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7 Simple Steps to Improve Your Financial Management Skills

7 Simple Steps to Improve Your Financial Management Skills

Have you ever wondered why our educational system doesn’t teach life skills? I have. I teach communication at the university level, but by the time the students get into my class, their habits are pretty much already formed—and many of them are bad ones.

For example, maybe they saw their parents yell and scream at each other. Or maybe they avoided conflict altogether. These are not good skills to adopt. It’s really sad that they didn’t learn better life skills while they were in school.

Another life skill we weren’t taught in school is how to handle money. Once again, we learn from how our parents handled money. Were they spenders? Were they savers? Did they teach you invest? Did they teach you about the stock market or how to save for retirement? I’m betting the answer is “no” for most of us.

Just because you didn’t learn good financial skills in school doesn’t mean that you can’t learn them now. Here are some tips you can follow to get better at managing money.

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1. Make a budget—and stick to it.

Do you know where all your money goes? Do you know how much money you spend on things like going out to eat, seeing a movie, buying beer, or purchasing clothes? Most people don’t. Are you one of those people who just prays every day that you don’t overdraw your bank account? If so, make your budget. Go back through your checkbook or bank statements for the last year and write down how much you spent in each category. You will probably be surprised at how much of your money is “wasted” on things you weren’t even aware of.

2. Be a conscious consumer.

When you go to the grocery store, do you have a list? Do you look at prices? Do you use coupons? There are many online resources and apps that can help you be more focused on what you are actually spending.

Don’t “sleep walk” through life. Be aware of every single cent you spend! When people don’t do that, their money tends to just evaporate. It takes a bit of effort to look for coupons, make lists, examine the prices at the stores where you shop, but it’s worth it in the long run. And, it makes a BIG difference.

3. Balance your checkbook.

I record everything I purchase. In fact, sometimes my friends make fun of me because I’m always whipping out my checkbook to record everything I spend whether it’s at Target, the gas station, the bowling alley, or pretty much anything else.

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These days, most people just rely on looking at their bank balance online. But if you only do that, then it allows you to not care what you are spending in the moment. But if you hold yourself accountable by recording everything, then you will not over-spend or overdraw your account.

4. Have a plan and a vision.

In order to accomplish anything, you have to have a plan, right? I mean, if you wanted to go to San Francisco but you didn’t have Mapquest or a GPS to calculate your route, you would never get there! Instead, you would just drive aimlessly into nowhere.

That metaphor is pretty much what happens to you when you don’t have a financial plan. You often ask yourself, “Where did that money go?” But if you have a plan and a budget (see #1), then you will know exactly where your money has gone.

5. Think like an investor.

As I said in the introduction, our educational system does not teach us anything about how to handle money—especially when it comes to how to grow it. But think about it. Did the wealthiest people in the world just save $500 a month and leave it at that? Of course not! They learned how to turn that $500 a month into $1,000. Then $10,000. Then $100,000. And so on. You get the point.

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You can’t expect to have a solid financial future if you’re not thinking about how to grow your money. So if you start to think like an investor, you’ll see your nest egg expand.

6. Work together with your partner/spouse on the same financial goals.

If you’re married or in a partnership where you share money, then you need to work together. Since I teach about relationships, I know that one of the biggest conflicts in relationships is money! Frequently, one person will be a saver, and the other will be a spender. This doesn’t work! So it’s important that both you and your partner get on the same page about your financial goals.

Sit down together and make your budget. Meet with a financial adviser so you can learn how to invest your money wisely. But if nothing else, you need to make sure that the two of you have the same goal and vision. And that you actually stick to it!

7. Commit to saving money.

Speaking of sticking to something, commitment is everything. You can’t do anything half-way. You can’t “sometimes” do something and “sometimes not.” You have to be consistent! You have to stay the course!

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It’s kind of like losing weight. If you only occasionally eat less and exercise more, you MIGHT lose some weight. But chances are, you’ll probably just go back to your old habits. So that’s why you need to commit to saving money and building your future. Otherwise, you might as well not even bother!

If our schools taught us these financial skills, then what I have talked about in this article might come naturally to us all. But for most of us, it doesn’t. But it’s not rocket science. It’s just like anything—if you want it badly enough, you will do it! If you want to make your financial situation better you can do it! But you just need to start with the decision to do so.

More by this author

Carol Morgan

Dr. Carol Morgan is a communication professor, dating/relationship and success coach, TV personality, speaker, and author.

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Published on September 17, 2018

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

Achieving financial success is not something that just happens. Maybe if you win the lottery or something, but for the average person like you or me, it comes from a series of small steps you take over a long period of time.

With each step, you form a new smart money habit. And with each smart money habit, you build towards financial independence.

So what sort of habits can you form to get on that path? Let’s take a look at smart money habits you can start today to get you closer to a financially independent future.

1. Avoid being “penny wise but pound foolish”

It’s tempting to try saving a couple cents here and there when buying small items. However, that’s not where the real money is saved. You’re putting in extra effort for something that doesn’t move the needle.

You get the most bang when you’re able to cut down on your bigger bills. For example, finding a lower interest rate for your mortgage could save you $50+ per month. And cutting your transportation bill by purchasing a cheaper car or taking public transportation can provide large gains as well.

So, look at your recurring expenses such as housing, transportation, and insurance, and see where there’s wiggle room. It’s a much better use of your time than trying to pinch pennies here and there on smaller purchases.

2. When you want something big, wait

Impulsivity can get you in trouble in most aspects of life. Finances are no different.

It’s human nature to see something and want it right then and there. It starts as a kid in the checkout line at the grocery store, and it continues on through adulthood.

We get an idea in our head of something we want, and it’s hard not to go out and get it right then.

A good example is wanting a new car. Perhaps you’ve had your car for several years. It’s crossed the 100k mile mark. Maybe maintenance is due, and you’re annoyed that you need to replace the timing belt or purchase new tires.

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So, you get the itch.

You start digging around online, and you realize you could trade in your current car for something newer and more exciting… all for a few hundred bucks a month. Then you get obsessed.

Here’s where you have to take a step back.

Your newfound obsession is clouding your judgement. Rather than giving into the impulse, wait it out.

Set a timeframe for yourself. Maybe you come back to the decision three months down the road. See if the obsession lasts.

It might, but often, a funny thing happens. Often, you forget about it. And often, you find that the new car wasn’t a need at all.

The impulse faded. And you just saved yourself a ton of money.

3. Live smaller than you can afford

You finally get that big raise. And you want to celebrate – and why not?

You’ve been looking forward to this forever. And after all, it was all due to your hard work.

That’s fine, splurge a little. However, make it a one-time deal and be done.

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Don’t get caught in the trap that just because you’re now making more money, you should spend more.

Too often, people get more money and feel like they that gives them the means to buy a bigger house, a bigger car… you know the drill. Resist.

The fact is that living smaller than what you can afford is one of the fastest ways to build savings.

But if you constantly upgrade as you begin to make more, then you’ll never get ahead. You’ll just build up more debt along the way and have just as little wiggle room as before.

4. Practice smart grocery shopping

Food… it’s one of the biggest portions of any budget. And if you’re not careful, it can be one of the biggest drains on your wallet.

But luckily, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you stay smart with your money when buying groceries.

Create a grocery budget

Set a strict weekly grocery budget. When you know how much you can spend on groceries, you can then plan your weekly menu around it.

Once you know what all you need, you can go shopping and keep a running tally as you shop to ensure you’re on track.

I tend to do this in my head, rounding for each item. However, writing it down as you go would probably work best for most people.

Make a list… and never deviate

Never go to the grocery store without a list. If you go to the store with a ballpark idea in mind, you don’t have a true ide of what you need.

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You’re not well-researched. You don’t know what the sales are. As a result, you’re going to make decisions on the fly.

These impulse decisions will lead to overspending, which will derail your grocery budget.

Eat before going grocery shopping

It’s also important to eat prior to going to the grocery store. Hunger is a powerful force.

If you’re shopping on an empty stomach, everything is going to look good. In particular, you may find a lot of ready-made, processed snacks will look enticing.

After all, you’re hungry now and that food is easily available. So subconsciously, you may lean towards those items.

Unfortunately, not only are those items typically less healthy, but they’re likely more expensive. You pay for convenience.

However, when you eat prior to shopping, then you’ll shop with a clear mind. Your hunger won’t cloud your judgement, influencing you to make poor decisions like a cartoon devil resting on your shoulder whispering in your ear.

This makes it much easier to stick to your grocery plan.

5. Cancel your gym membership

Now that you’re all set on your food, it’s time to get smart about managing your budget in terms of physical fitness. And let’s begin by avoiding the gym. The gym bill, that is.

The average gym membership costs around $60 per month. That’s $720 a year.

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Yet, two out of three gym memberships go unused. That means two-thirds of people who have a gym membership are literally giving away almost a thousand bucks a year. It’s crazy!

I recommend seeking an alternative. One good alternative is to look into fitness streaming services.

Streaming services allow you to stream hundreds of workouts like Insanity and p90x, right in your own home for around $10-20 a month. That’s $40-50 less a month than the average gym membership.

Of course, then there’s the free option. The internet is full of free workouts that you can do on your own with minimal or no equipment.

For example, there’s the Couch to 5K program, that I personally used a decade ago to ease myself from couch potato to running my first 5K race. If I could do it, anyone could.

Then there are free resources like reddit that have limitless information on workouts. The Fitness subreddit has done all the research for you, populating workout tips and detailed workout routines for anyone to use in their wiki.

There are several routines that require no equipment. And you can join in on the subreddit to become part of the community, making it easier for those seeking comraderie and encouragement in their fitness goals. All for free.

It’s baby steps… And baby steps can start now!

I’ve never met anyone that can’t stand to be a bit smarter with their money. And on the flip side, anyone can get smarter with their money. But remember, it doesn’t happen all at once.

Begin by fighting your impulses. Prepare for the week and be smart at the store. And cut monthly expenses like gym memberships that are overpriced and you probably aren’t getting your money’s worth out of anyway.

The devil is in the details. And the details can change your lifestyle and prep you for a financially independent future.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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