Money is the fuel that allows you to power your goals. But sometimes that same fuel makes you feel uncertain and stressed—like it could backfire at any time or even run out, leaving you stranded. Fortunately, you possess the greatest power source of all: mindfulness.
Here are ten simple actions to help you stay on track and thrive.
Choose what you want your relationship with money to be. Ask yourself questions like:
“What do I want to change?”
“How do I see myself acting differently with money: Spending less? Saving more? Becoming more knowledgeable and organized?”
“What fears do I want to limit and shift?”
2. Make a Snapshot
Create your current financial picture. To go somewhere new, you need to know where you’re at. Make a list of all your accounts, including account numbers and contact information from bank accounts, savings, life insurance, credit cards, loans, investments, and/or retirement accounts. Add up your assets and debts to determine your net worth. This will let you visualize exactly where you’re starting from and help you measure progress moving forward.
3. Create a Budget
Whether you spend $1,000 or $10,000 a month, everyone should know where their money goes. This helps you plan for irregular expenses and avoid the “spending creep” that so often happens over time.
Evaluate your past three to six months of spending. This time frame will give you an accurate average. Mint.com is a great tool for tracking everything. Mint will pull data from your accounts so you can review all your expenses in one place and they will cease to be a mystery.
Which purchases do you feel best about? Which ones do you most regret? Is your spending aligned with your core values? Look for categories where you spend unconsciously. If there are purchases where you say to yourself, “I don’t even remember spending that money…” then those are clear places to make changes.
Set a regular time for yourself, partner, or family to meet and mindfully discuss current and future spending goals. Set spending intentions for your unconscious spending, then set aside that money each month in cash and commit to only spending what you’ve budgeted.
4. Simplify Through Automation
Technology simplifies personal finance. In the wee hours of the morning on days you receive your paycheck, you can create a flurry of activity in your financial life that requires hardly any effort on your part. Credit card bills can be paid, savings contributions transferred, insurance premiums debited, retirements invested—all before you change out of your pajamas.
Figuring out a system that works for you can not only save you a ton of time, but can be safer, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly. Instead of check-writing, envelope-stuffing, and stamp-licking, a few simple clicks will give you instant gratification.
Automation helps a complicated process go on auto-pilot. It establishes recurring payments so you never miss a bill, it’s debited directly from your bank account on the day you choose, and it helps you treat savings accounts and seasonal expenses seriously. Take a few minutes to set up your system (while taking the necessary steps to protecting yourself and your finances, of course) then kick back and watch it work. What will you do with all the time you save?
5. Do One Thing Differently
If you’re not good at making or keeping new habits, decide to do just one thing differently with your money. It might be something simple like tracking your spending or automatically contributing to your savings. Whatever it is, small changes can make a huge difference. Over the course of a year, find out just how much a little change can accomplish.
6. Look Back, Look Ahead
Don’t find yourself in last-minute money scrambles. They’re stressful and create uncertainty. Take a little time to look ahead at your year.
Tax time is seemingly always around the corner. You’re always getting some sort of tax form, bank statement, or custodian paperwork and the like. Now is a good time to create a folder to gather them all. Make a habit to collect all your relevant receipts for the year so you’re never caught searching for them on a deadline.
Also, ask yourself, are you expecting any big changes this year, like having a baby or getting married? Check what you paid in taxes the prior year to see if you need to adjust your W-2 withholdings or tax prepayments. If you have a flexible spending account, gather your best estimate for your medical expenses for the year ahead so you know how much to contribute.
Finally, understand your health insurance. Whether you bought a new insurance policy or are on the same policy as last year, check out any changes in benefits and plan accordingly. For example, free coverage for preventative care has been vastly expanded and kids can now stay on their parents’ policies until age 26.
7. Set Up a Retirement Account
It’s easy to focus on today and not tomorrow. But the benefits of planning ahead will help give you a sense of control now, as well as peace of mind about the future. If you haven’t already, now is the best time to reach out to a tax professional or financial advisor and find out what retirement account makes the most sense for you.
In addition to exploring IRA’s, 401(k)’s, profit-sharing, SEP’s or Roth’s, don’t forget to review any current employer-sponsored benefits or plans you may already have.
8. Forgive the Past
Emotions are routinely overlooked and downplayed in finance, but they are a huge unconscious influence on our behavior. Forgive yourself for past mistakes you’ve made. Let go of old stories about how you’re no good with money. Those stories only reinforce an inaccurate belief that you’re not good with money, and you’ll end up continuing the cycle of bad habits. Free yourself to write a new story: you are a person who cares enough about themselves to maximize your financial life.
9. Be Grateful
Make a gratitude list. Feeling abundant begins with acknowledging and appreciating things as they are. Notice the good in your life now. Notice how good it feels making plans. You are enough as you are, and gratitude helps us to see that truth.
10. Find A Financial Accountability Partner
We reach our goals faster with help and accountability. Think of a personal trainer helping us reach weight loss and fitness goals. Hiring a financial advisor is like having a personal trainer for your money. A financial advisor knows the best exercises for helping people move toward their best financial future.