Without going down the rabbit hole of nutrition advice, getting in shape is essentially calories in versus calories out. Simple, but not easy. Translated into money terms, this is cash in versus cash out. With that in mind, creating a budget is similar to going on a diet. In the beginning, the excitement of making progress with your finances quickly turns into the reality of a tedious task that is easy to skip. How do we make it stick? Turn the tracking of your expenses into a habit. The easiest way to do that is to tie it to something you already do. For example, if you eat lunch at your desk at work, pull up your online bank account and record expenses immediately after opening your sandwich. Not an Excel expert? There are free online resources like mint.com, which can aid this process. Tracking calories identifies the worst offenders, providing intrinsic motivation to omit those offenders from future consumption. With your money, this becomes, “I spent how much on streaming services last month? I need to fix that.”
Saving money is a natural byproduct of the budgeting process. However, a checking account can be the most dangerous place for a recently saved dollar because we are very good at finding something to buy. The solution? Automate your savings AKA “pay yourself first.” Consider increasing the amount of your retirement plan contributions or setting up an automatic contribution to your child’s 529 plan. Just like those recurring subscription costs, automated savings become out of sight and out of mind, except you are the beneficiary instead of a company. A helpful trick if you are just looking to increase your emergency savings: set up a bank account at a separate institution and decline to set up online banking. Arrange for an automatic transfer from your main bank or directly from your check into this new account. Without the convenience of online banking providing you with daily updates on your balance, you will be surprised how the account grows outside of your field of vision.
In my last post, I talked about the importance of getting your affairs in order to prepare loved ones for your untimely death. Getting organized provides benefits to you during your lifetime as well. Much like my wife and I gazing at a living room filled with Legos, toys, and sofa cushions, the challenge is where to start. Working with a professional provides a second set of eyes while identifying potential areas of improvement. I often tell people, “just send me everything, and I’ll sort through it.” Removing the mental stress from the organization process is the push people sometimes need.
Personal trainers receive an uptick in clients every year when the calendar turns for good reason. People like the motivation they provide as well as their expertise. Working with a financial professional can offer the same benefits for your finances.
For more information, visit www.contwealth.com.
David Rath, CFA is the Director of Portfolio Strategies at Continuum Wealth Advisors in Saratoga Springs. Continuum Wealth Advisors, LLC is a Registered Investment Advisor registered through the Securities and Exchange Commission.