Managing your money is a challenge. At some point, almost all of us have struggled with debt, and getting on track financially means taking control. When you feel in control of your money, it’s a lot easier to make smart financial decisions. This is easier said than done, but if you divide the process into actionable steps, you’ll see that your goals are within reach.
1. ASK YOURSELF “WHY?”
Asking yourself why you want to improve your financial habits is a big first step in learning to manage your money. If you aimlessly work to get your finances in order, you’ll eventually begin to wonder, “What’s the point?" From there, it’s all too easy to give up and return to bad financial habits.
So why do you want to get your financial life on track? Maybe you want to quit a stressful job and move on to something else. Maybe you want to support your family. Or maybe you just want to save for an awesome trip. Your answer will guide you, give you direction, and help you stick to the challenge.
2. ACKNOWLEDGE THAT MONEY IS JUST A TOOL.
Money is a means, not an end. It’s a tool you use to reach your goals, whether that goal is to save for an emergency or get out of debt. Learning to get your financial life on track is simply learning to use that tool properly.
Change the way you view the challenge—it’s less about being good with money and more about learning to use it to accomplish what matters to you most. Most of personal finance is about mindset, and a simple shift in thinking can make all the difference.
3. PRIORITIZE YOUR DEBT.
Whether it’s credit card debt or a high-interest loan, if there’s anything draining your budget and hindering your ability to save, you want to tackle that first. These kinds of expenses make it hard to make any financial progress, so you want to nip them in the bud before anything else. From there, it’s up to you to prioritize your goals (starting with a fund for emergencies, if you don’t already have one). Make a list of any other financial priorities you might have, like saving for travel and funding your retirement.
4. BUILD A BUDGET AND STICK TO IT.
Your budget is simply your plan for how to make your money work for you. Review your essential expenses, your spending habits, and your financial goals. Calculate how much you can realistically put toward those goals after covering your basic living expenses.
Before drawing up your budget, review your spending habits from the past several months and make an honest evaluation of your fiscal responsibility. How much did you enjoy each purchase? Was it impulsive? What are you willing to cut back on to fund a greater goal? If you’re overspending or spending mindlessly, you’re ultimately taking away from your goals.
5. SET SMALLER GOALS.
It’s hard to reach a goal that seems insurmountable and far away. To make your goal manageable, break it up into smaller chunks. For example, instead of telling yourself you’ll pay off $10,000 in credit card debt in two years, make it your goal to pay off $96 a week. Yes, it’s the same lofty goal, but it’s much less intimidating. It’s also more actionable; it’s easier to build habits on a weekly basis than it is to budget for the entire year.
6. SOAK IN THE KNOWLEDGE.
If you want to keep your finances front-of-mind, it helps to expose yourself to as much information as possible. Read personal finance blogs and books. Listen to money podcasts. Talk to friends who also have money goals. This way, you not only surround yourself with opportunities to learn, you also create daily reminders that this financial challenge is important.
7. TEAM UP FOR ACCOUNTABILITY.
Money is a taboo topic, which makes it even easier to lose sight of your goal to get your finances in order. If you don’t talk about money openly with anyone around you, it’s easy to back-burner your goal. Having an accountability partner is useful when it comes to any goal (chances are you already have a gym buddy), and that includes a financial one. Find a close, like-minded friend or family member who may also be trying to get their finances in order, then partner up. Create individual goals and vow to check in with each other regularly.
If you’re not comfortable with that, consider at least documenting your journey. Many popular personal finance writers started out as bloggers, anonymously documenting their journey online as a way to hold themselves accountable. You don’t have to start a blog, but simply journaling about your challenges can be an effective tool in keeping you on track.
8. GET ON THE SAME PAGE WITH YOUR PARTNER.
Invest the time to discuss your individual financial goals, priorities, and beliefs about money with your significant other. Talk about what you can do to meet those goals together or reconcile any differences. Many experts suggest scheduling regular money “dates” with your partner to keep the topic on the table.