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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.

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Carol Morgan

Dr. Carol Morgan is the owner of HerSideHisSide.com, a communication professor, dating & relationship coach, TV personality, speaker, and author.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

Finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. And that’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

In this article, we will explore ways on how to set financial goals and then actually meet them with ease.

5 Steps to Set Financial Goals

Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task but if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps:

1. Be Clear About the Objectives

Any goal (let alone financial) without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream. And this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it is for. It could be anything like kid’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car etc.

Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives, however small they may be, that you foresee in the future and put a value to it.

2. Keep Them Realistic

It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going out of the line will definitely hurt your chances of achieving them.

It’s important that you keep your goals realistic in nature for it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

3. Account for Inflation

Ronald Reagan once said – “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman”. And this quote sums up the best what inflation could do your financial goals.

Therefore account for inflation whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far away in the future.

For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years hence, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is mere 3%. So always account for inflation.

4. Short Term vs Long Term

Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach towards achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It is important to bifurcate goals in short term and long term.

As a rule of thumb, any financial goal, which is due in next 3 years should be termed as short term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short term vs long term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

More on this later when we talk about how to achieve financial goals.

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5. To Each to His Own

The journey of setting financial goals is an individualistic affair i.e. your goals are your own goals and are determined by your want to achieve them. A lot of times we get on the bandwagon of goal setting only to realize later on that it was not meant for us.

It is important that your goals are actually your goals and not inspired by someone else. Take a hard look at this step at all the goals you’ve set for after this step, you will be on the way to achieve them.

By now, you would be ready with your financial goals, now it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

11 Ways to Achieve Your Financial Goals

Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a 2 step process –

  • Ensuring healthy savings
  • Making smart investments

You will need to save enough; and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals. So let’s get down to ensuring healthy savings.

Ensuring Healthy Savings

Self realization is the best form of realisation and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

1. Track Expenses

The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your monthly expenses. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you would be surprised to see how small expenses add up to a sizeable amount.

Also categorize those expenses into different bucket so that you know which bucket is eating the most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pump up your savings rate.

2. Pay Yourself First

Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classical mistake which almost everyone of us do. We pay ourselves last!

Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and then manage all the expenses from the rest.

The best way to actually implement is to put the savings on automatic mode i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (for example – mutual funds, retirement corpus etc) every month.

Taking the automatic route will make us lose control of our money and hence will compel us to manage in what’s left with us thereby increasing the savings rate.

3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick with It

Budgeting is the best to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be made.

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Nowadays, several money management apps and wallets can help you do this automatically. It’s easy and who knows, you may just end up doing what people fail to do.

At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

4. Rise Again Even If You Fall

Let’s be realistic. It’s not like the world will come to an end if you made one mistake. This isn’t called leniency but discipline.

If you fail to meet your budget for a month, don’t give up the entire effort just like that. Instead, start again.

Remember that flexible plans are the most realistic plans. So go forward and try to follow your financial goals as planned but if for some reason, the plan gets out of hand for you, do not give up on it just yet. This has a lot to do with your psychology rather than any material commitment.

All you have to do is to stay on the road and vow to stay on it, no matter how much you fall down.

5. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

Make Savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counter intuitive to many but there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Usually weekends are expensive. Make it a habit and you would in turn be saving a great deal.

If you are travelling buff, try to travel during off season. Your outlay will be much less.

If you go out for shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

So the key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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6. Talk About It

Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission. And it would be rather easy to lose the grip over your discipline.

Therefore in order to stay the course, it is advisable that you keep yourself surrounded with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

7. Maintain a Journal

For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

So if you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

Use this journal to write down all essential points such as your short term, mid term and long term goals, your current sources of income, your regular expenses which you are aware of and any committed expenses which are of recurring nature.

When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energised to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot more easier for you to follow you and track your progress.

At this point, you should be ready with your financial goals and would be doing brilliantly with savings; now it’s time to talk about the big daddy – Investments.

Making Smart Investments

Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However savings when invested wisely can do wonders and we are at that stage where we will talk about making smart investments.

8. Consult a Financial Advisor

Investments doesn’t come naturally to most of us therefore rather than dabbling with it ourselves, it is wise to consult a financial advisor.

Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

9. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about them.

Just like “no one is born a criminal”, no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference.

Do you remember we talked about bifurcating financial goals in short term and long term?

It is here where that classification will help.

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So as a general rule, for all your short term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less as compared to equity instruments.

10. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

Einstein once remarked about compounding,

Compound Interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.

So make friends with this wonder kid. And sooner you become friends with it, quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

Start investing early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

11. Measure, Measure, Measure

All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments; taking stock of how our investments are doing.

If there is one single step where everything (so far) can go wrong, it is at this step – Measuring the Progress.

If we don’t measure the progress timely, then we would be shooting in the dark. We wouldn’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not; whether financial advisor is doing a decent job; whether we are moving closer to our target or not.

Do measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

The Bottom Line

This completes the list of tips for you to set financial goals and actually achieve them with not so great difficulty.

As you can see, all it requires is discipline. But guess that’s the most difficult part!

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Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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