Too much month left at the end of your money? Make financial awareness a priority, and you'll be amazed at how quickly your fortunes will change!
Today is National Financial Awareness Day, which makes now a great time to talk about possibly the biggest obstacle between you and positivity - money!
Here's a life lesson that might dent your ego a bit... you are your own worst enemy when it comes to your money. It's always incredibly easy to let the money you earn slip away, and there are countless outside forces trying to push your buttons to and empty your wallet just that little bit faster. Oh look! - a new restaurant just opened near you... cha-ching! $40 just went poof, and that tasty dinner suddenly isn't sitting so well. Your favorite footwear store is having yet another big sale... cha-ching! You're stepping in style, but now you've got two fancy bits of buyer's remorse staring up at you each time you look down. Oh wow... that new convertible is totally you... cha-ching! Your zero-per-month beater just became a $400-per-month gorgeous ride... that you can't afford gas or insurance for. But hey, it sure looks sweet in the driveway!
Don't get discouraged! It's actually a whole lot easier to chart a better course for your financial ship than you might think. It all starts with having the right mindset and developing a solid plan from there. You might think that it sucks to stay mindful of your finances - and you're not wrong, if your current financial situation is less than ideal - but guess what? Once you have things under control, it becomes very empowering to think financially and know that your money outlook is headed upward.
Have your eye on a big purchase, like a house? You can do this! All it takes is your willingness to stick to your plan and the patience to get there. Here are 4 great ways to stay mindful of your financial picture without letting your (lack of) money weigh you down.
Make a budget.
"Ew! No way!" I can hear you immediately exclaim. Hear me out, though. Making a budget is actually by far the most empowering and uplifting activity in this article, and it's crucial. You absolutely must be aware of your income and outgo if you're going to pull this off. There's simply no way around it. How many times have you heard of a pro athlete who's making millions file for bankruptcy? They weren't keeping tabs on the budget! Money goes bye-bye incredibly fast when you act like the account is endless.
Budgeting in itself can be kind of depressing, so I highly recommend doing what my parents have always done - make a game of it! Throughout my life, their goal hasn't been just to stick to the budget each month... they've always tried to see how far under budget they can go, and still have tons of fun and enjoy life. We traveled a fair amount when I was young and made a lot of great memories. Before you scoff, you should know that my dad was self-employed and my mom did occasional seamstress work to help out - I make more in my current job than they ever did together, and it's not like I make a lot. Because of their diligence - and despite their overall lack of income - my sister and I never wanted for much, and my parents have enjoyed their retirement far more than most people do.
Where to start? A simple list that includes your bills and your paychecks should set you well on your way. You can certainly start your list the old-fashioned way by putting pen to paper, but I like to remember we're in the 21st century, which brings me to...
Make technology work for you.
Let's begin this tip by stating something that ought to be really obvious for most folks, but it bears emphasizing: the very best high-tech budget in the world isn't going to help you if you don't live by it. Sure, we're all only human, and we all make mistakes... or want to treat ourselves on occasion... or emergencies happen... but the idea is to stick to your plan so those things do minimal damage to your long-term goals. You'll know where you stand virtually all of the time, and that helps you avoid falling into a financial hole so deep you'll have a hard time digging yourself out of. See also: spoil yourself within reason, and only occasionally... you'll appreciate it far more and you'll feel great knowing that you didn't strap yourself to do it.
I started by using Notepad (the built-in basic text editor in Windows) to make a simple chart that shows when each of my monthly bills is due and when each of my paychecks will arrive. When I get paid, I put a mark next to that payday. When I pay a bill, I put a mark next to that bill. Cake! I still use it often to see at a glance what's done and what's left to do this month. Pro Tip: It really helps to put as many of your bills on auto-pay as possible, assuming you have a decent cushion to work with (I recommend at least $500). Auto-pay is usually free, and it'll save you money on processing fees, stamps, envelopes, etc. - and you'll also stop the worry of "did I pay that?" Just be sure to look at your account regularly to double-check that the auto-pay is doing its job!
There are also a wide array of budgeting apps that do a great job of helping keep you on track. I've been experimenting with Mint on my Android smartphone, but there are lots of other great ones out there too - and most of them are free! Heck, some people like to get really hands-on and create formula-based spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel. It's really up to you and what you feel comfortable with.
As I said before, stick to your plan. You can always adjust it, but don't ever lose sight of your goals. The key to this is delayed gratification. That doesn't mean you can't have fun every day... just don't sell out your future dreams doing it! Here's one example: you don't need an appetizer and a dessert each time you eat out. To dial it back even further, you really don't need to eat out often in the first place. Learn to cook - it's cheap and easy! (You see, there's this thing called the internet that'll teach you what you want to learn - try it!) To brag just a little, I eat lunch at work for nearly a week for what a loaded Bloomin' Onion costs here ($10.99). And no, I don't eat Ramen every day, either! :-D
I'll put this another way: Love your life today, but plan for tomorrow. Get creative and think way outside the box about the fun stuff you want to do. Don't stress about what you can't do... have the most fun you can with what you have. If you take this approach far enough, before long, those out-of-reach things will be a lot closer.
Look for ways to reduce overhead.
Pay particularly close attention here, especially if compared your current income to your current expenses and came up with a number close to zero - or even a negative one. If that is your situation, your entire focus for the near future should be changing things so that you're out of the red ASAP. Living long-term is a beautiful thing, but obviously you can't do that if you're struggling to live today. Make reducing your expenses something you do early and often. Here is a quick pile of ideas to get you started:
- Consolidate debt - you'll massively reduce interest charges and you'll almost certainly reduce your monthly payment, too! Do some homework on this - you'll be pleasantly surprised at how easy and effective it is.
- Use coupons - pretty much any place you want to go offers discounts these days. Sign up for restaurant e-mail newsletters; they're chock-full of great deals. Get an Entertainment Book. Use online resources like Groupon and RetailMeNot. And, always remember that places wouldn't offer coupons if they didn't want you to use them... so don't fret about what the waiter will think!
- Shop around - This applies to everything, from insurance to groceries. Make full use of the internet and get the best deals you can. Also, buy used whenever possible - after all, it's going to become used the moment you use it anyway, right?
- Combine errands - Don't go out for just one thing, unless it's really important. Plan your running-about-town so that you knock multiple tasks off in the same trip. You'll save a ton of time, money... and gas!
As I said before, have fun with this! There's no reason at all why financial awareness can't become one of your favorite things to do. I really enjoy it - it feels good to know you're on the right track. Here's a thought for you... do you think wealthy people got to be wealthy by not thinking about their finances? ;-)
As always, I welcome your positive feedback, thoughts, and suggestions for future articles - feel free to contact me any time!
Live long and prosper,
Feel free to speak your mind via the commenting system - all I ask is that you do your best to keep your comments on the positive and constructive side, and that you respect the views of others. Have fun!
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