You’ve got big plans for spring cleaning, but instead of just focusing on your home, why not take a deep dive into your finances, too? We asked Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, money coach and founder of The Fiscal Femme, to share tiny tweaks you can make every day for the next month to cleanse your finances…and seriously boost your bottom line.
What do you want to accomplish in your financial life? First thing’s first: Write down your top three priorities—like boosting your 401(k) contributions—to help you stay focused over the next 30 days.
You set three money goals, bravo. But while the idea of paying off your debt once and for all is exciting, it’s helpful to identify why you want to do this (for example, bumping up your savings for an upcoming trip) and how your life will change if you achieve this.
Money is tough to discuss, but if you don’t share your financial goals with the people you care about—like your hubby or BFF—it’s hard for them to support you. (Cue your best friend telling you to treat yo’self to a third glass of wine at dinner.)
Write down (or type out) everything you spend and earn each day. For spending, include the item and the price or amount. For the best insight, you should add a line about how you felt before and after you made the purchase.
Now that you’re jotting things down, keep track: Did you get giddy before buying something only to feel guilty after? Or feel inadequate about your paycheck? Note when you’re positive about spending habits and when you’re negative. (It matters!)
With money, negative self-talk (like “ugh, I’ll never ever get out of debt”) becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Replace these words with something positive and specific: “I’m going to set aside $5,000 this year.” Then write it on a Post-it and tack it up.
List out each of your daily, weekly, monthly, annual and onetime expenses. (For example, groceries, mortgage payment, student loans, dining out, etc.) Refer to your money journal to jog your memory and narrow down categories. No need to plug in costs just yet.
Take a look at your credit and debit card statements over the past two months (or better yet, the past year) as well as your journal. What was worth it? What wasn’t? If it doesn’t bring you joy (like an old subscription you forgot about), write it down.
Now you can plug in costs for your expenses. Do it on an annual basis, so if you get one latte per day at $4, that’s $1,460 a year. (Estimates are OK if you don’t know the exact amount.) This gives you an idea of your total spending for the next 12 months.
It’s the golden rule of personal finance: [Annual income] minus [The amount you’re hoping to save] = [Annual expenses]. Your annual income is what hits your bank account after taxes and other deductions. (If this end number is scary, don’t fret.)
When you treat yourself at the expense of something you really want, it’s not a treat. Take a look at your spending and ways you can reallocate your cash toward things that make you happier short- and long-term. (For example, a latte versus a vacation.)
It is possible to increase what makes you happy and decrease the cost. For example: You love quality time with your friends but can’t afford the bar tab. Host a party at home so you can still catch up at a lower price. It’s all about getting creative.
Spending plans that are too restrictive don’t work. Instead, allocate funds for something fun (like eating out) and make it a game to come in under budget every week. Put any surplus toward savings.
What are activities you love that cost you almost zero dollars? Think: A cup of coffee with a friend or reading a good book. Take note of them and suggest them when you’d rather not break the bank on social plans.
These are the people, places and things that get the best of our spending. (Like the friend who costs you $100 every time you hang out.) Toxic expenses can be big or small, but the real issue is that they derail your budget.
Schedule time in your calendar every two weeks (and include your partner, duh) to check in on your progress toward your money goals—rainy day fund, retirement, etc.—and deal with any bills you have to pay.
Check in to see how much you have in your checking, savings, investments and retirement accounts. What do you owe? Any credit card debt or loans and how much is left on that mortgage anyway? Taking inventory helps you calculate your net worth (total assets minus total debt).
Ugh, taking inventory was complicated. As time goes on, we tend to accumulate things: more accounts, more expenses, more clutter. Can you close out any accounts? Or roll over old 401(k)s from previous jobs? It’s all about streamlining.
It doesn’t always make sense to have your checking and savings at the same bank. For one thing, it’s too easy to access, and secondly, you might be missing out on a better interest rate. (Online savings accounts are free and earn around one percent.)
In most cases, you earn money, live your life, pay bills and wait to see what’s left over at the end of the month. But what if there’s nothing left over? Setting up an automatic transfer to savings (even $5 a week) is a good place to start.
Your emergency fund is there for the costs you can’t anticipate. But there are many things (like holiday spending) that you can. Say you spend $1,000 on an average Christmas. Make it a goal to put aside $83 per month so you’re covered come December.
Not just your bills, but your expenses, too. For example, saving for a move? Have that transfer automatically to a dedicated savings bucket. What about your rent payments? Set it up so this payment is automatically set aside from your paycheck.
When you start a new job, there’s a lot to learn and you don’t always think your benefits through. Once you’re settled, go back and read everything again. Maybe you should bump up your 401(k) or take advantage of tax-advantaged transit options. The worst thing you can do is leave money on the table.
Always (always) negotiate if you incur a fee. But you should also research to see if you’re getting charged quarterly or annual fees on your 401(k) or investment accounts. Look out for them—and maintain the balance to avoid them.
Mistakes happen. You can generate your credit report on annualcreditreport.com once a year to be sure there aren’t any errors. If there are, there’s usually a spot to dispute (and remedy) them right from the site.
With this number, ignorance is not bliss. A higher score means you’ll get lower interest rates on mortgages and other loans. But keeping an eye on it (aka doing a soft pull) won’t decrease your score. Plus, there areto bump it up.
Whether you’re creating a debt pay-down plan or getting started with investing, it’s much more important to dive in than to do it perfectly. Even small steps (like eliminating that daily latte) can create big results.
Financial to-dos are stressful. Make a list of anything you’ve been pushing off—like, say, rolling over a 401(k)—and put a time on your calendar to make it happen. Checking it off your list feels great.
It’s about the little milestones (like cutting $500 in credit card debt). Take a minute to congratulate yourself. Just don’t buy the most expensive wine on the menu.
One month down! Now’s the time to set your next batch of financial goals—or keep plugging away at what you set out to do. You’ve got this!