It’s too late for a New Year’s resolution, but it’s never too late to try to get your finances in order. Unfortunately, you can’t just snap your fingers and be out of debt. You’ll need a concrete plan of attack if you want to grow your savings account and shrink that credit card debt. Here are five tips that will help you take charge of your finances.
Don’t Just Make a Budget — Keep to It
It’s really hard to control your spending if you don’t have a plan — or how much you’re already spending. It’s time to bust open the books. First, calculate your monthly income. Then, add up necessary expenses: rent, utility bills, groceries. Take a hard look at your bank statement to see how much you typically spend on entertainment and eating out. (This part might hurt.) After you’ve done that, settle on a monthly average for your “fun money.” Add your fun money to your necessary expenses, and then subtract them from your monthly income. That chunk of change? Save it.
Separate Your Accounts
A whopping 34% of Americans — roughly 66 million people — have zero dollars saved up for an emergency. An additional 35% have under $1,000 squirreled away. That’s a shame. Opening a savings account is a great way to curb your everyday spending in anticipation of future need. With a savings account, you can set money aside, allot it to a specific purpose, and keep it in a place that you can’t access impulsively. Plus, money in a savings account will accrue interest over time.
If you’re going to be glued to your phone, why not organize your finances? Google Calendar is a great tool for organizing bill due-dates, so that you’re never blindsided by an auto-withdrawal. And don’t sleep on budgeting apps like You Need A Budget or GoodBudget. They’ll do most of the work for you, presenting visuals and categorizing expenses. (Be aware: You’ll have to connect your bank account to them to fully track the comings and goings of your funds.)
Auto-Transfer Money to Savings
If it’s hard for you to throw cash into a savings account, don’t make yourself do it — make your bank do it instead. After you’ve gotten your budget into a predictable rhythm — keeping in mind which bills come out of which paycheck, and how much is left over — choose a date you know you’ll have surplus money in your account, and set up an automatic transfer to your savings account. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you check your savings account balance in a few months’ time.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Life happens. Sometimes your car a new transmission, or you have to book a last-minute flight, or dinner is more expensive than you thought it would be. Whose life is so regular that unexpected expenses never occur? If you don’t always hit your monthly savings estimate, don’t beat yourself up. And definitely don’t try to make up all the lost ground in one month. Just learn from your mistakes — figure them into your budget, then pay them off over the course of a few months.
Sam Radbil is a contributing member of the marketing and communications team at ABODO, an online apartment search service. ABODO was founded in 2013 in Madison, Wisconsin. And in just three years, the company has grown to more than 30 employees, raised over $8M in outside funding and helps more than half a million renters find a new home each month.