At Worth Winning, we definitely believe in keeping things simple. The more streamlined your budget, the easier it is to maintain. The more clarity you have in your spending habits, the faster you will reach your goals. And the more attainable each goal is to reach, the greater your chances of success.
I know firsthand how crucial it is to put one foot in front of the other to reach the finish line. The key to winning is to start with the basics and then add in technique, determination, hard work, and good coaching.
In fact, good coaching is often the difference between being great and being good. You may already be skilled at managing your money, but add in some strategy and the right direction from a professional, and you can elevate your financial efforts into something pretty terrific.
Here are 12 simple strategies to use to keep your finances as simple as possible, help you create new habits, and ensure you achieve great results.
1. Know what comes in and what goes out.
The number one tip I offer my clients is to track expenses. Especially in the day of credit cards and online purchases, it is so easy to spend money without thinking twice about it. Automatic bill pay is a wonderful tool to keep your bills paid on time, but writing and reviewing your budget each month will help you see patterns in your spending and places where you can take more control over your finances.
2. Know your fixed expenses.
Pop quiz: How much is your monthly electric bill? How about water? Is that paid monthly or quarterly? How much do you pay each month in car insurance? It’s easy to throw up our hands and think that it doesn’t really matter what we spend on utilities because these are bills that simply must get paid. Yet being aware of your monthly electric bill can help you make a commitment to implementing small change, such as turning off the lights when you leave the room or unplugging appliances like your toaster or coffee maker when not in use. Knowing your water bill off the top of your head could help you think twice before running the dishwasher when it’s half empty. These small changes add up to create big results.
3. Turn off the TV.
Watching television is entertaining, but does tend to be an unproductive time suck. Americans sit too much anyway, so encouraging yourself to sit even more will not help your physical health, which in turn affects your financial health. Plus, the less you watch TV, the less you will want to pay for that cable bill. You can still watch your favorite shows with monthly subscription services like Hulu or Netflix, and by eliminating your monthly cable bill, you can easily save a thousand dollars or more each year. Then, you could put that money towards something fun like a trip or a new treadmill.
4. Limit your screen time.
The Internet makes it so easy for us to make purchases, especially when it comes to giving gifts and saving trips to the store. Free shipping is easier to find than ever, and items just show up at your door. It’s certainly convenient to shop this way, but internet shopping leads to an increase in discretionary spending, too. It’s hard to spend money when you’re taking a walk outside, so try to find more ways to look anywhere but on those screens.
5. Unsubscribe to email lists.
Once a month or so, go through your junk mail folder and start unsubscribing from the email lists from businesses. It’s easy to feel like you have the willpower to not buy things you don’t need until the email is delivered right there to your inbox, and all you have to do is click. Don’t let the temptation get in your face and lead to impulse purchases that can derail your budget and your goals.
6. Return things.
Have you ever bought something online and it wasn’t quite what you wanted or didn’t fit quite right and it wasn’t that expensive anyway so the hassle of returning it isn’t worth it? Stop doing that, and return the things that you don’t need or really, truly want. Bonus points if you return the items to the store and save money on shipping.
7. Search for coupon codes before making an online purchase.
When you do buy something online, make sure to take one simple, quick, and easy step before you hit “buy.” Open another browser window and search on “[name of store] coupon codes.” You’ll likely get a number of hits that you need to search through but you’ll know very quickly if any of the codes are current. Then simply input the code into the appropriate box at checkout, and voila – you can benefit from whatever deal the retailer is running at the time. A few extra minutes of web searching can net you an extra 10-25% off, free shipping, or both.
8. Negotiate (phone bill, cable, internet, car insurance).
Once a year, make a point to call each of these service providers: your telephone company (and/or wireless service provider), your Internet service provider, and your car insurance company. Tell them you are shopping around for the best deal and ask if they have any current promotions or other discounts that can help you lower your rates. Most of the time, discounts are there simply for the asking. A company may have restructured its service plans and you can take advantage of a new deal, or they may have discounts available for loyal customers. The money you save is worth the extra time on the phone.
9. Drink more water.
This is might sound like an odd tip, I know. The reason I have included this one is that drinking water might be the most important thing you can do for your physical health, which leads to healthy financial habits as well. Water is cheap, and the more you drink it, the more alert and less hungry you are, which leads to a clear head and better spending habits. Plus, it’s free.
10. Plan your meals.
Creating a menu and planning meals takes the stress out of eating at home, which prevents last-minute eating out. Restaurant meals are great as a treat but are not economical or terribly healthy to eat on a regular basis. Creating a meal plan can be quick and helps you focus your grocery shopping for the week, which helps eliminate impulse spending at the store.
11. Use the free stuff, even if it’s less convenient.
It’s a little less convenient to physically go to the library when you want to borrow or return a book, magazine, CD, or DVD, but libraries are a wonderful resource for culture and entertainment when you’re on a budget. Many public libraries have a host of community events and volunteer activities as well, making for fun, family-friendly, inexpensive entertainment. Libraries also have a host of online resources, such as language software, that you can use for free from the comfort of your own home.
12. Maximize the stuff you need to use. Turn down your thermostat. Turn off the lights.
Electricity is a necessity, as is heat, and in some climates or health situations, so is air conditioning. It may seem like these are expenses over which you have no control, but there are some things you can do to alleviate the financial burden of climate control. Buy a programmable thermostat, and make sure you use it. Adjusting your thermostat by even one percent saves money, and you likely won’t even feel the difference. And always turn off the lights when you leave the room.
I recommend choosing one of these habits to implement at a time so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Over the course of the next year, if you work on one new habit a month, you might be surprised by how much control you actually have over your finances.
If you’d like some help in finding ways to maximize your income, create a budget, or create new financial spending habits, give me a call. I’m happy to help.