Have you ever gotten to that point where you look at your bank account and just think how.
One day, you’re financially responsible and feeling good- putting away money and paying your bills. The next, you realize that somehow you’ve depleted your savings or have more money on your credit card than you initially thought. It could be that trip you booked last September, still sitting on your card and snowballing as you continue to use it. Or it could be from the holidays, where we overspend even when we swear we’re not going to. And you’d think people like me (in a large, education-dug hole) would be more responsible and aware of this, but that’s not always the case.
It’s easy to compartmentalize student loans into their own financial category and think of cars, houses, and day to day spending separately. While my goal since college has been to be financially stable and make paying off student loans early a priority, I decided that I will not sacrifice living for loans (hence the Embrace the Journey mindset). While bills come first, I’d be lying if I said the scale hasn’t tipped in different directions before.
The main reason we find ourselves in these situations is that we don’t adjust our spending. Unless you’ve got a surplus of disposable income, you can’t just put a $2500 trip on your credit card and continue going about your daily business, expecting it to melt off. You have to make changes.
Here are some tools and tactics I’ve found helpful for digging myself out of financial holes in the past.
Chances are if I ask you what you pay for your phone bill, you’d know off the top of your head. Same for rent, your car, and any other recurring payment; because these are pain points we remember them. But what about your disposable income? Have you factored in the sticky $5k that’s sitting on your credit card?
Each month, sit down and review your finances. Re-write your expenses and incomes in two columns, factoring in any extras that may have come about that month. Then similar to student loans, make paying a chunk of that money back a priority. Each paycheck will be a few shovels of dirt, but before you know it you’ll be standing on solid ground.
The Spending Tracker App
Tracking is a smart-phone-made habit that is second nature to millennials. We track our sleep in alarm clocks, our schedules in calendars, our calories in Lose It! (of course I made a plug), and our steps in Health. Making tracking your spending a habit is easy when it’s right at your finger tips.
The Spending Tracker App is the picture of simplicity; there are no bells and whistles – just a place for you to set a budget and stick to it by categorizing and logging your spending. Sure, some weeks you will over-spend, but the carry over will allow you to correct yourself before it snowballs. Also – turning the app sideways will show you a pie chart about what category you spend most of your money on. Do this with caution; especially if you’ve just spent a weekend at a Bachelorette party.
Cutting Down Consumption
Did you know that on average, you make 35,000 decisions a day? And that without realizing it, we’re consuming all day? Advertisements, podcasts, social media, online orders: the list goes on and on. I picture Pac-Man, chomping his way through the day-consuming.
There are cognitive studies used in advertising that help companies market to you by playing on these decision making tendencies to understand how your brain works and get you to buy their product. It’s a subconscious thing, but it’s made easy with one click ordering and amazon prime.
How do we combat this? Try a consumer free month. This means that you’ll only spend your money on things you need and experiences. Cut down on social media and TV – both ad heavy spaces. It sounds simple, but it’s a learned habit and it can be hard to break. Be mindful of your consumption.
Points Cards and Travel Costs
I find it hard to limit myself on experience. Sure, it’s easy to talk myself out of a sweater I kind of like, but what about that trip you’ve been eyeing to Italy? That’s justifiable, isn’t it?
There are a couple points I need to make about this one because it’s a major pain point. First, if you don’t have one already and you’re a traveler, get a points credit card. I’m not going to preach about how with credit comes responsibility because we’re all adults here, but if you like to travel it only makes sense. I use the JetBlue card and haven’t paid for a flight since college. Second, comparative shop before you buy some travel package, and check out Destinations on a Dime for other budget-friendly travel tips. Lastly – and it pains me to say this – be smart about finances. If you can’t do it right now, accept it and get your finances in check first.
If all else fails and you’re still stuck in the hole, there’s no shame in side hustles. Check out this article on Side Hustles and the benefits they can have not only for your wallet but also for your daily structure.
Have you fallen into this hole before? What did you do to dig yourself out? Share in the comments below!