Happy almost New Year, friends! As you think about the approaching, you might be thinking about what fresh starts and changes you can make, and no doubt money is going to factor in there somewhere. Money is so intertwined with all part of our lives - from work to family, friendships to our home, our dreams and responsibilities - so it makes sense to plan out some money moves as you think about what shifts you'd like to make in the new year. But before you resign yourself with a heavy heart to a year of eating out of a can of beans and hating everyone, take a moment to check out these tips and ideas. Saving doesn't having to be painful. When we shift from thinking of the "sacrifices" we have to make because of our circumstances, to the choices we get to make to move us closer to what we want, the whole experience of making financial changes shifts. Take a look below to see how to actually do this,and let us know your thoughts in the comments!
- Consider the idea that there are seasons in life. What you do right now, for this particular moment in time and chapter in your life, isn't necessarily what will be necessary or desirable for the rest of your life. Think about where you are, and what the pressing money needs are, and what your savings and spending plan would look like to meet the needs of this particular moment in time, if you were able to put to the side all the ideas and messages about what you "should" be doing. Perhaps you just moved to a new place, and furnishing your home is key to feeling settled and comfortable. Maybe you have a baby, and you are suddenly dealing with daycare costs for the first time. You want to start a business in the next year, and need to squirrel away savings to make that transition possible. Or you have reached a place where you are able to make ends meet, but the fact that you're paying 40% of your paycheck to your student loans from 15 years ago is eating at your soul and keeping you from being able to have the experiences as a family that you are longing to create. Think about the financial goals and obligations for this particular chapter of your life. It's OK for you to make short-time changes to your savings and spending plans so that you can accommodate what is happening in your life right now. In our family, we are both self employed, and for years made an annual contribution to a SEP IRA. When our daughter was born, we shifted that savings amount into her 529 College Fund, knowing that if we front-loaded it, it would give it a greater chance to grow over time. Once we was 3, we both decided to start new businesses, so we stopped making contributions to any savings vehicles, and instead held on to our money to stay liquid while our income situation changed. Did we love doing this? No - it was uncomfortable and contrary to our beliefs of what you're "supposed" to do to stop saving for the future entirely. But we also recognized that this was something we needed to do for about two years in order to make some big life transitions that would profoundly benefit our family as a whole. Your financial obligations when you have a baby are very different from a 13 year old.
- Take some time to explore your emotions and stories around money. We spend so much time doing the arithmetic around our budgets, and barely any time examining why we spend, what our money habits our, how our upbringing and inherited ideas around money influence our spending and saving habits; how our ideas of "what is enough" impact the numbers we tell ourselves we need to save or make, etc. What do you believe is "correct" when it comes to spending and saving? How are these beliefs rooted in the lessons you've been taught about money? Do you agree with these notions, or are they vestiges of someone else's ideas about money that no longer fit your life or belief system? So often we are operating with a program around money that we don't even believe in, so there is naturally resistance to it - which can cause hiccups in our well-intentioned attempts to save more and spend less.
- Spend time thinking about the word "deserve." This is a loaded term we use all the time without realizing its weighty implications, and how they have a direct impact on our money behaviors. What are your immediate reactions and feelings around the term "deserve"? Do you think you deserve to have fancy clothes and expensive dinners because you work hard? How does this belief impact the way you perhaps make impulse purchases when you're feeling underappreciated? Do you think you deserve to be struggling because you've made some decisions that led you to be in debt that, in retrospect, you would have changed? How is this belief impacting the choices you make around reaching out for help to eliminate your debt and build wealth? Do you feel others deserve wealth and success, but you do not for some reason?
- Create a goal that is so exciting you can't stop daydreaming about it. Making big changes to your financial habits is hard, and when you're doing it so that you can accomplish something dreary that you don't care much about, it can feel like torture! But when you're doing it in the name of something that makes you light up, that you can't stop thinking about and dreaming of, it is much less painful to make the changes in your priorities and behaviors that are necessary. So take time to create a "carrot" that will help motivate you through the tricky moments, and help you realize that when you make a choice not to spend, you're putting that money towards something you're obsessively excited about, not "sacrificing" and depriving yourself in the moment.
- Get to know your spending! Seriously, if you just do one thing, this is the most important step. It's been said a million times, but here are some ways to do it that feel less painful and more fun:
- Keep track of all your spending over three months, and divide it into "fixed costs" - things that recur each month and are predictable - and "variable costs" - things that fluctuate each month and are more based on your habits, what's happening during that season, etc. Creating these two separate categories helps you see much faster which expenses you can have quicker control over, and which you kind of need to just budget around.
- I like to do this in a simple spreadsheet; I export my month's activity from my debit and credit card, and plop them in the spreadsheet, and assign a category to each item. My spreadsheet then lets me make a pie chart from this data that lets me really easily see what my highest categories are. If they're things I really care about - like gifts and charity - I tell myself that it's an expense I need to account for. If it's something I don't care so much about - like Amazon orders - then it's something I commit to decreasing in the months ahead. More on this below.
- Buy yourself a delicious indulgent coffee drink, sit at your favorite cafe or spot in your house, put on your favorite music, and go through your credit and debit card statements from the past month with two color pens: one for any costs that are confusing or questionable to you, and one for any that annoy you or seem like "why!?" (for example, why did I spend $19.99 on Hulu when I haven't watched it in 6mo? Why am I getting a recurring charge from Verizon when I thought I closed that old cell phone account four months ago?) Make this as comfortable and pleasant an experience as possible, because most of us hate doing this. But once you've gone through with your pens, make a list of the Questionable Expenses (fees, unknown charges) that you can investigate. Any of the Annoying Charges, get rid of them! On average I have found that this alone can eliminate $20-$200 of unseen recurring charges per month.
- Don't cut little things that bring you pleasure. For years I wouldn't let myself get fancy coffee because I felt like this was the road to financial ruin. In fact, I was spending maybe $125 on coffee, which some might think is horrifying, but to me it was one of life's great pleasures. When I cut it out I felt deprived and depressed and frantic about counting my pennies. Don't forget - money is both math and emotions! Giving myself this treat - which wasn't leading me to bankruptcy - made me feel happier and more relaxed about money. It allowed me to look at other costs that I really didn't have an emotional attachment to, and go through slashing those expenses ruthlessly. So don't take away something that brings you joy and whose absence will make you feel terribly deprived and tight - that will only lead to more anxiety and backsliding with your budgeting.