When we really think about it I’m sure everyone could be doing something in their financial life a little bit better. There’s no such thing as perfection when it comes to your finances, so let’s take that off the table right now. (My perfectionist self just died a little inside.) Here are four habits that can help you get a little closer to your ultimate financial goals whatever they may be.
KEEP A BUDGET AND LOOK AT IT EVERY MORNING
It’s no secret that I believe it’s impossible to accomplish your financial goals without a budget. A budget is the most critical element to your financial success, and yet it’s something most people hate to do because we’re afraid to see our financial reality. Budgets can feel mentally demanding and frustrating on even the best days, but I promise you one thing, as much as you hate budgeting it’s the only way to move forward and get away from those scary numbers that are currently clouding your financial picture.
A budget is a tool for planning, a gauge of success (and naturally failure), but it can also be an extremely helpful motivational tool. Force yourself to look at your budget every morning before you start your work for the day. I mean it… every morning. Looking at your budget daily has two main benefits. First, it will keep you from being terrified of looking at your bank statement because there shouldn’t be any surprises. You remember what you spent the day before and now you can see it hitting your budget. Most importantly, when you look at your budget you may get a gut feeling of comfort that things are going smoothly and you are on track to meet your monthly budget, or you may get the feeling of “Oh Crap! I’m not going to make it!”. Either is fine, but what I really want you to take away is the feeling. Personally, when I look at my budget in the morning and I get that “Oh Crap!” feeling, I batten down the hatches and tend to make smarter choices about how I spend my money for the rest of the day. Often I don’t even realize how that information has subconsciously changed my spending.
This has been one of the most important habits I’ve established to help me curb my spending. It sounds so simple, but planning ahead can save you money in ways you never could predict. Meal planning is one of the biggest areas I’ve seen this help with. We all lead busy lives and for years, my husband and I were ordering take out for dinner every other night and buying lunch at work. This was adding up to a massive tab on food by the end of the month. Now we make a point of sitting down on every Sunday and planning the menu for that week. Then we cook almost everything on Sunday so that we won’t be tempted to buy takeout on a night when we’re too tired to cook. It has literally saved us hundreds of dollars on our food bill and has the added benefit of bringing us together for a few hours a week to do the physical food prep.
TALK ABOUT YOUR BUDGET
You are not the only one in the world trying to get your finances in order. Chances are your friends are in the same boat and you just never talk about finances because it seems too taboo. But there’s really nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to making responsible financial decisions. In fact, you should feel proud that you’re taking action when so many others aspire to take control of their finances. Talking about these things can benefit everyone, so tell your BFF that you’re on a budget. I’m sure she’d love going on a walk with you just as much as she would have enjoyed an expensive dinner with you. Relationships are about the time you spend together; not the amount of money you spend when you’re together.
SLEEP ON IT
One common reason we overspend is boredom. If you’ve ever surfed the internet shopping for hours you probably understand what I’m talking about. It’s something to do and often there’s no particular reason you need to be doing it. Do you really need another handbag? Maybe you do… or maybe it’s just something to do. My advice is to sleep on it. Go ahead, put it in your cart, but then leave it there and walk away. Go to the gym or call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Come back the next day after you’ve done your daily budget check and see if you really still need that item. Often the answer will be no.
Keep in mind that habits take time to form, so pick one of these and take it for a spin in your own life. If that works out try the next tip. Remember that any progress is forward progress!
Written By: Lindsay Dell Cook
Lindsay Dell Cook is an accountant, turned writer and founder of Budget Babble. She lives in Philadelphia with her uber supportive husband, and enjoys taking their adorable mutt for walks or reading a good book while buried under a pile of cats.