Every year, many people set out to change their financial habits during the first few months. It is often unpleasant, frustrating, and short-lived.
You can change that. Now. (Really).
The urge to reset your financial habits is not just a random New Year’s ritual. A recent 2020 Bankrate survey shows that most working Americans believe their retirement savings are behind where they need to be: a full 52 percent said they are behind on retirement savings. More than 21 percent said they are right on track. Almost 16 percent said they don’t know where they stand.
And this is for working Americans. What if you’re divorced, not working, and your savings and portfolio are already your paycheck?
Life Control Through Financial Control
First, let’s take that sentence in. Can you really feel more in control of your life if you are in control of your money? Yes, you can. Marie Kondo has created a multi-million dollar business by helping people gain control of their life by just tidying up. If that can happen by cleaning your closet, it can definitely happen by changing the one thing we have control of in our financial lives: our spending.
It’s not enough to just enroll in Mint.com or other spend tracking platforms offered by financial institutions. Yes, this is a necessary first step because we must have the ability to see our spending in one place across all sources (our credit card, checking, and debit card activity). But once you collect it, what do you do with it?
Herein lies the disconnect and where the art of budgeting falls apart repeatedly-not having baseline rules as a guide.
Know the Rules Before Breaking Them
My second point – the budget rules of thumb. Having simple rules helps reduce the cognitive overload of budgeting. Once up and running on a spend tracking program, start with the simple 50/30/20 rule. Your spending should fall in line with 50% allocated to needs, 30% to wants, and 20% to savings and/or debt reduction. Once you lay it out this way, you can begin to customize and tweak it according to your particulars, with additional rules of thumb for what you should allocate toward your rent or mortgage, how much house you can afford, or what your monthly payment can be for a car. In other words, you can “break the rules” once you know where and how you can, without putting your finances in a risky situation.
Obviously, we’re all going to occasionally fall out of line with strict budget rules 24/7. The 30% is the fun stuff, the stuff we buy because we just want it. But as with food, we can’t just eat things packed with artificial substances and loaded with unhealthy calories every day, all day (as much as we may want to). We must pick our splurges. And splurging is allowed once you organize your budget this way!
Tying it Together
Which brings me to my third point: If you truly want to take control of your spending, the three necessary habits must be done together: use of technology to have your spending at your fingertips; organizing it according to the 50/30/20 rule; and a shame, guilt and fear-free look at what goes out the door monthly.
The Fun Part
My final point is a tip that has become my unofficial trademark (and where it gets fun) – Your Non-Negotiable Categories. Pick three or four categories within your 30% ‘wants’ column. These should be the things that make you feel whole, happy, and satisfied. Is it organic food? The annual trip to the beach with the girls/guys? Your shoe habit? Identifying your ‘non-negotiable’ wants allows you to make adjustments in categories and recognize the things you can live without or live with less of if your outflow (spending) is higher than inflow (income). Budgets fail faster if you blindly cut downward across all categories. It’s the same as dieting: pick your splurges and exercise portion control.
Shifting from Mindless to Intentional
After three decades of working with thousands of women, starting with these tips is key to creating a sustainable, intentional way to spend. Budgeting mindlessly and without following simple rules will be an unpleasant and short-lived attempt at feeling in financial control, and when you’re already going through the turmoil that a divorce can bring, now is the time to tackle this so you can free yourself of unnecessary financial stress.
For more on how to become the CFO of your life, visit Wife2CFO.com