(especially if you’re in college.)
Based on what I’ve read and experienced first hand about building and maintaining a better relationship with my finances, here are the three biggest takeaways I want to share after managing most my day-to-day spending and saving on my own for about a year.
For the record, I am not a financial advisor and cannot be held liable from any financial damages that result from the practice of the things that I am about to mention. These tips aren’t for everyone, but they are what has worked for me. I can share specifics eventually but these are the mindsets and strategies that have helped me meet my savings goals over the past few years.
1. Ditch the spreadsheets (for the most part).
I’ve had experiences on both side of the spectrum when it comes to managing my money. I’ve created elaborate spreadsheets and databases in Notion and Excel that I would log my purchases, deposits and occasional interest like any other person, and would check my bank account every day, twice a day to make sure there were no discrepancies. I’ve also been on the side where I removed any and all capabilities to spend money from any of my electronic devices, and swiped cards and made purchases without thinking twice. Both had their practical purposes, but micromanaging my money stressed me out and not thinking about it at all, while relieving, wasn’t a great practice.
What I’ve found to work best is to create a system that allows you to be mindful of your money while still being able to enjoy spending it. Here’s what I do: I take a look at month-by-month spending trends (your bank or financial advisory app usually does this for you) and cap my spending limit to about $20 below what my average is. I also set biweekly reminders for me to check in with my spending, and forget about it for every moment in between. Removing banking apps from my phone to stop compulsive checking of my account balance has allowed me to let go of the extreme guilt I used to have when spending money, and automating credit card payments and savings transfers has allowed me to focus on money as a tool that I can leverage to make myself and others happy instead of a superficial topic to make uncomfortable small talk about. Speaking of automation…
2. Reward and automate good behaviors.
People’s propensity to practice good financial habits are much higher if they choose to automate it instead of wasting a bunch of time once a month to type in numbers and reset passwords (bonus tip: use a password manager). There’s research that shows that not only does automation does increase savings, but even beyond that, it strengthens people’s ‘saving identity’ which in turn reenforces their ability and tendencies to put money aside for a future savings goal. Open a Roth IRA (what’s that?) or ask your employer about their 401(k) policies (what’s a 401(k)?) and automate the process of moving some money to that long-term retirement account.
Just be sure to check in on your savings goals once every few months and even though it seems counterintuitive, reward good behaviors (like saving) with spending money on something you love. I suppose you can brute force your way to good financial habits, but the more you can change your attitude towards money towards it being a tool with which you can change your surroundings and make your life easier, the easier it becomes to practice what are considered good spending and saving habits.
3. Remind yourself that you are in control.
Casey Neistat has a brilliant video about our relationship with money and how it does solve some of our problems. He argues that having more money no longer drastically improves people’s lives after their basic needs are met, and there’s also research out there to support that after earning about 75,000 USD/year, people’s happiness and fulfillment starts to plateau, and even decline. Ramit Sethi, a personal finance author has also made a suggestion about how to think about money and work towards financial goals. He explains that micromanaging finances and depriving yourself of lattes isn’t a sustainable way to achieve desirable financial outcomes, and instead taking the stance of “spending exuberantly on the things you care about while cutting costs ruthlessly on the things that matter less” will help you achieve said outcomes without deprivation and pulling your hair out over nickels and dimes (a bad habit of mine, in a not-so-distant past). Both of these statements have allowed me to think about money as something as, again, a tool with which I can change my surroundings with instead of being a stressor.
I’ve also previously struggled with trying to copy budgets and lifestyles from online personalities, and getting frustrated when my results didn’t match in the same kind of fulfillment and success that was a byproduct of their lifestyle. Personal finance is inherently “personal” for a reason, and to worry about what other people are doing and trying to copy their lifestyle and spending habits dollar for dollar is an extraneous and unnecessary worry. If you’re at a place where you aren’t working to immediately put food on the table and have the capacity to put aside any amount of money, do that and adjust it to what your lifestyle demands.
If you remember nothing else from this article, I want you to think about this– while a lot of things in your day-to-day life are outside of your control, the attitude you take towards money is. Ultimately, that is what will dictate the amount of discomfort and stress (or lack thereof) you feel towards money as a part of your life.