A Season of Financial Reset
Spring is a time of renewal. I grew up in a small Texas town, and I always looked forward to spring. Harsh, cold, ice-covered winters made way for growth and blooms in the Spring each year. When flowers began to bloom and farmers started planting cotton, I always felt relief. Summer fun was on the way. Longer days (yuck, I really don't like Daylight Saving's Time), swimming, and spending lazy hours on a front porch sipping some homemade lemonade were just around the corner. For my momma, Spring meant time to clean out the closets and deal with yard clean up that sat dormant all winter. I was always put to work completing the long list titled “Spring Cleaning” and as an adult, I've continued to create my own list. This year, I'm going to reorganize my closets and finally deal with sorting the loads of pictures I was given by my grandmother recently. I'm also adding a Financial Reset to my list.
Financial woes are common, particularly in the economic climate we've been enduring the past few years. I have a few specific goals I'd like to tackle, but nothing too major. That hasn't always been the case, and you may be reading this thinking major is the only way to describe the financial hurdles on my horizon. If these thoughts sound familiar, you're in the right place.
The most important thing you can do if Freshening Your Finances sounds like a major endeavor is to look at your situation face-to-face up close and personal, grab ahold of the problem, and make changes little by little. Assess your finances and take stock of your situation. We've outlined four steps to take when starting to plan your finances.
Step 1: Psychology Piece
Diving into a financial reset and taking steps to assess major concerns such as income, budgeting, savings, and debt can prove stressful. That stress can manifest into physical symptoms and illness. Long term, stress can be extremely bad for your mind, body, and spirit. Many chronic physical illnesses have been linked to stress. So, before starting an overhaul of your financial situation, take a pause to check in with yourself mentally and emotionally. Assess your feelings and your fears that are tied to your finances. Personally, I used to have quite a bit of anxiety surrounding financial discussions particularly about budgeting and paying off debt. Where that stress and anxiety stemmed from is a conversation best saved for my therapist, but I want you to know you're not alone!
Unfortunately, stress induced by financial fears is something not openly talked about in all social circles. When you have financial stress on your shoulders, opening yourself up to talking to family or friends and leaning on their support is key to getting through the rough patches. Just a simple conversation about your fears can be extremely helpful. The reality is many people face finance related stress over the course of their lifetime. Talking to someone who may have walked the road you're on could lend some relief emotionally and prepare you to tackle the obstacles in your way with a renewed sense of capability!
Step 2: Budget
Creating a budget is often listed as the first step to any new financial endeavor, but we've placed this step in the number two spot. Because of the emotionally charged aspect of revamping finances, particularly if your finances are not in the best shape, we thought it was important to address that piece first. Once you finish assessing your situation and how you feel about it, and plan for support through your journey, it's time for a budget. Creating a budget doesn't have to be complicated. The most important part of budgeting when working towards cleaning up your finances is to have goals in mind.
The best way to take control of your finances is through budgeting, and no matter which guru or expert you subscribe to you'll find that is true across the board. If you don't know where the money is going, you can't control it. Without controlling your dollars, you can't hit your goals. Now, with that said, I have claimed many times in my life to be allergic to budgets. Why? Because when you're not used to budgeting, it's not very fun. Spending freely and following impulses just feels good. Do you know what feels exponentially better? Not having a panic attack when you look at your bank balance and/or mail. A budget will help alleviate those panicky feelings quickly.
Step 3: Savings
With a budget in place, you're prepped and ready to start saving. The reality for many Americans is that saving is hard. Inflation is causing budgets to shift tremendously on a regular basis and saving seems like a faraway dream for many people. One little step at a time, though, right friends? Start with a goal to create a small emergency fund. A commonly accepted number to set as your goal as an emergency fund is $1,000. You may have to save a few dollars at a time, and it may take you quite a while to get there. Don't worry about that. One dollar at a time.
Find creative ways to save by cutting down on your restaurant budget, create budget-friendly recipes at home instead. Perhaps cut down on the cost of your cleaning supplies or amenities by shopping at a market known for low prices. Cleaning supplies, particularly, are easy to find at stores that market themselves as pricing their items at the dollar mark. Buying off-brand items is a great way to find savings on these items. Couponing is another way to shave a few bucks off your bill at the grocery store. When you save money in a category, don’t treat yourself! Treat your savings account to a higher balance. Make sure to put the savings in a separate account, preferably one you cannot easily or instantly transfer back to your checking account. If you’re not able to look at the savings account daily, it will make it easier to say no to the new pair of shoes on sale and say yes to working towards having a healthy savings account that can see you through hard times in the future.
Step 4: Tackling Debt
Take a deep breath. I purposefully saved the most intimidating aspect of freshening your finances for last. You've mentally prepared, you've created a budget, and you've even started saving! Now, it's time to start chipping away at debt as quickly as possible. In your budgeting step, you'll want to put yourself first. That means that savings comes off the top, your “have to have” items like housing, transportation, medical care, and food come next. After those items have been covered by your paycheck, it's time to throw as much at debt as you can. Where will that money come from? I know it can feel overwhelming. The hope is that budgeting and taking a good, long look at your finances has revealed some room for cleanup. Start paying more than your minimum balance on debts owed to lower your interest paid by knocking the debt out more quickly than the repayment schedule. When you're in control of your budget, you're given the opportunity to choose where your money goes. If you choose to put extra funds towards debt, you'll reap major benefits.
So, what do you do when you can't find any extra funds in the budget or worse your budget exceeds your income? You may need to make some hard to stomach cuts, or you may need to find ways to generate more income. A great place to start in the Spring is to use your tax refund to pay down debt. I know that there are items that have been on your wish list all year long, and that refund check is just begging you to spend it on a new TV. I know. However, future you will thank me for this advice: spend that refund on things that matter. Are debt payments weighing down your budget? Do you only dream of having an emergency saving fund? If you answered yes to either question, barring any true emergency need like a medical issue or something that is very much a necessity, utilize those extra funds in the budget to make lasting changes to your financial health. Creating a plan to get out of debt is the first step to getting there, and no matter your situation there is a way to get to the other side. Yes, you may need to be creative, and yes you might not be able to spend on the things that you truly enjoy for a short time. The results of working hard to freshen your finances, however, will be well worth it.
Maintaining the Wins
You did it. You refreshed your finances and created a new trajectory for your financial health. Maintenance is your new priority. Habits take a while to become permanent, trust me I know. Still working on that whole “eat healthy + workout + drink water + text everyone back” thing. Maintaining good saving and spending habits is just as difficult as working on our physical wellness, but financial health is worth it. Each day, take the time to review your spending from the day before. You won't be perfect, no one is. However, daily attention to your budget will help you bounce back when you get off track quickly without causing any real damage to your plans. Speedy Cash has your back. We want our customers to have financial success and to practice healthy financial habits. We know that sometimes, you need a helping hand to get you through a rough patch. If that happens to you, we're here for you. After the storm has passed, you can create a plan and get back on track.
- Roberge, Eric (2018, January 29). Feel Like Your Finances Are Out of Control? Then Focus On This One Factor. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ericroberge/2018/01/29/feel-like-your-finances-are-out-of-control-then-focus-on-this-one-factor/?sh=522bd99f232c ↩︎
- Taylor, Kiara (2021, June 24). 5 Easy Ways to Take Control of Your Personal Finances. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2021/06/5-easy-ways-to-take-control-of-your-personal-finances ↩︎
- Audrey Hamilton and Linda Gallo (2015). APA Speaking of Psychology Podcast transcript: Episode 22- Speaking of Psychology: The Stress of Money Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/news/podcasts/speaking-of-psychology/financial-stress ↩︎
- Alpaio, Kelsey (2020, September 3). Here’s How to Feel in Control of Your Finances Right Now Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2020/09/heres-how-to-feel-in-control-of-your-finances-right-now ↩︎
- Palmer, Kimberly (2015, May 6). How to Start Over, Financially Retrieved from: https://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2015/05/06/how-to-start-over-financially ↩︎