Just like most folks, I don’t consider my financial situation perfect. I have some debt that I need to pay off and some goals I want to achieve. Moving forward on financial matters can seem so difficult. Saying that ‘I want to get out of debt’ is general — there’s no clear starting point. And that’s just the minor stuff: figuring out taxes can make you wish we all still relied on barter. But setting your financial house in order isn’t impossible. You just need a starting point.
These steps are my starting points. Not just any starting points, either: these are my ‘back to basics,’ ‘work on when I have no idea what else to do,’ ‘got to keep with it’ tasks.
- I set goals. My financial goals are very set things, though. They have dollar amounts and due dates, no matter what. After all, my finances are all about numbers. It just makes sense that my financial goals are the same way. I consider something along the lines of ‘I will save $500 by the end of this month for my emergency fund.’ I also think it’s crucial to know from the start what your money is for. Saving for shoes or for getting laid off is easy, but just saving is hard.
- I read. I know I don’t know everything there is to know about personal finance. I’m working on correcting that, though. Right now, I’m reading up on stocks — a subject that was not even mentioned during the one semester of financial literacy education my high school provided. Because I’m well aware of the deficiencies of my official personal finance education, I read a lot. I want to know all about different ideas, even if I don’t agree with them.
- I take my time. When it comes to a financial decision, including spending relatively large sums of money, I wait. While I might have an instinctive reaction (often along the lines of ‘Buy it! Buy it!’), I’ve found that I save a lot of money by just deciding to come back later. The same holds true on other financial decisions. Before I chose a bank, I take some time and do some research.
- I put my money out of reach. I’m lucky — I don’t have a problem resisting the urge to use my credit card. But if I have cash in my pocket, I always have a burning desire to spread the wealth around. I try to head this urge off: I don’t carry much cash. I’ve gone a step beyond that, though. Most of my savings is in an account that, while I can get my money in an emergency, I do have to jump through some hoops to make a withdrawal. Having to go through a few extra steps when I want cash makes me reluctant to spend money when I don’t actually need to.
- I improve my income. Passive income is the best thing since sliced bread. Whenever I get the opportunity to set up a passive income stream — even if it’s just a static website with Google AdSense — I do what I can to take full advantage of it. I do what I can to improve my other sources of income, as well. I negotiate for higher pay, take on side projects and generally do whatever I can to increase the amount of money I have coming in.
- I run a business. It seems like having a business would be more effort and expense than it would be worth, financially speaking. But you can effectively run a business for free, and it offers several advantages. Consider your ‘business expenses.’ If you run a blog or other computer-based business, that computer you just bought could be tax deductible. You just lowered your tax bill by making a purchase that you probably would anyway.
- I do things myself. Some instances of frugality, like making your own soap, may not improve your financial situation. It may not be worth your time to do some things yourself. But I’ve found several things to do myself that have saved me money, liking baking my own bread. Even better, if I’m doing some task I’d normally pay someone else to do, in addition to saving that fee I’m not out spending money on entertainment. Sure, it may not be cheaper for me to grow my own tomatoes, but when I’m gardening, I’m spending only a fraction of what I would at the movie theater.
There are lots of little things that we can do to tidy up our respective financial situations. It’s important to remember that it’s not an all or nothing proposition you can make progress on your financial goals without committing to complete frugality, massive saving and working every hour in the day. That sort of approach will probably only last you a few days before you break down. But if you work on just a small task or two at a time, you can make a lasting change in your approach to personal finance. Even doing something as simple as eating one extra meal at home each week can make a profound difference in your bank balance.
None of the steps I’ve listed before need to be hardcore processes. Even running a business can be something as simple as selling your old stuff on eBay. Each of these steps can be as small — or as big — of a commitment as you would like. Personally, though, I go for the light workload.