Practice Makes Perfect
Have you ever noticed how many people are in the gym on January 2? But a few weeks later, it’s business as usual again. Why? Because forming good habits takes time and a real commitment. You can’t just wish your way to doing it — you actually have to DO IT.
If you want to be good with money (like Oprah-level good), here are seven financial habits to start forming today. This is one resolution you can make last.
Track Your Spending
Ever wonder where the hell all your money is going? Now you can find out.
It may sound like a lot of work, but writing down everything you spend is the fastest way to open your eyes to reality. Ninety-five percent of my clients are surprised, even shocked by what they spend when they see it all laid out.
Spending can become so automatic that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Writing down what you spend in an actual (i.e., paper) journal or with an app will help you become more conscious about where your money is going. And while you might initially be hesitant to face the numbers, just knowing where you stand can take a tremendous weight off your shoulders.
Use the 48-Hour Rule
We’ve all done it: bought something on a whim only to get home and really, truly regret it. To prevent buyer’s remorse, implement the 48-hour rule. It’s exactly what it sounds like — giving yourself 48 hours to decide whether you want to make a purchase.
Based on your spending and goals, you decide the dollar limit for when this rule kicks in. For example, you might choose to use the 48-hour rule for any expense over $200, $300, even $25.
Once you leave the store you’ll probably find it’s not worth the trip back to get the item you wanted, and if it is, you most likely won’t regret the purchase. It takes the impulse out of spending and helps you be more intentional about where your money is going.
The threshold you choose might also be a great threshold for conferring with your partner. It saves a lot of stress and surprise when couples decide on a number and discuss any expense above that.
Start Saving Small
Why stress when you can plan for expenses you know will be coming up? For example, if you anticipate spending $500 on holiday gifts, decorations, and entertaining, why not start saving now to make your life easier? If you put away money every month beginning in January, you would have to save only $41.67 each month to reach your goal of $500 by the end of the year.
Do this with any expense from a vacation to wedding gifts to a new TV. Ask yourself what items you can start saving for now. How much do you need to put aside each month or each paycheck to reach that goal in time? Write it down and start doing it.
Automate Your Savings
Not all habits have to happen consciously. Make saving even easier by automating your transactions. It takes willpower out of the equation and frees up your time to concentrate on other, harder habits.
I highly recommend opening a savings account that’s completely separate from your checking account. This creates a true separation between savings and what money is available for spending. It also typically takes a couple of days for money to transfer from savings to checking, which can help prevent impulse purchases.
Think Like an Investor
Ask yourself, How can I make my money work and grow for me?
If you’re putting savings aside, why earn a measly .01 percent interest rate at a brick-and-mortar bank when you can earn 1 percent on your money in a high-interest savings account online?
For longer-term goals, you might want to invest in the market for more substantial returns (depending on your risk personality). While starting to invest can sound daunting, it’s more important to get started than to be perfect. Put aside a small amount of money in a brokerage firm such as Vanguard or Schwab and practice buying and selling shares of various index funds.
Ask for What You Want
You’d be surprised by how much in life is negotiable. You can negotiate your rent, gym membership, cable, even your dry cleaning bill. And remember, you won’t get it if you don’t ask.
If negotiating for your income or expenses sounds intimidating, start small. Everything gets easier with practice. What are some things you’ve wanted to ask for but have been putting off? Commit to asking for them this week.
Talk About Money
If you’re like most people, you’d probably rather talk about the intimate details of your gynecologist appointment than talk about money. Since it’s such a tricky subject to broach, we sometimes avoid it altogether. But that’s not going to help you reach your goals.
If your best friend knew you were trying to save money, she might stop inviting you to those sample sales. If your partner knew you wanted to build an emergency fund, he or she may help you come up with ways to save more and spend less together.
Start confiding in your closest family and friends about your money goals. It will introduce accountability into the equation and you’ll have a support system to help you keep up the good habits.
Ashley Feinstein Gerstley is a money coach and founder of the Fiscal Femme where she demystifies the world of money and personal finance. Get her exclusive how-to guide "30 Days to Financial Bliss" — free for DailyWorth readers.