I was floored by the fact that so many of you responded with a resounding ‘yes!’ to my prompt about financial posts here on the blog. In general, I find the conversation among young women about money terribly lacking. Couple that with the fact that most of us were raised not to discuss money and never taught anything about the practical side of things like bills, student loan debt and retirement savings in school (why is this not a required class??) – and I think it deserves at least a blog post or two.
To begin – I’m clearly not an expert on any of this. But I think that’s a good thing. It’s intimidating to read advice from financial experts – but from a woman who is working hard to pay off her credit cards and find more ways to save money plus plan for the future? That seems easier to swallow. I’ve made money mistakes too, so you’re not on your own.
I’ve got a lot of ideas for posts surrounding this topic – but to start, I wanted to share how I changed my money mindset at the beginning of the year. To make a long story short – I spent a lot of years pretty broke. A combination of student loan debt, high cost of living in New York and entry level wages. Then a cross-country move to LA.. then a cross-country move to get back home to New York. It all took its toll. And even years after I was not necessarily broke, I was kind of just getting by. There never felt like there was enough to substantially save let alone plan for my long-term future. And somewhere around January 1st of this year I kind of just snapped. I couldn’t take one more day/week/month/year of letting my finances control me. I wanted complete control. I wanted to feel the freedom of knowing I was financially secure.
That tipping point will likely be sparked by different things for different people. Maybe you just got a big raise and finally want to spend it smartly. Maybe you found out you’re pregnant and are freaking out about how you are going to afford it. Regardless, I think when you’re really truly ready to make a change to your money mindset – you’ll know it. From there, think long and hard about your goals. Do you want to retire early? Travel the world now? There’s no wrong answer, but you’ll want a clear set of goals in order for these changes to really stick.
To begin – you need to get a really firm grasp on every single dollar in your life. I made spreadsheets that laid out every dollar I earn, every dollar that goes to a fixed cost and every extra dollar. Then all of those got further broken down into categories. You’ll start to see patterns.. do you have 15 subscriptions you never use? There’s $150 a month out the window. Do you buy your lunch instead of planning ahead and packing. Boom, there’s $50+ a week back in your pocket. Decide what you feel like you can’t live without and what you can, cut the fat, wait a day and then look again. Repeat the process.
Once you see your money staring back at you it’s a lot easier to make decisions about it. There are great apps for this (Minted and Every Dollar are both good), but a simple google sheet will do the job too. When I started and needed the most radical help, I found apps a little bit passive – but when I actually had to type out that I paid $14 for a salad.. it held me more accountable and kept inspiring me to make changes in order to create a spreadsheet that I would feel proud to look at every week. And instead of vaguely thinking at the end of each month – I wish I could have saved more, I started considering my debt payments and the savings fixed costs. Like rent, they became non-negotiable.
Once I felt like I had a real handle on what was possible in a given month, I made a one year plan. Plus a five year, ten year and twenty year financial plan. Obviously there are things that could radically change over that period of time, but if I think in 10 years I want to own a getaway home outside the city or in 20 years I want to have a college savings fund for a couple of kids.. I need to be thinking about that now.
So the plans were set. Now how did I stick to it? I made it a habit. Habits are easier than self control. It doesn’t take a lot of will power to brush your teeth every morning (it’s a habit), so I wanted to get to the point where managing my money properly felt the same way.
And when I was tempted by a cute new pair of shoes or a dress on sale? I consulted the spreadsheet. Like literally would stand in a store and pull up the spreadsheet on my phone. Sometimes just that simple act was enough to remind me that I had bigger goals and I’d easily be able to walk out the door. But just in case – I unsubscribed from store emails too and started walking home a different way so I no longer passed by some of my favorite Fifth Avenue shops. And if I still wanted that dress? I wrote it down on a list of “wants”. Everything from a new couch to those cute shoes would go on the list and then as I looked at my weekly discretionary money I could consult the list and decide what I really wanted most and what I could stand waiting on.
In short, I made a lot of lists. 8 months later though? And I’ve never felt more free. Sometimes Adam and I just look at the number in our savings account and are dumbfounded at how we saved so much so far this year (listen it’s not like we’re running away to the South of France anytime soon – but it’s more than we’ve ever had in that account before). And it’s because I made it a habit for us. I drew a firm line in the sand and refused to step back over it. Every single day I think about my money for at least a few minutes. I check in, I remind myself why I started and I plan for tomorrow.
If it sounds overwhelming, I promise you the feeling of living paycheck to paycheck is more overwhelming. We devote time every day to our mental and physical health, surely we can give 5 minutes a day to financial health, no?
Next time I’m going to tackle my strategy for fall shopping (in keeping with my new money mindset) and I’ve got posts planned for how I deal with living in a veryyy expensive city, decorating a home on a budget and how I balance money in my relationship with Adam. Lots more to come! Happy saving my friends.