*Note, this is my longest post by far, but also my best researched. Click around to find some helpful resources. My favourite comes at the very end!
I’m not gonna lie, I’ve been dreading this post. This week I’m feeling especially horrible about my spending habits. Last week I spent over $40 on random books, because if there is a sale table at Chapters I feel it is my duty to save the books and take them home. They have that big sale sticker, so they must be a great deal! Never mind the fact that my bookshelf is overflowing with (mostly) unread books.
To make matters worse, Sunday was Mother’s day and I wanted to build my mom a super cool terrarium and get my boyfriend’s mom a beautiful plant to add to her collection. Unfortunately, plants are another impulse item for me, so for every plant I bought as a gift, I got one (or two) for myself. Books and plants, I never claimed to be cool.
In the process of building the terrarium, I ruined a large quantity of the glass I bought and had to buy more. Some of it I ruined by cutting poorly, and some of it I ruined by stepping on, because I should not be trusted with glass.
I ended up with two small terrariums, a massive bucket of glass shards that my dad is trying to figure out how to dispose of (sorry dad), and a credit card statement I’m scared of looking at. On the bright side, I totally mastered glass cutting, so if you ever need some tips, hit me up.
All of this to emphasize that I wasn’t exaggerating in my last article. I really do suck with money, but I’m honestly trying to get better.
Here is some advice people who are much better with money than I am have given me to help:
1. Track Everything and Create a Budget
You obviously know that making budget is important, but if you don’t have a solid idea of what money is coming in and out, you’re never going to know what you can really afford to spend.
Start by going through your bank and credit statements from the last few months and breaking things into categories. Something like this:
From here, calculate what each category is costing as a percentage of your income. A good rule of thumb is that no more than 30% of your income should be spent on housing and no more than 9-14% should be spent on food.
A quick Google search will help you determine if your spending in the other categories is reasonable for your income, this is a good place to start. If it’s out of whack, now you know where you have to cut down. Now you can put a number on what you should ideally be spending on everything in a month, and start tracking.
Time to redo your chart:
Now you know what you can afford, and how you’re doing staying within that month to month.
To help me keep track, I personally like the MoneyWise app; it’s intuitive to use and gives you up to date graphs of your spending and earnings based on the categories you set. But there are endless options out there, so take a look!
2. Paying Down Debt Should be Your Top Priority
Full disclosure, because my amazing, financially savvy parents agreed to pay my school and living costs for 4 years, and I lucked out with some really cheap rent the following two years, I have never had any debt. But I know a lot of people who do, and I know how important it is to pay down.
Debt is one of those things everyone hopes will go away if they ignore it long enough. But there’s this little thing called interest that makes ignoring it a truly stupid idea.
Before you allow yourself any guilt-free spending or even put a dime in your savings account, make sure you’re paying as much as you can to outstanding debt, especially if it’s high interest. Even though your savings are important for emergencies, and you know, life, it doesn’t make you money.
But paying debt early cuts the interest and saves you in the long run.
I’m not saying to forget your savings altogether, but calculate a reasonable debt repayment plan first, even if it means cutting down your savings for a little while.
If you have debt from a lot of sources, inquire with your bank about consolidating your various debt into one line of debt with a better interest rate.
This will make your debt a lot easier to manage!
3. NEVER Get a Payday Loan
I’ll make this short, it doesn’t matter how bad your situation is, don’t do it. These are also called predatory loans because they take advantage of your vulnerability and drown you in so much interest that you WILL NEVER STOP OWING.
4. It Doesn’t Matter if You’re 20, Start Saving For Retirement!
I know it seems like a really distant goal, but most Millennials don’t have retirement plans through work, so it’s vital that we do the legwork ourselves. And the sooner, the better.
If you’re in Canada, you’ll want to start an RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan). Start by going to your own bank and ask about the types of RRSPs they offer, how they work, what types of investment portfolios you can make, and the fees associated. Then shop around at a few other banks/financial institutions and compare the information they give you.
When you decide who you want to go with, be prepared to offer two types of ID and fill out an application that asks about your investment knowledge and goals, how much you made last year (bring a Notice of Assessment from the Canada Revenue Agency), any pension plans you receive through work, and your beneficiaries in case of death.
Finally, you’ll want to decide how much to transfer every month (having a pension will impact what you can contribute). Here is a handy dandy calculator to help you decide.
If you’re in the U.S., you’ll want to open an IRA (Individual Retirement Arrangement). First, you’ll want to take the same steps as Canadians, shopping around for the right financial institution. Ask about the differences between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA, and the type of investment portfolio you can make.
You’ll need at least $1000 to start your IRA, so depending on your situation, you may need to budget some savings. And like Canadians, you’ll need to know who your beneficiaries will be. Morbid, but important.
If you live in any other country, I’m sorry, you’ll have to Google your options.
5. Set Savings Aside BEFORE Spending Any Flexible Income
About 100 times now, I’ve decided how much I want to save every month. I even went to the bank and signed up for a savings account so I could keep my savings separate from my spendable cash (highly recommend). But do you think I actually go into my checking account every month and move it into the savings account? HELL NO.
It sits in the account attached to my debit cart, and if I’m feeling extra impulsive, it goes bye bye. Or, because I generally don’t buy anything out of the fear I can’t afford it, it stays in my checking account making almost no interest.
Don’t do this!
Instead, do yourself a favour, once you decide how much you can afford to set aside every month, take 30 seconds and set up an auto transfer to a separate savings account. Don’t give yourself the ability to even consider that part of your flexible “oh, I just need a night out with my friends” money.
Just pretend you don’t even have this money…until you need it. If you lose your job, or you run into some kind of emergency, you’ll be a lot happier having this nest egg set aside than grabbing dinner and drinks a few more times a month.
6. Have More Than One Source of Income
Spoiler alert, I’ll be writing a whole blog post sometime in the future about why your 9-5 isn’t as secure as you think, but the highlight is important here: if you get fired or laid off, what’s plan B?
The whole “don’t put your eggs in one basket” thing is particularly salient when it comes to your finances.
Even if you don’t get the boot, sticking to the money you earn at your day job means you’re giving yourself almost no control over your income. From the research I’ve done, self-made millionaires have around 5-7 sources of income. You don’t have to reach that, but a little more stability would probably be nice.
And I get it, you’re exhausted at the end of a long day, and you don’t want to pick up a part time job or start a side hustle. These are definitely options, but they aren’t the only way to make some extra cash.
Ideally, you want something that’s passive anyway. This could come from investments, or putting yourself out for a short time to create something that continues to earn. For me, what comes to mind is a man who noticed how popular Spanish Bible apps are, but how horrible every one of those apps were.
He had some programming knowledge, so he improved the design and sold his own. This guy is cleaning up without having to put in any additional work. So, what can you create that solves a problem and might involve an initial time investment, but becomes a passive income?
Here is a list from Entrepreneur to help you get some ideas, but get creative!
7. Sell Items You Don’t Need and Avoid Buying New
When I want to get rid of something, I tend to just dump it at the nearest charity shop or ask my friends if they want it. While this is ok for some things, I’ve probably – no definitely – gotten rid of things I could have re-sold.
I know it sounds daunting and annoying, but if the item you’re getting rid of is worth something, you should be the one getting money for it. Luckily, there are a million and one ways you can do this online. Here are a list of sites where you can sell or trade clothing, and for anything else there are always eBay, Craigslist, and Kijiji.
Just make sure you’re being safe if you’re meeting someone in person. Do it at a neutral location like a mall parking lot, and bring a friend with you to the transaction.
On the flip side, if you’re really in need of something and you’re on a budget (which, if you’re reading this you should be) buying second hand is the best way to go. You can find high-quality items for a fraction of the cost if you’re willing to dig a little.
Shopping at places like IKEA may seem like the thrifty, headache free option, but the quality of larger items is garbage and you will be lucky if they ever make it through a move.
Similarly, discount clothing shops and outlets usually make lesser quality goods MADE to be sold at a lower price and slap on a bogus MRSP (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price) to make you feel like you’re getting a good deal.
No word of a lie, the majority of my wardrobe these days comes from thrift shopping. And I actually get the most compliments on clothing I buy this way. I know some of you are cringing at the thought, but it will save you a ton of money, give it a try!
If you REALLY hate the idea of thrifting, try DIYing small things that can cost big. I love The Sorry Girls for finding projects.
I’ve included a lot of resources throughout this post, but one of my favourite sources is The Financial Diet. They make becoming a money expert really accessible to people like me, who didn’t have a clue. They also have a YouTube channel if you’re tired of reading after this monster post.
Now, down to the tough part for me. I’ve talked a lot about being terrible with money and trying to get better, so I’m challenging myself to do everything I can from this article by the end of next week.
If you want to join me in this challenge, let’s talk about it in the comments and on Twitter!