Just like dirty laundry that tends to pile up if left unintended, keeping your financial house organized can feel like a gargantuan task. As my former boss used to say before we tackled a huge project: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
As you step into the new year, boosting your finances will come down to creating manageable tasks.
Here are a handful of simple habits you can form, in both in the short- and long-term, to improve your financial situation on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Read on to learn more.
Daily: Check Your Balance
Checking your bank balance achieves several goals: You can check for fishy transactions, make sure your transactions are accurate, and glean insights on your spending patterns and habits. More importantly, keeping tabs on your bank account balance can help you see if you’re in financial hot water or if you’re in danger of incurring overdraft fees. No bueno.
I check my bank balance through a bank app every morning. It takes all but five seconds, and gives me an idea of how much I have left to spend until the end of the month.
While you technically only need to set up recurring transfers once, setting your savings to auto-pilot is something that will help you with both short- and long-term goals. I auto-save for pretty much everything: vacations, musical instruments, writing retreats, a down payment for a car, and so forth. I even auto-save into a splurge fund that I use to spend on whatever I darn please. Setting this up is easy and only takes a few minutes. Even five dollars a week adds up to $260 a year. And trust me, that money can certainly come in handy down the line.
Speaking of this: If you’re a Chime member and set up direct deposit, you can even auto-save a percentage of your paycheck.
Weekly: Create a Weekly Spending Plan
Behavioral economics have shown that you’ll gain greater control over your finances if you review your budget weekly. Because you’re dealing with fewer transactions, it’s more manageable to see what is coming in and out of your accounts. And even though a lot of bills are paid monthly, breaking up your budget into weekly increments will help you anticipate and predict your expenses. What’s more, if you get paid bi-weekly, you may have less money the second week than the first.
I budget for everything the week ahead. If I know I’ll be going out for dinner or out with friends for happy hour, I’ll factor this in and scale back on, say, how much I spend on groceries that week.
Here’s another idea: Set aside a certain amount for your recurring, predictable bills. Then divvy up the remainder for your discretionary spending. Over time, you’ll be able to gauge how much you roughly spend each month for groceries, gas, eating out, entertainment, personal items, and so forth.
Weekly: Commit to Changing One Small Thing
What’s one minor adjustment you can make to improve your finances? It might be brown-bagging it to work a few days out of the week, or perhaps taking public transit. Spend a tad too much time on Instagram following your favorite influencers and brands? Try unfollowing for a month and see if you can rein in your purchases.
Small changes I’ve made include creating a “want” list of items I’d like but don’t necessarily need. Then I wait about a month to see if I’m still feeling the urge to splurge. I’ve also stopped eating out while I’m out and about on my own. Instead, I’ll typically dine out with company.
Monthly: Do a Budget Check-In
While it’s best to create a spending plan every week, check in at least once a month to see what tweaks you can make it the coming months. For instance, last year I realized I’m far better off paying for a series of yoga classes than joining a gym. And because I rarely used my Deskpass subscription, which is the ClassPass equivalent of co-working, I canceled my membership.
Monthly budget check-ins also help you plan for one-off expenses, like insurance premiums and spending over the holidays.
Monthly: Go on a Money Date
Carve out some dedicated time each month to go on a money date—either with yourself or with a partner or friend. It’s a great time to check on the progress of your goals and envision what you ultimately want. You can even populate a vision board with what you want to achieve with your money. For example, maybe you want to take time off to work on a passion project, manifest a magical vacation to Bora Bora, or purchase your first house.
Money dates are also a great time to iron out challenges. If you anticipate a rough financial patch, drum up solutions on how you can get through the coming months. Or, if you and your partner disagree about your financial goals, a money date is a good time to hash things out.
Monthly: Autopay Your Bills
If you can swing it, set up autopay on as many bills as possible. Of course, that’s far easier if you have a steady paycheck. If you’re a freelancer or gig economy worker, and get different income at varying times, consider syncing up your bills to retainer clients. For instance, let’s say you’re a freelance graphic designer. You have one client who pays you a certain amount each month, and the money typically drops into your bank account on the 15th of the month.
Because that’s money you can count on, assign that paycheck to your “big rock” bills (aka rent or credit card bill).
Another tactic? Get ahead one month on your bills. This means that by the end of any given month, you’ll have enough cash in your account to cover the next month’s bills. While this seems like a tall order, you can get started by saving up a month’s worth of living expenses to get the ball rolling.
Break It Down Into Bite-Sized Pieces
Tending to financial well-being is definitely more feasible if you chunk things down. By following these tips and committing to an hour or two a month to organize your finances, you’ll be on your way to forming better money habits.