I’ve never been very good at saving money. I have annoyingly expensive taste and trouble putting my hard earned money away. Even worse, my husband has the same problem! We’re a match made in asset managers’ hell. The good news is that we both want to save more and even though it doesn’t come naturally, we have found ways to make it work.
My friend Jessica recently wrote a blog post about tidying up different areas of your life which inspired me to share with you guys what we’re doing to “tidy up” and get a better handle on our finances.
In my early 20s, I was so excited to be working hard and getting paychecks that I “treated myself” far too often, telling myself that I deserved it. I’m a big believer in self care and treating yourself when the time is right, but it’s a balance and you’ll appreciate it so much more if you do it less often. When Anel and I got married (I was 27), I suddenly felt like a grown up and realized that we had to make a big change in how we handled our money. We started working with a financial advisor who has taught us so much.
From what I’ve learned through him and my experience over the last few years, here are my seven tips for organizing your finances in a way that will make you feel more in control of what can be a very scary area of life.
7 Steps to Organize Your Finances
1. Set Your Goals. Figure out what your goals are. Starting a family? Buying a house? Saving up for a vacation? Whatever your goals may be, they will set the tone for how you organize your savings and budgets.
2. Start an Emergency Savings Account. I didn’t realize the importance of this until we had a big and unexpected expense a about a year ago. I felt so guilty taking a large amount of money out of our down payment savings, but we didn’t have any other choice. We’ve now set up a specific account for emergencies that we don’t touch unless we absolutely need to. We grew this account slowly so that it covers three months of our combined salaries. This gives me peace of mind that if anything happens we’re covered… At least for a little while. Three months of salary might seem daunting but you can put a little bit into this account each month and slowly grow it up. Even while doing everything else I’m about to lay out, you should constantly be adding to your emergency account.
3. Specific Goal Savings Account. In step one, I talked about laying out your goals. Now it’s time to start saving for them! For us, our most important goal is to buy a house. Unfortunately Fairfield County, CT is not a cheap place to live so it’s going to take a little while to reach this goal. I’m not discouraged, however, because we put a big chunk of our salaries into this account every month. How did we decide on the amount? We set a date for when we want to buy (in about a year from now), guessed at about how much we want to spend on a home, and then worked backwards from there.
4. Set Up Retirement Savings. It’s weird to think about retirement in your 20s and 30s but it’s extremely important. Unless you have a trust fund or some other guaranteed form of retirement income, the time to start saving is now. If your employer offers a 401k benefit, put as much as you can into this account. If they match any amount, that’s even better! Talk to whoever handles your benefits about whether you should be contributing to a Roth or traditional 401k. I opt for Roth because it means you get taxed on the money now and not when you take it out in 40 years and you’re part of a higher tax bracket (hopefully!). If you’re like me and have had multiple jobs since college, you can combine all of your old 401k accounts into one IRA. I just opened a Fidelity IRA and combined my last 3 401k’s into it. Now I have one login to manage, and it all feels much less stressful. It was definitely a huge pain to get all of the money transferred but I dedicated one afternoon to making it happen and feel so much better now that I did.
So now I have a Roth 401k account at work and a rollover IRA account with all of my old contributions rolled into one.
5. Pay Down Debt. I’m very lucky that I’ve never had any debt. My parents planned extremely well so that I never had student loans and I’ve never let myself go crazy with a credit card. A lot of my friends, however, have struggled with both loans and credit card debt and what has helped them is to consolidate the debt and pay it off monthly.
6. Create and Stick to Weekly Budgets. A few months ago we sat down with our financial advisor and went through every single regular weekly, monthly, and quarterly expense that we have. We wrote down everything from our car payments to rent to Netflix and Spotify. We subtracted that amount from our monthly income. Then we subtracted the amount we wanted to save each month from that number. We were left with our weekly budget, what we could spend every week. (If you have debt, paying that down would be included in monthly expenses) For us, it felt way too stressful to get super granular about spending X on groceries and Y on dining out so the system we use allows us X dollars each week to spend on whatever we choose. As long as we stay within that limit, we’re good to go!
7. Stay on Top of It. Once you get everything set up, it takes work to manage. If you get a raise, change jobs, or get laid off, your weekly budgets will change. If you get unexpectedly pregnant, your goals will suddenly shift. Although talking and thinking about my finances gives me serious anxiety, my husband and I sit down once a month to review the previous month and to talk about what we should change or not for the following month.
We use a service called Learnvest to keep track of our budgets and savings. With them we also got two calls with one of their advisors who reviewed everything I talked about above plus insurance policies and more. It has definitely been a great investment (PS this is not at all sponsored, I just really love this service!).