During a recent Inforum Affinity Group activity, I learned that even though I'm an adult and have been living on my own—and paying my own bills—for years, sometimes I need to tackle financial lessons like a little girl. At the end of the month, even if your dollars may not be many, the details that go into plotting and carrying out monetary success are. So, get your duckies in a row!
1. Start with a simple spreadsheet. I keep mine on Google Drive, so it is accessable everywhere I go. In it, I list each of my monthly expenses including rent, insurance, student loans, groceries, and the ominous "Other" category (aka my catch-all), among other things. At the end of each month, I input all of my expenses to see how I measure up. Did I stay on budget? Did I go over? That way, I'll know how much I have to sneak into savings that month, or how much I need to cut back the next month. Once you've kept this spreadsheet for a few months, you'll begin to see your buying habits in black and white. It's surprising sometimes to know exactly where the money goes, and empowering because when it doesn't magically disappear from your bank account, you actually start to feel that you have a little control over your money. Now that's what I like to hear!
Tip: If you're not obsessed with saving every receipt, like I am, it may be beneficial for you to input your costs as you go along. Just factor in a couple minutes of budget logging on the days you get gas or hit the grocery store.
2. Make short-term goals for saving. I have a pretty expensive event coming up next summer, so I've been making an effort to save my pennies. Because I know how much money I should be spending each month, I know how much I could save each month, too. Map out your short-term priorities and work toward them!
Tip: Let's be honest. Sometimes, it's hard to resist tossing a few extra bones into the "Other" category when you're taking a victory lap through Target. The key is to be realistic. If you see that you spend extra money in the other category each month, or see that you are always going over $50 on food, adjust your budget—or you'll come up short, each and every time.
3. Make long-term goals for saving. Vacations, a new laptop, an updated wardrobe—these are all short-term money-saving goal category worthy. Long-term savings goals could include a house, a car, and retirement. Lucky for you, some long-term goals could get a little help from the 401(k) Fairy. Work retirement plans into your monthly budget—better yet, have money deducted automatically. Like the grasshopper learned: Work hard now, so you can play later.
Tip: Acquaint yourself with your company's retirement plan benefits. If you're not sure, check with the Human Resources department. You could also enlist the help of a professional financial advisor, someone who is trained and ready to help you map out your financial future. Click here to read more about making sound and safe investments.
Written by: Erika Fifelski is West Michigan Woman magazine's staff writer. She graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in journalism. Erika was born and raised in West Michigan, and after a brief stint on the sunrise side, she's home and loving it. Her most common “Other” category entries include things like Pashmina scarves, cat food, and kitchen utensils.