Not to get all Minnesotan on you, but seriously, oofdah. Money is rough. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that I have a job that pays well enough that I can more or less pay my bills, but trying to stay on top of said bills is slightly exhausting.
I’ll be honest with you, I’m not super great with money. I’m not totally irresponsible, but I really enjoy shopping. Amazon and I get along super well. I tend to buy odd things too. My recent purchases include a new planner, what is supposed to be the best underwear for travel, the Scots translation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and a large bag of dog food. None of these are huge purchases, but they do tend to add up. Plus the occasional Target run that somehow always totals at least $50. And I love going out to restaurants. Basically, I have a problem with not being stingy with my money, which leads to somewhat startling credit card balances each month. Never totally insurmountable, but considerably higher than I would like. Carrying a balance on a credit card is no fun.
Add to that student loans, car loans, and two mortgages. Super fun.
I have finally begun to take steps to be more responsible and proactive when it comes to my spending and my debt. I am not someone who will get all gung-ho to be debt free. That doesn’t seem like any kind of fun to me. Being debt free would be great, but I want to have a life in the meantime. Baby-steps.
Here, for your reading pleasure and in no particular order, are the steps I am taking and tools I am using to get a handle on my finances. Fell free to steal any and all ideas that you feel might work for you.
*Disclaimer: I’m not getting paid for any of the links below, which is a real bummer. But it means that what follows are things I have actually found useful.
1. 50/20/30 Budget
I learned about this budgeting method at thepennyhoarder.com. This is a useful website, but they do have a ton of sponsored links, so take their advice with a grain of salt. The 50/20/30 budget is basically this: 50% of your income goes toward essentials, 20% goes toward financial goals, and 30% goes towards whatever you like. It’s a great budget for someone like me who really likes having a life. For me, the 50% includes all the money that goes to my joint account with my husband, which covers our major bills and mortgage payments. The rest of the 50% includes car payments, minimum student loan payments, credit card minimums, healthcare costs, and gas. The 20% includes extra student loan payments, extra credit card payments, extra car payments, and savings. The 30% is for everything else like Netflix, Spotify, shopping, eating out, haircuts, etc. I’ve been using this budget since November and it is working pretty well!
This brings me to my next tool. Spreadsheets. I use google drive for this, but Excel works too, or whatever Macs use. Below is what my 50/20/30 Spreadsheet looks like. I’ve left a lot of the details out because, you know, privacy, but take a gander anyway.
PS – color coding helps.
If tracking all your spending every month in a spreadsheet sounds super time consuming, you’re right. That is where tool #3 comes in. Mint.com is a website and app that you can connect to your credit card and bank accounts and have it track your spending for you. It has lots of nifty charts and graphs too. You can tell it what your budget is for a variety of categories, and it will alert you if you are getting close to overspending. Super handy. Then, at the end of each month, you can use the app to tell you what you have spent in each category, which will cut down on spreadsheet time.
I find the Ebates TV commercials annoying and a little scam-like. However, I decided to try the website after hearing a real live acquaintance say that she had had a good experience. Basically you create an account at Ebates.com and install a tool on your internet browser. Whenever you go to an Ebates partner site, a little notification will pop up asking if you want to activate cash back. Once you do, anything you spend on that site will get you a certain percentage of cash back through Ebates. Then Ebates will send you a check or a paypal deposit each month with however much cash back you have earned. This is less of a financial tool and more of a nifty money related thing I have found.
Along similar lines, there is an app called Dosh which you can link to your credit cards to earn cash back on your spending. Nothing fancy, but it’s earned me $15 I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
6. Capital One Credit Card
I was having a conversation about credit cards this weekend with some girlfriends, so I thought I’d include this here as well. I’ve had a Capital One Venture card for about 5 years now, and it’s been really solid. I like travelling, and this card has a “travel eraser.” You earn 2 points per dollar spent, and can then use those points to redeem travel expenses, including Uber and Lyft. Their customer service has been pretty stellar in my experience, their website and app are easy to use, and I’ve generally been happy with this card.
7. Ally Bank
In an effort to make the most out of what savings I have, I recently opened up a savings account with Ally Bank. This is an online only bank and a regular old savings account there has an interest rate of 1.2%. This is astronomically higher than my old savings account with Wells Fargo. Yay for making money without actually having to do anything. Plus their website and app are easy to use.
8. Awesome Husband
I told you this was in no particular order, otherwise this would be much higher on the list. My husband and I communicate remarkably well about money. He is supportive of my efforts to improve my spending habits, cheers my successes, worries respectfully when I spend too much, and doesn’t make me feel like a bad person when I am working to get back on track. He and I have a joint account for most of our bills and home related expenses, as well as some spending money for date nights and miscellaneous expenses. We also maintain our own checking accounts, savings accounts, and credit cards. We are responsible for our own car payments and student loans. The separate accounts also make Christmas and birthday surprises a little easier. So shout-out to my awesome partner in life!
9. Automatic Transfers
Back to actual money tools. Once I had my 50/20/30 budget in place, I knew how much I wanted to put towards savings and paying down debt. I immediately set up automatic transfers from my checking account to my savings and loan accounts so that I couldn’t back out. I send these payments on a weekly basis.
One last cool app. Digit is an app for your phone that you connect to your checking account. It tracks your spending habits and figures out when you have a little money to spare, then automatically transfers it to your digit savings account. You can transfer it back at any time without any penalties. You can also set specific savings goals. For example, I knew I was getting a new tattoo in about six months, so I told digit that I wanted to save $350 by January 15 to cover the cost of my tattoo. Then I just sat back and watched the savings accumulate. $1 here, $2.15 there, it began to add up. By the time January 15 rolled around, I had painlessly saved up more than enough for the tattoo. It was pretty nifty and I highly recommend it.
I hope some of these things are helpful or at least interesting to you. Adulting is hard. I’m a fan of anything that makes it a little more manageable.