The holiday season is the happiest time of the year. Or at least that’s what it always looks like on TV. But if checking your bank account balance has you feeling more stressed and worried about holiday spending than ever before, you aren’t alone.
Did you spend more money than you expected this year?
It’s no secret that the last couple of months of the year is when most American families spend the most money. The holiday gifts, travel, and big holiday meals add up quickly. Things can easily get out of hand quickly.
If you went a little overboard during the holidays and are looking to right the ship, then you‘re in the right place. This article will show you how to have a financial cleanse so that you can feel in control of your money again.
The word ‘cleanse’ means to make something thoroughly clean. If you’ve ever heard of a juice cleanse, then you know it’s when you consume vegetable and fruit juice for a set time to rid your body of any unhealthy substances or toxins. The goal is to return your body to a pure and healthy state. It’s a clean slate to start forming healthy habits.
That’s precisely what we are going to do with your finances.
You need to get organized.
Before undertaking any new activity or setting out to accomplish anything, you’re much more likely to succeed if you get everything organized first.
Sticking to the juice cleanse analogy, you can’t simply open the fridge, throw in some random veggies into a blender, and then call it a day. You need to plan out the different juices you’ll have throughout the day, and find a plan to follow.
This is no different.
To start, get a blank piece of paper and spend a few minutes looking at your bank account statements. Jot down your balances and list out what you expect to earn from paychecks or other sources of income this month. Next, you’ll want to look at all of your credit card bills and other bills (mortgage and student loan payments, car payments, utilities, cell phone bill, TV subscriptions, Amazon Prime, etc.).
You need to know what your starting point is before you can decide where you want to go.
Make a list of all of the money that you’ll be spending this month and compare it with the amount coming in.
This comparison will help you determine how much cleansing is required.
Articulating your goals is vital.
If there’s one thing that most people can agree on that helps them reach their goals, it’s this: accountability.
Accountability is the reason you have no problem getting up to go to work in the morning or taking your child to the doctor. A lack of accountability is probably the reason you haven’t been managing your financial situation more actively.
In life, there isn’t a coach or other accountability mechanism to help you make healthy financial decisions unless you put them in place. For you, that may mean hiring a financial advisor or working with your spouse to help you stay focused.
I love using my family as my accountability partners. I share my monthly savings and investment goals with my wife and my twin brother. They do the same with me. By vocally sharing our goals, we give each other permission to follow up and see how we are doing and whether we are sticking to it.
If we don’t hit our monthly goal, we ask why and whether there’s anything we can do to help. This is a system that works for me. You may not have a sibling to help hold you accountable, and that’s okay. But try to identify a person or a system that you can use to help you. If you have children that are old enough to understand money and goals, they may be the perfect audience. They won’t sugarcoat anything.
Some of you know you aren’t saving enough money regularly but aren’t sure what an appropriate goal is. To begin, aim to save 10% of your income, with the eventual goal of reaching 20%.
Make a thorough plan by making a budget.
Setting goals, while important, is only the beginning.
To reach them, you need to make sure you have a guide to get you to the finish line.
For you, it’ll take the shape of a budget. A budget is simply a plan for how you’ll spend every dollar that leaves your bank account. No penny will be left behind!
The essence of your budget will consist of determining how much money you’ll spend during a month. If your household income is $4,000 per month and your goal is to save $800, that means you’ll have $3,200 to spend. A large chunk of it will likely go to paying your mortgage or rent. Another sizeable chunk will go to car payments, taxes, utilities, and groceries.
If you’re already facing a deficit, it merely means that you need to lower your expenses or increase your income. Ideally, you’ll do both during the cleanse.
A lot of people hear the word ‘budget’ and their immediate reaction is that it won’t work for them. And it won’t, at least not with that attitude. Budgeting has allowed me, my family, and many of my friends to save and invest a lot of money.
Don’t sell yourself short. Budgeting is simple, effective and liberating. You can do it.
You need to do it!
Track your spending like a hawk.
Swiping a credit card at the check out counter is so easy a baby could do it. The credit card companies figured out that credit cards made it easier for people to spend money because it didn’t feel like money.
When your parents and grandparents would go to the grocery store, they carried a checkbook and would write a check on the spot. The checkbook would need to be balanced so that they wouldn’t bounce a check, which means they always saw their bank balance before making any payment.
Imagine if before swiping any credit card, you were forced to stare at your bank account to make sure you had enough money. It would probably force you to spend less money, right?
While we no longer live in the times of checkbooks, you can still get a similar psychological benefit by tracking every dollar you spend.
You can do this by writing it down in a notebook or by leveraging an app like Qube to do it.
The more awareness you have of how you’re spending your money, the easier it will be for you to stick to your budget so that you can cleanse.
Qube can and should be your 1-stop-shop for your banking and budgeting needs. This is a big reason why.
Stop using credit cards — period.
Until you stabilize your spending and get things under control, you need to leave your credit cards at home. This is likely your first thought: “But what about all of the points I won’t earn?!”
To that, I say: “What about the extra years you’ll have to work if you don’t get your money situation under control?!” No amount of points is worth spending money you can’t afford. You won’t believe the number of people who reach out to me because they’re in a massive amount of debt and only have credit card points to show for it.
If you’re broke and you cannot get by without credit cards, then you need to make HUGE changes as soon as possible. You need to reduce your monthly expenses ASAP while increasing your income. This could mean lowering your car payment by trading in for something cheaper or renting out a spare bedroom in your home.
Since credit cards aren’t part of the solution, they’re part of the problem. In addition to the eye-watering interest rates, credit cards make it too easy to spend money you don’t have.
After a few weeks of not using credit cards, you’ll see that your spending will drop. Easy peasy.
The best cleanse is sustainable.
As you can see, I don’t have a magic pill you can take to cleanse yourself from the holiday spending hangover overnight. It requires hard work and dedication to get on the right track.
The beauty, however, is that these are life-long skills you can apply to your finances throughout the rest of your life. Getting organized, setting goals, creating a plan, and cutting out toxic behaviors aren’t only the path to recovery but the same tools you’ll use to build a solid financial foundation for your family.
Sure, you could cut your spending for 30 days and save up some money, but you’ll end up right here again next year because sacrificing for a few months doesn’t help you develop the skills you’ll need to make healthy long-term financial decisions.
So whether you need a quick detox or a complete financial overhaul, you’re now equipped to tackle the financial hurdles in your way. Take it one step at a time.