8 Good Habits to Get Your Finances—and Your Life—on Track
The better your money habits, the better equipped you are to achieve financial success (or at least financial stability) in the long-term.
More often than not, a healthy financial outlook is all about maintaining solid financial habits. It’s the little things you do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis that add up over time and make a difference.
If your finances are currently in shambles, the best thing you can do is start practicing some of these habits right now. And while money isn’t everything, getting yourself on solid financial footing will have benefits throughout your life. Here are eight habits you can start practicing right now …
1. Making a budget.
If you’re trying to take control of your financial future, the odds are good that you need to start spending less and saving more. But in order to do that, you first have to know how you’re actually spending money. Once you know that, you can make a plan to get your spending and saving back on track.
In other words, you need to make a budget.
“The very first thing to do when wanting to change financial habits is to start with your budget,” said Budgets Made Easy (@budgetsmadeeasy) founder and Master Financial Coach Ashley Patrick. “Make a zero-based budget and write it down. Examine where your money has been going for the past couple of months.
“This is very eye-opening and most people say they feel like they got a raise. It also will help change your thinking about your money and what potential it has.”
2. Spending less money.
Once you’ve tracked your expenses and built a budget, you’ll be able to see how you’re actually spending money. And the next step is pretty simple: You spend less of it!
“If you’re spending more than you’re earning or saving, you might need to make some lifestyle changes,” said Josh Zimmelman, owner of Westwood Tax and Consulting (@westwoodtax). “Look at where the bulk of your money is going and figure what adjustments or eliminations can be made.”
“Can you swap movie tickets and cable for Netflix or Hulu? Or make more home cooked meals instead of going out to dinner every night? Are you wasting money on overdraft charges? Keep your checkbook balanced and set up email or text alerts.”
If your finances are out of control, the odds are good that you’re spending more than you’re making and racking up expensive credit card debt. The ultimate goal of budgeting should be to live well below your means, which means you can build up your savings. But, in the meantime, spending only as much as you’re making is a good start.
“Spending beyond your limits can put you deep in debt,” said Zimmelman. “If your income isn’t covering your costs, it’s time to cut back.”
3. Maintaining an emergency fund.
Building your first budget is a short-term project, as is finding places to trim your spending. In order to make it a long-term financial fix, you first need to sit down and think about why you’re taking control of your finances.
“The next thing to do in order to stay motivated long-term,” said Patrick “is to decide why you want or need to change. What is your big motivating factor? It has to be a big reason in order to get through the tough times.”
While you’re considering those motivating factors, think about this: Most Americans don’t even have enough money in savings to cover a $500 emergency expense! That’s how they end up turning to short-term bad credit loans like payday loans and cash advances just to make ends meet.
If you’re looking for a place to stick all that extra money you’re saving on your new, slimmed-down budget, start an emergency fund and imagine the peace of mind it will grant you!
“If you’ve been putting off building your emergency fund because it seems like too daunting of a task, then just start small,” said Zimmelman. “Start by depositing as little as a dollar a week and then gradually increase that amount as time goes by.
“Every time you use a coupon or get a discount, take the money you saved and put it directly into your account. At the minimum, you should have liquid cash for at least six months of expenses.”
Six months worth of expenses sounds like a lot of money. And it is! But don’t let that get you discouraged. For now, start with a slightly smaller goal like $1,000 and work your way up from there!
4. Getting out of debt—and staying there.
Building up your savings is important, for sure, but it’s not a financial silver bullet. There are other important steps you need to take, including paying down your consumer debt. This can include personal loans, but for most people it means their credit cards.
“The first step is to go through all your financial documents and credit reports to fully evaluate how bad the situation is,” said Zimmelman. “Find the largest debt with the highest interest rates and concentrate on paying off that one first.”
“Contact creditors and lenders to see if you can negotiate a reduced settlement or lower your interest rates and consider transferring your credit card balance to another card with a lower rate,” he added.
Finally, Zimmelan had some tips for those whose financial situations are truly out of control: “If your debt is truly unmanageable, there’s also the option of filing for personal bankruptcy and having your debts cleared.”
“However,” he added, “paying them off is usually better for your credit score.”
5. Avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Getting out of debt is important, but don’t let that importance overwhelm you. As business coach and best-selling author Amanda Abella (@amandaabella) pointed out, doing so can lead to procrastination, which only causes further problems down the line.
“When paying off debt, you might feel it’s impossible to achieve your goal but the amount of debt you have is relative,” said Abella. “You need to rewire your brain into believing you can pay off your debt. One of the best ways to do this is to flood yourself with successful debt repayment stories.
“You may also want to find support – there are groups on Facebook and many online financial challenges that are totally free. If you feel you need more than that, consider a support group in the form of a twelve-step program.”
6. Maintaining your credit score.
Creating a budget, building an emergency fund, and paying down your debt all have an immediate impact on your finances. When it comes to your credit score, however, it might be harder to discern what effect it’s having on your day-to-day life.
Well, unless you’re trying to take out a loan or a credit card, buy a home, rent an apartment, open a bank account, apply for car insurance, or even apply for a job. In situations like those, the effects of a bad credit score could very well become apparent super fast.
In order to get control of your finances, you need to improve your credit score. It will improve your access to better financial products and lower interest rates. Here are three tips for improving your credit, courtesy of Abella:
- “Make sure you’re paying off all credit cards at the end of every month. Don’t spend more than you can pay off.”
- ”Use your current credit cards more responsibly or go to a prepaid. Prepaid cards carry little risk because your “credit limit” is only what you’ve funded on the card. But it works like a credit card and you pay it off each month like one. Because of the way it works, it will help your credit score.”
- “You should also pull your credit report—you can do this for free once a year—and close old, zero-balance accounts that you’re not using. Having too many lines of credit open can hurt your credit score.”
The most important aspects of your credit score are your payment history and your amounts owed. If you can keep your total debt loads low and pay all your bills on time, you’ll be well on your way to a healthier score.
7. Cutting out impulsive purchases.
Making good financial decisions is often about doing the right thing or picking the right product. But sometimes the best financial decision is to do … nothing at all.
“A great habit to develop in 2019 is waiting on purchases,” said personal finance blogger Marc Andre of VitalDollar.com (@vital_dollar). “Get in the habit of waiting at least a day or two on any purchase that isn’t a necessity.”
“If you wait, a lot of times you’ll decide that the purchase isn’t worth the money it will cost you. And if you still think it’s a good purchase after waiting, at least you can buy it with the confidence that you won’t have buyer’s remorse.
“Waiting on purchases teaches you to value the money that you have,” he added, “and to only part with it when the purchase is justified. I use this habit myself, and it’s saved me from many purchases that I would have regretted later.”
8. Investing more for retirement.
In this post, we’ve covered habits that will help you in both the short- and the long-term. With this last piece of advice, we’re covering the really long-term.
“Rebalance your investments portfolio for 2019,” said Zimmelman.” Take a look at the mix of stocks and bonds in your portfolio and make sure they’re still working for you and your goals. You might also want to shuffle some investments around into tax-advantaged accounts.”
And, of course, if you don’t have any money currently dedicated towards your retirement, then 2019 is literally the best possible time for you to start. Why? Because the sooner you start saving for retirement, the better.
To learn more about setting yourself up for financial success, check out these related posts and articles from OppLoans:
- A Beginner’s Guide to Budgeting
- From Budget to Baller: 6 Tips to Grow Your Money
- 8 Ways To Save Money Today, Tomorrow and Every Day After
- Credit Utilization Ratio: What It Is, Why It’s Important, and How to Master It
|Featured in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Inc, and Business Insider, Amanda Abella (@amandaabella) has created an online community where millennials can learn how to make money online and actually enjoy their financial journeys. Amanda is a certified professional coach who has undergone several trainings including the IFC accredited International Coach Academy. In 2014, Amanda launched her Amazon bestselling book, Make Money Your Honey: A Spirited Entrepreneur’s Guide to Having a Love Affair with Work & Money which has been featured in Yahoo! Finance and Seventeen Magazine.|
|Marc Andre is a personal finance blogger at VitalDollar.com (@vital_dollar), where he writes about saving money, managing money, and ways to make more money. His goal with Vital Dollar is to help individuals and families get the most out of the money they have and to reach their full financial potential. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and their two kids (a son and a daughter).|
|Ashley Patrick is a Master Financial Coach and founder of Budgets Made Easy (@budgetsmadeeasy). She started helping people budget and pay off debt after paying off $45,000 in just 17 months while working as a police officer. She now stays at home with her three kids and tries to stay sane in the chaos.|
|A forward-thinking entrepreneur and passionate family man, Josh Zimmelman graduated from Yeshiva University in 2003 with a degree in accounting. After learning the ropes and excelling at several large firms, Josh took the leap to launch his own firm in 2010. In just a few years, Westwood Tax and Consulting (@westwoodtax) has become a booming full-service accounting firm that demystifies the perplexing world of taxes for individuals and small businesses. It is his goal to make taxes not only bearable, but even a little bit fun for his clients. Always excited to share his tax knowledge, Josh has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Newsday, USA Today, The Huffington Post, and US News & World Report.|