Establishing a foundation of strong financial habits can go a long way. Start today and make 2015 your best financial year yet.
Recent studies suggest millennials are feeling optimistic about their financial future – 80 percent believe they will be better off than their parents. Yet, more than half are still living paycheck to paycheck. Where do you fit in?
Gen-Y is facing a number of financial challenges. Not only are we graduating with high student loan debt (the national average hovers around 25,000 dollars), but we’re struggling to find post-grad work to help us pay it off (and I’m not even talking about finding work in your desired field, with a decent salary).
The good news is millennials are becoming more aware of their financial circumstances, and seeking to educate themselves on how to better their situations. If you’ve made promises to improve your money management in 2015, here are some moves you can make to help you keep that resolution into 2016 and beyond.
1. Start tracking your spending.
If you really want to stop spending more than you make (the first and most important lesson in money management), then you need to pay attention to where your paycheck is going every month. This doesn’t have to be difficult. After all, technology is on your side – there are endless personal finance tools available to help you manage your finances.
I recently downloaded iSpending on my phone ($3.49 on iTunes) to track my income and expenses on a day-to-day basis. I find it less overwhelming than trying to collect receipts and tally everything up at the end of the month. I can sort expenses by category, so I can see exactly how much I’m spending on groceries each month. And I can track as I go – meaning my budget is top of mind when I’m tempted to buy that 6-dollar soy chai latte.
2. Find ways to reduce your spending.
Once you’ve tracked your spending for a few months, you’ll have a clearer idea of precisely where your money is going and you’ll begin to see opportunities to trim unnecessary expenses. Perhaps you’ll feel inspired to start making coffee at home instead of buying it every day on your commute to work. Or maybe you’ll notice just how much your online shopping habits are jeopardizing your travel goals.
It may seem like small differences on a monthly basis, but these modifications to your budget add up fast. Last month my husband found out that switching cable and Internet providers saves us 30 dollars a month. That’s 360 dollars a year! And we’re actually getting better technology out of the deal.
3. Establish an emergency fund.
There’s nothing like an unexpected car payment or expensive dental work to send you right back into debt. Plan ahead by dedicating money every month to your “rainy-day savings” account. This will not only help you prepare for the worst, but you’ll also develop a new savings habit.
Personal finance blogger Kali Hawlk recently had to dip into her emergency savings for a 2,000-dollar vet bill. That’s a large chunk of cash that has the potential to do some serious damage to your financial priorities. Thankfully, Hawlk had a backup plan. “Emergency Fund, I have to thank you for shielding us from financial harm,” she writes on her blog. “You’re the reason we could pay a huge bill that would have otherwise left a painful dent in accounts that we’d rather not touch for this sort of thing.”
4. Find a way to make extra money each month.
This could be as simple as selling a piece of furniture you no longer need on Kijiji. Or it could mean picking up a side job tutoring in the evenings. If you have a dog, consider offering a dog walking service to your neighbours – after all, you’re going out anyway.
Any extra money you can make in addition to your regular paycheck can be used to top off your emergency savings, or help you pay off your student loan faster. By setting a particular goal for the extra cash, you’ll feel more motivated to do the additional work.
5. Set personal financial goals.
Finances are personal, and your goals should be personal too. This doesn’t mean you have to keep them a secret – sometimes sharing them with others can help you find new ways of reaching them. But goals should be based on your individual needs and wants, not someone else’s.
Focus on one or two key financial goals each month, like eating out less or using more coupons. Then consider setting a couple larger financial goals for the year, such as paying off your student loan, or putting more money into your retirement savings. Write your goals down, and even hang them on the fridge to ensure they stay top of mind. Then assess your progress along the way.
What are your financial goals this month (or year)? Let us know in the comments below.