With the world currently going through one of the most turbulent periods it has experienced in recent history, it’s no surprise that personal finance has become a glaring sticking point for many of the rank-and-file populace. Over the past two or so years, livelihoods have been utterly demolished by foreclosures, repossessions, layoffs and bankruptcies.
For many people, the pandemic was little more than a reason to start working from home. Those who worked in fields that allowed for such a thing were only slightly affected by COVID, perhaps dealing with isolation-caused depression or anxiety at most. For many others, however, the pandemic meant the loss of everything. Personal finance was replaced for survival, as families across the country struggled to secure basic necessities for themselves.
Regardless which group you fall into, it’s safe to say that the value of financial responsibility has never been more starkly apparent. If you’re going to stay on top of things in your day-to-day life both financially and mentally, you’re going to need to work on getting your finances in shape. The good news is that this is not as insurmountable a task as it may seem, and that financial stability is within reach!
The bad news is that it will not be easy. Whether you realize it or not, each financial decision you make carries a great deal of weight, and can dictate how you spend years of your life. If you want to get your finances back on track, you’re going to have to make some tough calls and deny yourself things you really want. Are you ready? Let’s get started.
Ditch the credit cards
For those of us who are prone to impulse buying, credit cards can become something of a crutch. These handy little plastic rectangles give us the impression that they are the key to buying whatever we want, to being happy. Tempting though this supposed financial freedom may be, the promises credit cards whisper in our ears are false. If you want to get your financial life together, you’ll need to cut back!
The consequences of overusing credit cards are many and severe. Excessive credit card use and the resulting debt can negatively impact your credit score, lead to years of poverty and potentially even cause financially devastating events such as bankruptcy. In order to avoid these problems, the credit cards have got to go.
This isn’t to say you should simply shred your credit cards and get on with your day; this sort of drastic action is difficult to sustain, likely leading to you simply ordering new cards in short order. No, if you want to get a handle on your credit card spending, you’ll need to do it slowly. Get rid of the cards with the highest interest rates, and try to stick to using only one. Endeavor to spend within your means and not use your credit cards at all if you don’t absolutely need to.
Ditch the fancy car
In past years, newer and nicer cars have become a lot more obtainable for the average joe. With “flexible financing” and predatory lending, the prospect of having the car you’ve always wanted may leave you feeling powerless to resist the urge to lease a shiny new vehicle. It feels great to drive your dream car, but there’s a big problem: your car payments could lead to financial ruin.
Financially speaking, leasing a vehicle is a bad idea. Like, a really, really bad idea. Cars are depreciating assets, and leasing one from a dealership forces you to pay a price much higher than the car’s value in aggregate. If you want to cut your spending and start having more money to put away at the end of each month, axing your leased vehicle is a great place to start.
Once you’ve handed off your new car and its lease to someone else, it’s time to find a practical economy car to replace it. Ideally, you want a vehicle that uses as little fuel as possible, while remaining simple and easy to maintain. Generally cars in the 5-10 year old range are best, as cars older than this will likely end up being costly to maintain.
Start eating at home
Now that things are opening up once again, eating out is once again becoming an option for us normal folks. This is great once in a while, but don’t let it get out of hand! Eating at fast food restaurants and sit down venues gets expensive real fast, and is also way less healthy than you might like to think.
When you think about it, there’s virtually no reason why you can’t eat at home and save hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year on food. There are a plethora of delicious recipes available on the internet that will allow you to save money and enjoy delicious food while still maintaining a healthy diet.
If you’ve never been particularly into cooking, don’t worry; it’s a lot easier than it looks! Cooking is all about trial and error at the end of the day, so it’s ok to make mistakes. Once you learn to make a recipe with a reasonable degree of consistency, learn another one. After you’ve mastered that one, master another, and another!
For those with attention spans that fall closer to the shorter end of the spectrum, this one is likely to be a bit of a chore. Budgeting isn’t fun for anyone aside from the more masochistic economics majors, but it’s an essential skill that is crucial in getting your finances in line and keeping money in your pocket.
Budgeting is essentially the process of tracking your spending. If you want to budget effectively, you’ll need to keep receipts for every purchase you make, including everything from the largest to the smallest buys. Whether you’ve just bought a new television or a bag of groceries, keep the receipt in a secure and reasonably organized place.
After you’ve collected receipts for at least a month, separate them into categories (dining expenses, auto expenses, miscellaneous, etc.) and use a spreadsheet program like Excel or Google Sheets to start digitally recording your expenses. Compare those expenses with your salary, and you’ll have a good picture of where you need to make changes!
Find creative ways to make money
While we’ve focused on cutting out unnecessary expenses and keeping track of your expenditures for most of this article, there’s another side to financial stability; maximizing your income! There are an infinite number of creative ways in which you can do some hustling on the side and add a little extra cash flow to your financial situation.
A great way to do this is by finding your passions and then figuring out how to monetize them. If you’re passionate about music, start looking for gigs as a live performer or a teacher. If you’re into photography, start doing portrait sessions for graduations, holidays and special events. Whatever you enjoy doing, chances are there is a way to earn money from it!
Of course, passions can’t always pay the bills. Sometimes, you have to find less glamorous but more lucrative ways to make extra money. One side hustle that fits this bill perfectly is that of being a landlord! If you’ve got enough money to invest in a modest home or apartment, renting it to tenants or short term vacation goers is a great way to earn some extra income.
As a final thought, we’d just like to remind you that, no matter how hard things have gotten in the past months and years, things will get better. It will take time and work no doubt, but if you keep at it you can get to a financially and emotionally stable place in life and at work. It won’t be easy, but things rarely are for people like us. Don’t give up, better days are ahead!