If you're like most people, you probably find yourself struggling a bit with today's high cost of living. You might not have trouble paying your bills, but somehow there's never enough money to build up your savings or take that dream vacation. Most people wind up spending more money than they realize on little things, which adds up quickly but is also easy to change. Here are some simple tips to help you get control of your spending and discover that '30 days to better finances' is a realistic goal.
It is important to know where you're going if you want to accomplish your goals, so the very first step in your 30-day financial challenge is to figure out what your core values are. Are you an adventurous spirit who finds joy in traveling the world? Or would you rather enjoy the security of a stable home and family? Try to come up with four or five core values. Remember, these aren't goals, so avoid overly specific plans. Your values should be words or short phrases, such as "comfort," "creativity" or "independence."
Next, you need to turn your core values into concrete plans. For a 30-day financial challenge, it's a good idea to begin by focusing on three short-term goals that line up with your values. For example, if you value security, you may want to set a goal of saving a certain amount of money this month. If you value health or comfort, consider planning to cook all your meals at home rather than dining out. Make sure these goals are specific and achievable, even if they require a little extra work. Post them in a spot where you'll see them every day.
It's hard to know where your money is going if you don't track it, so starting a spending journal is an integral part of fixing your finances. This can be a traditional paper journal where you simply log all of your purchases, but using an app on your phone can be more effective. It not only makes it easier to type in each purchase right away, but many of these programs also track your spending for you and sort it into categories so you can see exactly where you're spending too much.
No matter what your long-term goals and values are, a 30-day financial challenge is an excellent opportunity to reconsider what you want and need. For the next 30 days, try not to buy any unnecessary items. Cook at home instead of dining out, pack your lunch when you go to work, skip the shopping trips except for essentials and consider purchasing off-brand products to find out if the brand-name version is worth the extra cost.
If you have any credit card accounts, now is a great time to see if they're still working for you. If your credit has improved since you opened them or you've simply been using them for years with no problems, there's a good chance that you qualify for a better interest rate and other benefits. All you have to do is call and ask. At the same time, review your savings, 401Ks and other accounts to ensure you're using them as wisely as possible.
Everyone needs a little treat now and then, but many people equate rewards with spending money. A little splurge can be worth it now and then, but spend this month thinking of free or low-cost ways to treat yourself. For example, maybe a nice bubble bath at the end of a stressful day is better than picking up expensive take-out food, or a quiet afternoon curled up with a good book and no interruptions recharges you as well as a trip to the mall.
No man is an island, and that's true when you're trying to reform your finances, as well. Tell your friends and family what you're trying to do, and ask them if they'll help you stay on track. Your friends might be happy to join you at a museum or other low-cost entertainment option rather than an expensive night out for drinks or a movie, and your family might be willing to remind you of your goals when you're thinking of stopping for dinner out instead of waiting until you get home.
Debit and credit cards are wonderfully convenient, but they also make it very easy to spend without thinking about it. For the next 30 days, consider leaving the cards in your wallet and only spending cash. Withdraw as much as you need for your planned weekly expenses but no more. When your money runs out, that's it. No more quick snacks from the corner store or dinners out with friends.
Automatic transfers are an easy way to make sure you're consistently meeting your savings goals, but too few people use them. It can be a little intimidating at first, especially if you're living paycheck to paycheck. However, transferring as little as $5 a month at least gets you started and helps you start thinking about saving. As your general financial situation improves, you can increase that amount to help you meet your goals faster.
While many of these tips involve not spending more money than you have to, keep in mind that this is not sustainable forever. Everyone needs a little fun money. During this 30-day challenge, pay attention to the activities and shopping you really miss. Do you love your gourmet coffee in the morning, or going out to dinner with your friends? That's okay! At the end of the 30 days, work that back into your budget. Just make sure to keep it at a reasonable amount. Don't give yourself a blank check or you'll find yourself in need of another 30-day financial challenge before too long.