My friend Sara struggles with managing her money.
She’s a busy working mom of 3 littles and at the end of a busy day, the last thing she wants to do is enter numbers into a complicated budget. At the same time, she dreads opening her credit card statements and often feels guilty about overspending. She earns a decent income but has no idea how the money disappears so quickly. After hitting a low point, Sara asked me to help her make some changes. Her only request was that my ideas be simple and attainable.
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This is for all the Saras.
If you are struggling with your finances like Sara, I promise it’s possible to manage your money better. So before you throw in the towel (that you bought on impulse), try the “I Can Just” technique. Instead of focusing on making huge financial changes, just do one thing differently every day. Small steps. Big results.
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I Can Just Spend a Bit Less
Do you wander around the mall on your lunch break or mindlessly scroll online stores? Searching out the next great buy can be addictive because our brains receive a shot of endorphins when we see something exciting. The problem is, this easily leads to overspending.
And we might be inadvertently modeling this pattern for our children. Our 7-year-old and I recently had this conversation:
Him: Mom, I found something I really want to buy on Amazon.
Me: Did you know you wanted to buy it before you went on Amazon?
Him: No. I just found it and now I really want it.
Me: If you look online you will always see something great to buy. People who want you to buy things are experts at what they do. The secret to not spending your money is to not even look at those bright, shiny things.
Isn’t this true for adults too?
If online shopping has become a money-draining activity, take a break for a set time. If you have something you absolutely need, choose a time to research it online but stick to a preset budgeted amount. Set a timer while you make your purchase so you don’t enter the online rabbit trail of “Oh look – perfume is on sale too.”
I Can Wait 24 Hours Before Making a Big Purchase
This tip might seem difficult, but it is key to spending wisely.
Let’s say you are staring at a gorgeous handbag. Or leather boots that would look divine. Or a sparkly set of cookware you know would make Aunt Edna’s lasagna even more mouth-watering. Suddenly you feel the “I need that” wave coming over you.
You are at a crossroads in managing your money.
Society has trained us to jump in and make purchases on a whim. And it feels good – until it doesn’t (waving at you, credit card statements and ridiculous interest rates). Make the entire process inconvenient. Walk out of the store and give yourself 24 hours to consider the purchase. Or if you are shopping online, save it in your cart for a day and walk away.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What are my reasons for wanting this item?
- Do I already own something similar that I can be content with instead?
- If I pass on this purchase, can I buy something even more meaningful later?
By allowing yourself to pause, the rational part of your brain weighs in on the purchase. You may surprise yourself by realizing it is easier to walk away than expected.
I Can Do a Spending Freeze for A Day or a Week
Try this once and watch what happens. Limit your spending to only food and transportation for a set amount of time. Notice how many times you go to mindlessly spend money before remembering it’s a Spending Freeze. Your bank balance will reward your self-control, and you will become more aware of how much shopping can be done out of habit.
I Can Have a Low-Budget Weekend
Since entertainment spending often skyrockets on the weekend, challenge yourself to plan a fun activity using very little money. Encourage the whole family to join in on the challenge. Better yet, invite another family to work with you. What kind of adventures could both families have together while only spending $10? $20? Our library has free passes to conservation parks that can be signed out for a week. Be creative and meet up for a free afternoon with each family contributing to a picnic. A little planning goes a long way in saving.
I Can Just Make a Bit More
This tip can revolutionize your financial management. If you have a large purchase to make, find creative ways to earn extra income so your regular account won’t take a hit. The more urgent the goal, the more creative you will become.
When we bought our first home, we desperately needed air conditioning. The thought of Little Squishy waking up from naps with soggy hair made this a priority. But we didn’t have $2,000 on hand. I brainstormed a list of things I could do as a SAHM to quickly save up. I started in-home tutoring around my sleeping boy’s schedule. After a few months of stuffing all earnings into a sock drawer, we were able to pay for the A/C in full.
What skills do you have that others would be willing to pay for? Hairdressing? Home organization? Batch cooking?
Or try selling items you no longer need. My sister helped us organize our basement last week. We pitched and purged with enthusiasm. As unwanted items flew out the door, we realized we had cupboards, dressers, and shelves to sell. Within 5 days we made $900 to put towards next summer’s vacation.
You’d be surprised how rewarding it is to pay cash for large items when you are highly motivated.
I Can Just Spend 5 Minutes Tracking My Accounts
Even if you will never use a spreadsheet or a formal budgeting system, you can still commit to checking in on your accounts. Think of it as feeding your fish. You don’t need an elaborate fish food dispenser with bells and whistles, you just need to lift the lid, peek in and make sure all is well.
I check our bank transactions for 5 minutes on Mondays and Fridays. And our investments on the last day of the month. This simple habit revealed three significant errors in the past few years:
- Our bank withdrew double mortgage payments one month
- Our car dealership set up automatic monthly car payments out of our account for someone else’s vehicle (we’re nice, but not that nice!)
- A major investment firm gave $9,000 of our life savings to someone else because of a clerical error (read the ridiculous story here)
It is easy to assume that banks, car dealerships and investment firms won’t make mistakes, but that is not the case. Simple, regular habits will help you be more aware of your financial picture, and catch any double charges or errors. Well worth the 5-minute investment.
I Can Just Automate a Few Things
Setting up a few automations will simplify your finances and help you achieve goals faster than you think. Call your bank to get advice on which systems will serve you well.
1. Automate bill payments
If you are ever charged late fees and interest for overdue payments, this can help. And don’t forget to double-check that the correct amounts have been withdrawn, when you do your 5-minute checks.
Or set monthly notifications on your phone to pay a bill three days before the regular, monthly due date.
2. Automate savings
Does it feel unattainable to set up savings? Find out what options your bank has to make saving as painless as possible. Some banks will round up the dollar of every purchase and put it in savings (so if you spend $15.46, then 54 cents will go into your savings account). Or you can have money automatically moved into a savings ‘folder’ every time its payday.
Even when money was very tight, my husband and I committed to regularly saving for our boys’ education. For the first few years, we invested $50 every month. When Marc was unemployed, we paused it completely. Eventually, we increased it to $100 contributions. Now 18 years later, this fund has grown to $28,000. We never imagined how small contributions would add up over time.
Imagine how liberated you will feel when you take charge of your finances. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. Choose one strategy to try today. Pick another one tomorrow.
Challenge yourself to ‘just’ be more mindful of your money and you’ll reap the rewards of small, consistent changes. Ask a friend to hold you accountable and tackle this important area together.
Your future self will thank you.
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