4 Ways to be Financially Responsible in the New Year
If the words “financial planning” fill you with visions of traders gesturing wildly on the market floor and stock analysts deciphering intricate graphs while spewing incomprehensible jargon, I have good news for you. It’s not that complicated. Taking financial responsibility really just boils down to basic addition, subtraction, a smidge of compound interest, and some good old-fashioned willpower.
If you’re serious about building a better financial future in 2014, tune out the “noise”, take a breath, and follow these four simple steps.
1. Track your Spending. Do you REALLY know how much you’re spending each month? Sure, you account for your rent, utilities, transportation, food, insurance, etc… but what about that emergency root canal or your passport renewal or the wedding you attended last month? Chances are you’re blowing through a lot more than you think.
To create a plan for your financial future, you have to know where you stand NOW. What’s coming in? What’s going out? Is there enough to pay your recurring bills? What about the unexpected expenses? Is there enough leftover at the end of each month to cover a last minute car repair or an unexpected layoff? How about some cash for your long-term savings goals like a down payment on a home?
It ALL starts with tracking. You can get fancy with spreadsheets, keep it basic with pen and paper, or make it super simple by using an app like Moven to do it for you. Once you get a snapshot of your spending, you’ve taken the first step in creating a better tomorrow for your money and yourself.
2. Trim the Fat. Seeing your spending patterns laid out in front of you can be eye opening. Once you see that your daily coffee habit costs $150 a month or that grabbing lunch on the go is costing you another $300, you may reconsider some of your habitual purchases.
Start by identifying your spending weaknesses. Do you always go out to eat? How often are you paying for convenience- cabs, delivery, etc? Any unnecessary shopping sprees?
Next, identify how you can cut back. You don’t have to eliminate all discretionary spending (i.e. fun) from your budget, but maybe you can find some cheaper alternatives. Ditch your cable and subscribe to Netflix. Skip the movie theatres and wait for Redbox. Or maybe just cut back on frequency. Stop for Starbucks once a week rather than every day. Pick and chose social events that work within your budget. It’s not about elimination, it’s just “trimming the fat”.
3. Set Goals. Okay, so cutting back on trips to your favorite pizza joint or nixing your Friday night movie habit is admittedly tough. To keep yourself motivated, set some goals. WHY are you giving up your morning Starbucks run? Maybe it’s so you can save up for a sweet vacation or upgrade your home or so you can send your kids to college.
In the day-to-day moments of spending temptation, it’s important to remember the big picture. Remind yourself of your WHY often. Carry around a photo of your dream home or your kids or your retirement destination in your wallet. Before you swipe your credit card or pull out the cash, you’ll have to think about whether that purchase is bringing you closer to or further away from those goals.
4. Create a Budget. Budgets are a great way to break down your big picture goals into actionable monthly, weekly, even daily targets. When you budget, you’re putting a tangible system in place to get from where you are today to where you want to be, be it freedom from debt or retirement in Hawaii.
Use your budget to keep you accountable to yourself and your dreams. You deserve it.
Stefanie is a New York City based actress and personal finance blogger. She chronicles her struggle to “live the dream” on a starving artists’ budget at thebrokeandbeautifullife.com