Creating a “financial diet” is just the same as creating a “regular” diet: it has to be something that you can sustain long-term, and it has to be tailored for your life and needs. There are certain things — no matter how often I hear them, and no matter how reputable the source — that just have never and will never work for me. And that’s okay! We’re all lead vastly different lives, and you need to figure out your own financial path and stick with it, girlfriend.
There are a few pieces of advice that I see often on financial blogs that I think are a good idea, but every time I give them a try, I fail miserably. But just because something is not a perfect fit doesn’t give you credence to run financially buck wild. Here are some things I’ve learned will never work for me, and what I do instead to achieve similar ends.
1. Setting your bills to autopay
Set it and forget it, they said. It’s your best option, they said. The problem for me is that I truly do forget it. I thought I had $400 in my bank account, and suddenly I only have $100 to last me a week, because my student loan payment decided to rear its ugly yet beautiful head. If there is money in my bank account, I am absolutely going to spend that money — there is no question about that. I am also super guilty of not checking my account. There is always this fear that, when I pull up my profile, there will be nothing in there but cobwebs and a troll that has taken abode in my empty coffers. (Sometimes that is the case, but we’re all just trying our best!)
Here’s what I do instead. Every other Friday, when I get paid, I buy myself an iced coffee to celebrate another two weeks that my budget has survived. I get to work a little bit early, and I pay my bills before I do anything else. I transfer half of my rent into a separate checking account that I only use for rent. (There is a monthly account fee. Some might think this is wasteful, but the peace of mind that I get that, come the 1st, I will have that money available, is worth the $10). I put money towards my credit card bill. I pay half of my student loans for the month. I pay my roommate for utilities. Etc, etc. This helps me constantly be up close and personal with where my money is going. It’s exposure therapy: the more you look at the details of your financial life, the less scary it becomes. By the time Monday rolls around and everything has cleared, I know exactly how much money I have for all other aspects of my life. The only thing I do automate is my 401k (but I don’t even think not automating it is an option).
2. Living on a cash-only diet
I’ve actually tried this a couple of times, and it just never seems to work for me. If there is money in my wallet, you bet your ass I’m gonna spend that money. A couple of drinks here, an iced coffee there, and whoopsies! That $60 or $80 I had in my wallet that was supposed to last me all week is gone in 48 hours.
Instead, I use cards and sheer willpower. If my friends invite me out, and I only have my card, I’m going to think twice before ordering a couple of drinks in order to meet my tab minimum. I mean, sometimes I think about it twice and still do it, but at least it gets me thinking. Maybe next time I’ll think thrice and resist. The willpower thing is something it took a long time to stick, and it’s something I’m still working on. If you are able to resist, check your bank account balance every day, and just be excited that there is still money in it. Use this excitement to power the sails of your willpower the next time your coworker asks you out to a bar with $14 drinks and $16 small plates. Learning how to just say no to yourself is so hard, but it’s also something that is worth mastering. You can learn all the tips and tricks you want for pinching pennies, but if you don’t have self-control, ya tricks ain’t gonna work.
3. Use apps to help with saving
I’ve used both Digit and Acorns before to no avail. I don’t like autopay, and I try to budget to the dollar. Digit sees a couple extra dollars in my account and tries to help me out by investing it, but I needed that money for gas! I was going to use it to buy groceries! Sure, I still have access to that money, but it usually takes 5-7 days to get back into your bank account — and by then, I’ve probably already resorted to using my credit card or dipped into savings (please, don’t do either of these things).
When I sit down for my weekly come-to-budget-Jesus moment, I immediately transfer money into my savings. It’s like it wasn’t even in there. Plus, taking a chunk of money and just putting it into another chunk and making chunk #2 even bigger is so satisfying, and I would never rob myself of that chunk-expanding satisfaction, no matter how cool the new saving app seems to be.
4. Stop buying coffee/avocado toast
By now we’ve all figured out that the “latte factor” is bullshit, right? The latte factor was created by a rich guy who wanted to make you think that you aren’t rich because of some failing on the part of your weak, non-rich-person brain. You don’t have any money, because you have zero willpower, and your utter inability to spend thousands of dollars on Venti soy vanilla caramel swirl Frappuccinos with extra whip is proof of that. While I don’t think it’s a good idea to spend $5-6 on a fancy coffee drink every day, if the occasional V.S.V.C.S.F.W.E.W. brings you some joy and you’re budgeting for it, allow yourself that joy.
My coffee order is pretty cheap — medium black iced coffee, extra ice, thank you. I don’t buy coffee every day, but if I’m feeling especially tired, just crushed a big project, or just feel like it, I’ll buy myself one. It brings me more joy than the $2.65 it cost me. I don’t have to rationalize away that modicum of happiness to Mr. Financial Advisor who doesn’t know my life. Instead of beating yourself up over the small things — the marginal costs — take a look at the bigger line items in your budget. Can I spend less on groceries? Can I drive less? Can I drive more and take fewer Lyfts? Can I start a side hustle to increase my income? Can I start investing? Should I look for a different job where I could make more money? Should I finally talk to my boss about that raise I should have asked for a year ago but I chickened out about? (The last one is mostly for me.)
Just because everyone is doing something doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. Financial planning is all about trial and error. Try out different methods of getting your life/wallet together, and eventually, you’ll figure out a system that works for you.
Cherith Fuller is a writer and comedian living in Atlanta, GA.
Image via Unsplash