Hello 2021! If 2020 (and frankly the start to this year) has taught us anything, it’s that there are many things out of our control. For most of my adult life – I felt that my finances fell into this category. Which often led to a feeling of general helplessness and frustration. In January of 2019, finally fed up, I made a huge personal shift in my money mindset (you can read all about that here). To put it plainly, it changed my life.
I realize that for so many, the past year of the pandemic has been crippling when it comes to finances. But if you’re in a place where – due to debt, reduced income or just general uncertainty/fear – you’re not focused on your finances at all, I’m here to try and convince you to make a change. I say this as a person who has made a lot of mistakes with her money, had years where I had practically none of it and now am finally in a place where I’m out of debt, have emergency savings and am investing in my retirement. I promise you it can be done, even with the smallest baby steps.
It sounds counterintuitive, but being strict about my finances actually provides me a huge sense of freedom. The more I understand, track and control my budget and goals – the less worry, shame and guilt I feel about my finances. Below – my best advice for finally focusing on your own finances this year.
Go It Alone
You can only change yourself. If you partner isn’t on board yet or none of your friends/roommates talk about money – don’t wait for them to start the conversation. I can’t stress enough how important it is for women especially to not rely on anyone else when it comes to their finances. A savings account can give you the freedom to walk away from a bad relationship or a toxic work environment. Plus, on top of the fact that women statistically earn less than men.. we also outlive them. So we have more years to save for with less money to do it. It’s harsh.. I know.
The great thing is, once your partner, family or friends see you getting things on track – they just might be inspired to join in.
Become Financially Literate
I was SO intimidated when I first began my financial journey. I was always good at math but I’d never taken a course in accounting or personal finances and had couldn’t have told you the difference between a Traditional or a Roth IRA. It felt like an old white man’s club that I hadn’t been invited to. So I sent myself back to “school”. I found podcasts, blogs, books, Instagram accounts and youtube videos that talked about money in relatable ways. I sought out the voices of women that came from esteemed financial backgrounds, people with careers I admired and young people with similar messy financial starts who had since gotten themselves on track. It made me feel less alone, more informed and ultimately confident that I could figure this all out.
I like the podcast HerMoney and She Makes Money Moves, the info on Ellevest and Instagram accounts @thefinancebar, @babeonabudgetblog and @thefiscalfemme for starters.
Lead With Your Values
Money is SO personal. The reasons why I want to save or what I think is worthy of spending on is likely completely different than yours. And that’s fine! I found that once I wrote out the things that felt important to me and some benchmark life goals it really helped for me to get clear on why I wanted to focus on my finances. It also makes it easier to resist the urge to ‘add to cart’ because in the back of my mind I know what the bigger picture looks like and can remind myself of the “why” behind the numbers.
Lay It All Out
Look at every cent you have coming in against all of your fixed expenses. Make savings, debt repayment and – eventually – retirement investments non negotiable. See what’s left. Is it enough to live on? If not – could you pick up a side hustle to earn extra income? Could you sell unwanted items on Facebook Marketplace? Could you give up some of those monthly subscriptions? If it it enough – could you be saving more? A good benchmark is the 50/30/20 rule. You should spend 50% of your income on fixed expenses, 30% on discretionary spending and 20% on savings. Our budget lives in a Google Sheet so it’s easy to access and edit at all times.
Make Time for Your Money
This is probably my number one tip and my real “secret” if I have one. Make it a habit like anything else. I began looking at my finances as another layer of my health. If I can make time to workout, I also have to make time to budget.
- DAILY: I check my account balance and budget spreadsheet for about 5 minutes every morning. I promise you – your skincare routine or mindless Instagram scroll takes longer than this – your schedule will allow it. And I find that when those numbers are top of mind it stays in your subconscious throughout the day and you’re more likely to make better decisions.
- WEEKLY: Once a week Adam and I meet for about 15 minutes to check in about our spending that week, talk about anything coming up in the next couple of weeks and look at the month as a whole.
- MONTHLY: We check in to be sure we met all of our monthly savings goals, make transfers between accounts (like our regular checking/savings and our high interest savings account) and look at how we’re tracking towards our yearly goals.
- YEARLY: A major review of everything. We look at how we did the year prior (did we meet our goals? If not, why?) and plan for the year ahead (will there be any big purchases like a car or big vacation we want to save extra for? Does one of us want to look for a new job?). We also check in and revise our 2-year, 5-year, 10-year and 20-year plans as needed. Life is not perfectly predictable and these aren’t set in stone – but I think it’s important to have a big picture mentality.
To recap: Commit to starting – even if you’re on your own. Even if you can only set aside $10 a month. Even if you think you’ll never see the end of your student loans. Lean on free resources to get comfortable with finances. Make a list of your values, goals and create a preliminary budget for yourself. Track your income, expenses, spending, savings and debt payments. Check in on those numbers often and remind yourself why you started. Write to me in 6 months and tell me how far you’ve come.