Hi everyone! This time of year can be especially stressful on our bank accounts and cards. With Christmas gifts and other holiday obligations and parties we may spend more than we are comfortable with or put our budget by the wayside.
Since graduating from college I have been working to find financial programs and budgeting tips and techniques that work best for me as I navigate my income and prepare and plan ahead for expenses that come with homeownership and my graduate school expenses.
One of the best things I have done so far to hold myself accountable for my finances and budgeting is to buy a financial notebook/planner to consistently use each month and keep myself on track. The planner I use is one I found last year at Kittsona: a local boutique. It has been great for tracking my months financially and setting financial goals.
When I first decided I needed to get my finances on track and commit to better managing my money I spent one month tracking every single thing I spent money on or bought. This month long snapshot of where my money was going opened my eyes to areas where I knew I was spending too much and gave me an idea of how I could cut back or improve.
Then after my spending habit tracking I worked to create my first monthly budget and set parameters for what was feasible for me to spend in different categories. Keeping in mind that some monthly expenses for me are variable (mainly utilities like electricity and water)
Another vital piece to my financial planning came from my reading of a book by a well known financial educator named Dave Ramsey. I received one of his books as a gift from my parents since they believe his advice is sound. Of course this book is by no means the only book to read if you are seeking financial advice. Everyone has a different mindset when it comes to money so find a book, method, or person that works best for you!!
Just to keep things abbreviated I had three major takeaways from this book but it is filled with valuable information for people in varying financial situations.
1) The envelope spending cash system
– One of the main takeaways I had from Dave Ramsey’s book and overall philosophy was the envelope system for cash budgeting. Dave believes that by paying for things with cash you take on a greater feeling for the spending of the money since it is in physical form. Cash is king in his eyes and so adopting this system has helped me to rethink my spending habits as I’m not always swiping away my money.
The basic concept behind this system is to budget out all of your non essential spending categories for the month, add them up, and then withdraw that money in cash. Then make physical envelopes labeled with each of your categories and put your corresponding budgeted amount for that category in cash in the envelope. As the month goes on you take money out if the appropriate envelope for purchases. If you empty the envelope for a certain category then your only choice is to dip into another envelope if you need money for a purchase in the category or choose to go without. This process helps with impulse spending and also helps in the overall facilitation of your budget.
2) The debt snowball
– This concept is very straight forward. Once you accomplish your initial savings and emergency savings requirements you start paying down your debt(s) . Dave’s recommendations to approaching debt is compared to the forming of a snowball. Start small and before you know it you have a huge snowball. When you begin to pay down debt start by writing out every debt you have from smallest to largest. Once you have those amounts listed you can begin to pay them down by starting with the smallest and working your way up. As you pay down small debts and start crossing them of your list you will gain a positive outlook and also build your financial confidence.
One thing that’s important to note is that you will need to continue to pay any minimums on larger debt like student loans and credit cards but can focus the rest of your funds on smaller debts to start with. Once you only have larger debts remaining you can start to apply larger amounts to pay off those debts more quickly instead of feeling stuck paying only minimums.
3) The unprecedented importance of early savings for retirement
– I won’t make any specific comments on the subject of retirement savings as everyone has different priorities and philosophies but I will stress how important it is to begin saving for retirement early. Those who are in their early to mid 20s like me: whatever you save now for retirement will pay off in HUGE ways when you reach your retirement age. It’s also important to be sure those who are contributing to employer sponsored plans are taking full advantage of any matching opportunities they are giving you.
If these concepts intrigue you I highly recommend buying one of Dave’s books and diving in. He also sells financial workbooks that can help you get started with the physical planning pieces. I also have friends who have attended classes in one of their local churches our other places that are called “Financial Peace University” which teach Dave’s principles in multiple in person sessions.
Finances are not easy and they are certainly not an easy thing to talk about with others. If you’re feeling that way about money you are not alone!! I hope these tips and ideas give you a good place to get started if you have been looking for motivation or a reminder how important it is to be as financially well as possible. Financial wellness is a key to lower stress and a better relationship with money and feeling in control of your spending.
Thanks so much for reading! I hope you all have a great week!