8 Steps to Start Improving Your Finances Today
Feel like your financial future is quickly spiraling out of control? Instead of panicking, take immediate action. Here are eight tips to help you grow your bank account, save cash, cut unnecessary expenses, and improve your overall financial situation today.
1. SET A BUDGET.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but setting a personal budget is the first—and most necessary—step to taking control of your finances. By taking stock of your annual expenses (and curbing them where necessary), you’ll know exactly how much you should save to reach your financial goals. Word to the wise: Spending needs vary from person to person, so it’s hard to offer blanket budgeting advice. However, experts do generally recommend spending less than 30 percent of your total income on rent, utilities, and other housing-related expenses.
2. EAT IN.
If you like to frequently eat out or go to bars, you’re not alone: In 2015, sales at restaurants and bars soared past those at grocery stores for the first time since the government started tracking these figures in 1992. Not surprisingly, this habit costs us big bucks. According to recent figures, the average American spends $232 per month on meals prepped outside the home. If you start cooking your own meals today (feel free to splurge on the occasional night out for special occasions), you’ll easily be on track to saving more than $2000 per year.
3. CANCEL AN UNUSED MEDIA SUBSCRIPTION.
Let’s be honest: How often do you really take advantage of multiple streaming video platforms, watch the extra cable channels you pay for, or read several monthly magazines? Choose just one subscription to cancel today, and wait for the money to slowly start trickling in. The amount may seem minor, but it adds up over time: Paying $8 per month for three years for access to an internet video service comes to nearly $300.
4. SET A FUN SAVINGS GOAL.
Saving up money for something you really want—say, a European vacation—can actually help you conserve your funds in the long run. According to one recent study conducted by French brain researchers, focusing on a delayed reward actually helps you resist minor temptations that might detract you from reaching your goal. If you’re excited enough for your prospective trip, you’ll be more likely to forego wasteful impulse purchases. So go ahead—choose today as the day you start eyeing flights to Italy. Then keep up the good habits once you get back.
5. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FREE EVENTS.
In 2012, the average American family spent $2827 on entertainment. It’s fun to treat yourself to a movie every now and then, but if you skim your city’s newspaper, you’ll realize there are plenty of activities, ranging from film screenings to museum exhibits, that local groups or organizations offer for free. While making your weekend plans, consider an activity that doesn’t cost you anything. Your wallet will thank you—and a few of your cash-conservative friends likely will, too.
6. WATCH YOUR WALLET ON WEEKENDS (AND PAY DAY).
Wondering why your bank account’s not as full as you’d like it to be? It might be because you go overboard on the purchases when you’re not at your desk, or when you’re feeling flush with cash: According to one poll of Americans’ spending habits, we spend the most during weekends and payday weeks. If you’re trying to take immediate control of your finances, try capping your expenses during these periods.
7. TACKLE YOUR DEBT HEAD-ON.
In 2014, the typical U.S. household had amassed more than $15,000 in credit card debt. Meanwhile, in 2015, the average college graduate with student loans had to pay back more than $35,000. If you’re one of these people, try sitting down today and forming a plan to tackle these debts head-on.
There are two main strategies for busting your debt: the debt snowball and the debt avalanche. With the debt snowball, you focus on your smallest debts first (while continuing to make the minimum payments on all the others). With the debt avalanche, you sort your debts from highest interest rate to lowest and tackle those with the highest rates first (again, while continuing to make the minimum payments). Choose the one that makes the most sense for your unique financial situation.
8. SHOP AROUND FOR BETTER DEALS ON BASIC LIFE EXPENSES.
If you’re spending too much on rent and utilities, try finding a better bargain. By perusing real estate ads, comparing health insurance packages, or asking a customer service rep about pricing options, you’ll get an improved sense of whether you could realistically lower any “necessary” day-to-day expenses.