Good advice, in general, can be difficult to follow, but this is especially true when it relates to money. And money advice can be a particularly challenging. Even if, logically, I can get behind a plan to save money, pay off debt, or limit spending, I know myself and my finances well enough that even getting started with some of the new and aggressive plans is unrealistic for me. I do not buy coffee at coffee shops, eat out more than few times a week, or impulse buy expensive items, so cutting back on these types of purchases wouldn’t help me; I don’t make them. In order to save, spend, and pay off debt as financially responsibly as possible, I have picked up a few methods that work for me and my budget.
To lend credence to what I have picked up and how it has helped me, it might help to know I am a young, 20-something with a salary at the very low end of $30k, with over $30k in debt between my college and car loans. Sometimes when I am brave enough to day dream about a new mattress or going on a big trip, I can almost feel my bank account cringing at me. But working full-time for the last 18 months, and pinching and saving have put me in a place closer to making my dreams a reality. What I really need to do is simply stop being scared of money — whether that is budgeting the money, or spending it. Here are three things I’m doing to become less scared of my finances:
1. Have a set amount of money go into my savings account each week.
When I got my first job back in high school, it took me three months to set up a bank account (only after my boss told me they wouldn’t be able to pay me in paper checks anymore, and I had to get a direct deposit set up). At 16, I had never had a bank account — let alone a savings account — and hoarded my money between two books on my shelf. I finally went the bank, with my wadded up savings to date, and asked for a checking and saving accounts. Then, I started to save. For the first few years, when I was still in high school and just working a part-time job, I had $10 transfer from my checking into my savings every Tuesday. Now that I am working full-time and trying to go back to school/figure out what I want to do with my life/move out of the country/just be happy, I have upped it to $15 a week. Most of the time when I tell people this, I get met with the same response: why even bother to save such a small amount of money? There are plenty of people that treat saving like a huge commitment, but with anything, saving money can — and should — start small.
I am far from a finance genius. I just recently started contributing to an IRA and learned that it is more than a glorified savings account. I am excited to research and learn more, and know I have a lot of room to grow.
2. I divide my income — I devote one account to my bills and monthly payments, and the other to my spending and savings. I still bank in my hometown (a habit I will likely have to give up soon, which is bittersweet), so out of necessity, I have opened a second checking account where I currently live. There are numerous reasons why this is helpful, like when I want to withdraw cash without paying an ATM fee, or deposit a check.
Having two accounts helps me hold myself accountable. Once I move money from one account to the other, then it is there to stay. I have to plan for upcoming purchases and designate needs, wants, and to-be-saved-for items. If I want to splurge on an item that wasn’t previously in my budget, I know that will mean giving something else up. Of course, I can access either fund at any time, but by creating the designations, there is a mental barrier that makes me stop and think about every purchase I make, and limit extraneous spending. Breaking my income up into two different accounts has had such a positive effect on my savings, and on the way I think about money. I feel so in control of my finances, especially when I’m faced with a potential purchase and say “no,” because it would mean breaking one of my newfound money rules. I am not answering to anyone but myself, and I am the last person I want to disappoint.
3. I hoard money ‘under my mattress/buried in a glass jar in my back yard’ style. Similar to a few short years ago before I had a bank account, I have taken to meeting my saving goals by withdrawing cash every paycheck and keeping it in labeled envelopes. I thought, as a kid, that it made the money incredibly accessible, and therefore, easier to spend. But as an adult with a debit card and a slight fear of carrying too much cash, it makes a lot of sense to me how that is not really the case. Now, money in my checking account is way more tempting to spend, especially in the digital era. Watching the physical money build gives me a great sense of satisfaction; I can actually see how much closer I am to reaching my goals, and that gets me even more excited to add more cash to my labeled envelope. I use this method to save for travel, as I have never been the type of person to pick up on a whim and jet off. As I put my money into the envelope, I am reminded of what I am achieving, which both my other spending more realistic and gives me more appreciation for my travels overall.
Over time, these methods have made me become less afraid of my finances and more honest with myself. I used to always feel like the kid in the room with the grown-ups when I was with my peers who were discussing trips overseas, purchasing new furniture, or buying homes. I have learned that being in control of my finances doesn’t start with knowing everything; instead, it starts with me admitting I don’t know a lot, and accepting that I have a lot to learn.
Molly is a 24-year-old living a glamorous life on a budget. She always splurges on cheese and fresh bread, and to compensate hunts down free activities in and around Kansas City to participate in. She is still searching for what to do with her life next and is more scared of settling than stopping.
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