I did not start out as a budgeting super star. I made lots of mistakes along the way. But once I got the hang of it, I was hooked. I loved the process of figuring out how to save for a goal, and getting a clear picture of how long -- and how much -- it would take. But that only worked when I was dealing with the paper version of my budget. I had aced the ability to build a mean spreadsheet, but it took me a while longer to learn how to actually live within my budget.
It was the spur of the moment purchases, the extra social outings that always seemed to sink me. (I admit. I had a hard time saying no to a night out with friends on account of it "not fitting into my budget"). Usually, I chose to forget the budget and have fun. Inevitably, I would fall behind every month -- basically I was a pauper trying to live like a Kardashian.
Like most goals, setting the plan is the easy part. It's sticking to it that most of us find challenging.
Even with the best plans, there may be parts of your budget or financial strategy that need tweaking now that you're almost halfway through the school year. With Financial Literacy Month wrapped up, now is a good time to take stock of how your budget is coming along. Much like the practice of yoga, it's important to bring mindfulness and awareness to your budget and spending habits -- but perhaps not while wearing overpriced yoga pants! When reviewing your finances, you can stay in the black with these three smart money strategies:
- Be mindful of spending creep: It's often the little things that add up. While you might be diligently sticking to your budget on the big items, you may have become a bit too comfortable with that morning latte habit, iTunes download or takeout meal.
- Tip: Comb through your budget looking for regular or reoccurring small expenses that you hadn't planned for and brainstorm ways to get this number down. It doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy your morning coffee, but maybe limit it to once a week, make it at home or opt for regular drip coffee instead. Remember how I just said the little things add up? Divert that one small expense into a separate account, such as a tax-free savings account or one that earns high interest.
- Be a mindful tapper: Contactless payment gives us a seamless user experience, often allowing for faster service. But it can also make it easier to order an Uber instead of walking, or flash the Starbucks app without thinking about the full financial total of those experiences.
- Tip: Unless you're super disciplined, try giving yourself a weekly cash allowance as a way to control spending -- the idea being that once you've burned through what's in your wallet, you can't take out any more cash that week (or cheat and resort to your debit or credit card!)
- Be mindful of what you owe: For many students, using credit is a necessary tool. You may need to take on a student loan or a line of credit to help pay for school. But you may use a credit card for other expenses, where it's sometimes easy to think that50 here or there doesn't make much difference. You might be surprised at how long it can take to pay off credit and how quickly interest adds up.
- Tip: Check in now to make sure you haven't taken on more than you had planned, and if you have, you need to create a new budget and either find ways to reduce spending elsewhere, or make more money to cover these costs.
If you review your finances and find that you've stuck to your budget, congratulations, that's awesome! And if you managed to save some money, now might be the time to reward yourself. Treat a friend to coffee or buy yourself a small gift that might make your day a bit better. Then, set yourself a reminder to review your finances again three months from now, with the same deal to reward yourself for sticking to your budget. And know that the mindful practices you're putting into place now will lead to greater financial well-being in the future.
My trusty budget spreadsheet ended up being an invaluable tool that helped me make better decisions. (And I still use the basis of it to this day.) It helped me to prioritize what was important to me. Did I really need to buy the top of the line gourmet grocery items? If so, that meant I had to cut back on something else. Or maybe I could make shopping at a discount grocer work for me instead. I became a much better bargain hunter, more aware of the value for money, and when I chose to splurge on items like a new purse or pair of shoes, I had to be OK with cutting back elsewhere.
One other thing my budget showed me: I really hate sacrificing certain things. So I got myself a part time job to supplement my income and give myself a little extra pocket money to have fun. There is always a way to achieve our goals -- we just have to start with a plan.
Now that we've explored ways to keep control of our budget, it's time to explore how we can get more money. In my next post I'll explore the world of scholarships and bursaries, and why these are important options for students at all stages.
What spending creep or other challenges have you noticed in managing your budget? Tweet us @RBC_Canada and let us know!
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