us feel about them. They can feel restricting and we worry they will suck the fun out of life.
This doesn’t have to be the case and getting past these feelings is a major step towards making your money work for you and your priorities.
The challenge is to think of a budget as a simple plan to align your money with your priorities. A plan that is flexible, constantly changing and always there for you to fall back on.
If you view your budget in this way, you may find your budget can be your new BFF.
Six steps to start a budget:
- Determine your “why”. Figure out why you want to start taking control of your finances. Is it to feel financially secure or less stressed about money
- Take an inventory of your financial goals and priorities. Do you want to save for a vacation, pay off debt, or buy a house?
- Make of list of irregular expenses. Expenses such as property taxes, car maintenance, and annual fees can catch us off guard. Make a list of these once a year expenses and be sure to include them in your budget.
- Find a budgeting tool that works for you. It could be a spreadsheet or an online app such as Mint or You Need a Budget. Try a few and see what sticks and makes the most sense for you.
- Start your budget. Use the information you gathered when you got intimate with your expenses and build your budget. Start slow and set realistic spending goals.
- Review your budget regularly. Expenses and priorities change. Keep your budget flexible and make changes as you go. Nothing should be set in stone.
3. KICK CONSUMER DEBT TO THE CURB
Consumer debt can be crippling.
And unfortunately, many of us live with it every day.
As of February 2019, CNBC reported that the collective American consumer debt was at a record$4 trillion! Holy Shit!
Consumer debts are essentially loans taken for consumable goods that do not appreciate in value. Common examples are credit card debt, car loans and payday loans.
Consumer debt feeds on your financial health by forcing your future self to pay for your past self. That’s just not fair to future you.
You’ll be pissed if you can’t go on that vacation because past self lived beyond their means and charged that huge ass TV to watch the Super Bowl.
Or even worse, you lose your job. Now you’re stuck paying both the expenses your past self made and your current expenses. This is a recipe for financial disaster.
See how this can easily spiral out of control?
Now that I’ve scared the shit out of you (sorry about that), here some tips to start your debt free journey.
Three ways to handle debt like an adult:
- List out all of your debts. Determine how much you owe and the interest rate associated with each debt.
- Eliminate just one debt. Put all extra money toward one debt repayment by following a debt snowball (pay the smallest loan first) or a debt avalanche method (pay highest interest loan first).
- Watch your debts crumble. Once you’ve paid off your first debt, continue to pay off your other debts one by one until you can do the “I’m debt-free” jig.
4. AVOID CONSUMER DEBT LIKE THE PLAGUE
Once you rid yourself of consumer debt, it’s time for the hard part. Don’t take on any more debt.
We are constantly being tempted to buy more than we can afford. Want that new couch but don’t have the cash right now? Finance it with this lovely easy payment plan and no interest for 12 months. Sold.
The big one that gets most of us is the sneaky car loan. We don’t think twice about it. It’s the cost of owning a car, right?
So how do we avoid consumer debt?
We plan for future expenses and save accordingly.
Sounds boring, doesn’t it? I get it. It’s no fun to save when you could use that money now for that sweet pair of shoes.
But saving can actually be exhilarating. Imagine walking into the car dealership with your head held high knowing you aren’t putting yourself into debt and committing yourself to a monthly payment for five years! This is when you know you have successfully adulted your finances.
The secret to saving: sinking fund
A sinking fund is money you set aside (usually by saving a bit each month) to cover large upcoming expenses (hello, Christmas!) or replacements of depreciating assets such as furniture or cars.
Know your air conditioner is on its last leg? Start saving now. Future self is going to want to give past self a high five when that air conditioner breaks down and there are already funds set aside to cover the expense.
I know, sounds easier than it may actually be, but having the discipline to build a savings for future expenses is what financial stability is all about: setting yourself up to be able to survive the financial hiccups life throws at us.
5. PAY YOURSELF FIRST. YOU’RE WORTH IT.
Paying yourself first is the secret to increasing your savings.
Rather than thinking about saving after you’ve paid all of your expenses, save first before it gets eaten up by other expenses or you’re tempted to spend it.
Many of us will look at that last statement and think “That is the most ass backward thing I’ve read today! I can’t save until I know my bills are paid”.
If that’s what ran through your mind, you are partially right. Adulting requires us to pay those bills.
But adulting also requires us to save for our future and the unexpected. When you raise the bar and make saving a non-negotiable, something that is just as important as paying your rent, you are making your future self a priority. This is what paying yourself first is all about.
How the hell do you pay yourself first? Here are four tips.
- Treat saving as a priority. Saving is just as important as your bills.
- Set a savings goal. Start small and gradually increase as you’re able or it becomes more of a priority.
- Make the savings automatic. Set up an automatic transfer from your checking or have part of your paycheck directly deposited into your savings.
- Reduce your spending. Limit your variable expenses such as happy hour drinks or cut out some fixed expenses such as HBO to help meet that established savings goal.
6. TREAT YOUR CREDIT CARD LIKE A DEBIT CARD
Most of us understand that holding a credit card balance and paying interest is bad for our financial health. What we often don’t understand is that treating our credit card like a debit card will help us avoid financial instability.
This may not make any sense and you may be thinking “But I pay my credit card bill in full each month and I don’t accrue any interest. I’m totally handling my credit card like a boss.”
If this is you, high five for not paying interest on a credit card debt. But now, let’s look at why simply paying your credit card in full each month could rock the financial boat.
Sinking your financial boat with credit card debt
You Need A Budget gets an assist for this simple explanation:
Say you put all of your January expenses on your credit card. To you it’s no big deal since you know you will pay it off in February.
Along comes February and you pay your credit card bill with the expenses from January. You’re feeling like a financially savvy adult.
But here’s the kicker: since February’s income went towards paying January’s expenses, you likely won’t have enough money in your checking account to pay all of February’s expenses. This puts you right back to using your credit card. But again, you think no big deal since you’ll pay the bill in full in March. And so the cycle continues.
But if you look closely at what’s going on, you’ll see that you are actually living off of next month’s income—money you don’t have yet. Money that’s not necessarily guaranteed. What if you were unable to work or lost your job and that next paycheck never comes? Now you’re already a month in debt while still having to pay this month’s bills.
Can you see how this causes financial instability?
Ok, I think we are ready to learn how to treat your credit card like a debit card.
How do you treat a credit card like a debit card
It’s simple. When making a purchase, make sure to use money you have now to pay for it. Just like you would do with a debit card to avoid pesky overdraft fees
Think of it as if you could pay your credit card bill at any moment because each expense is covered by funds in your checking account. See? Simple
Why not just use a debit card and avoid credit cards
Credit cards are great generators of free shit. Cashback, travel rewards, you name it. They are amazing!
Taking advantage of this free shit while being responsible with your credit cards is adulting at its finest.
YOU GOT THIS. NOW IS THE TIME TO TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR FINANCES
In a world where we are constantly being prodded to buy this or buy that, it’s time to respect your hard earned dollar and adopt good financial habits.
These tips will help get you started. But in the end, it all comes down to who you want to be in charge of your life: you or your finances?
If it seems like an impossible task, just start slow. All it takes is one small success, like eliminating a minor debt, to get the ball rolling. As the saying goes, eat the elephant one bite at time.
I won’t lie, it won’t be all days of wine and roses. There will be some unfortunate shit you have to dig yourself out of. But I can say that it is totally worth it.
Go on! Pick your first financial win and get after it. You got this!