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Did you ever have a year that just drained your bank account in a way you hadn’t imagined possible? It’s a scary feeling, and this was my year: Thankfully, I’ve been able to get myself back on track with the right personal finance hacks. As I’ve learned, you can budget until you’re blue in the face—and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t—but, it’s all the unexpected expenses that do you in. It’s a horrible feeling looking at your bank account and seeing a number that just doesn’t feel comfortable to you, so when that happened continuously, I knew I had to change things up.
As I said, this was my year. It all started in January with some medical expenses I hadn’t imagined—apparently, you can injure your knee from walking up too many stairs (I kid you not, especially after two expensive months of physical therapy and going down my duplex stairs on my behind). In February, I woke up one morning to find my mattress coil poking into my side, so I had to bite the bullet and hit “buy” on the Tuft & Needle mattress I’d been eyeing (yes, it’s heavenly, but I do wish I’d had a few more months to save). And this is the clincher: I was away with my friend the day before her wedding in April when I was chugging some much-needed coffee and spilled it on my laptop… Needless to say, my Apple store receipt still makes me cringe. Health, a good night’s rest, and a computer are three things I just couldn’t—and can’t—do without, so I had to figure out some personal finance hacks that worked for me.
Here are the financial tips I used to get my bank account back in shape—and better than ever—this year.
Don't Spend What You Don't Make
Credit cards can either be your best friend or your worst friend—they became my foe this year. One key thing I’ve learned is that it can take a while to get your credit card balance to zero, even if you’re paying your statement off every month. Even though I never paid interest, I always had a whopping credit card bill that I could usually pay off without pulling from savings (but for months I didn’t have any money leftover). After taking a step back, I was able to slowly lessen my monthly bill and also drastically alter my spending. I’m finally nearing a good place again (phew).
Spread Out Your Expenses
Life happens, and we need to come to terms with that. I was asked to be a bridesmaid in three weddings this year, and it was three of the closest people to me (I never even considered saying no). In a total of 11 months, I’ve given countless bridal shower presents, wedding, and engagement gifts, and shelled out cash for bachelorette party expenses. However, what I have learned is how to plan.
The first thing is to never pull from savings, because nine times out of 10, you’re not going to be able to put the money back in. The other crucial thing I’ve learned is to space out the payments; I now have a rough estimate and timeline of wedding events and will buy a shower gift one month, the bridesmaid dress another, the shoes the following month, and so forth. By spreading out the expenses, I’m able to factor it into my monthly expenditures and not have one hefty amount I have to cough up all at once.
Delete Your Credit Card From Apps
I’m an emotional eater, so when I have a bad day, I automatically want a bagel and coffee, and I place the order in advance on my phone. I learned that by deleting my credit card from all of my apps—car services, food delivery, etc.—I had to actively think about plugging in my credit card number before just placing an order. Ninety percent of the time, I realized I didn’t need to make that purchase, and that’s where some serious saving began.
Use Cash Instead of Cards
I like to say I can’t do math, but I can figure out money. And what I do know is that when you physically see cash leaving your hands, you feel more attached to it than when it’s on your credit card. Run to the ATM at the beginning of each week, and take out a predetermined amount… Now it’s your responsibility to decide how you want to use it (and yes, happy hour can be worth it sometimes). It’s also extremely useful at the grocery store because adding just a few items can put you insanely over budget. (It also helps you eliminate overbuying for the week.)
Cut Down on Non-Essentials
I don’t like to think of myself as high maintenance, but there are certain things I will splurge on. I’ve got fairly unruly hair that has a mind of its own, so I’ve spent money on blowout memberships or frequent trips to the hair salon in the past. This year, I’ve gotten highlights that don’t need constant touch-ups and only reserve a blowout for a special occasion (and even for those, I like to see if I can get a deal). Instead of weekly manicures, I treat myself once a month (and I enjoy it so much more now that I don’t go quite as often).
Get a Side Gig
Everyone who knows me laughs because I always seem to work at least two jobs (I had about two months where I worked one job and didn’t quite know what to do with the free time). The good thing about a side gig whether it be on a project basis or more regular is that you can put that money (after taxes of course) straight into savings or toward that something special you can’t afford otherwise. Another perk I’ve learned is that unless you’re getting paid through a temp agency, there generally is around a two-month—or more—lag time between when you submit an invoice and when you get paid. By the time I receive those checks in the mail, I’m able to put them away because I don’t budget based on them.
Decide What's Important
The most important thing is not to deprive yourself. I still treat myself to things once in a while—although they are usually of the smaller variety. At this point in my life, I’d often rather spend money on travel and experiences rather than on things, and I’m okay with that. It’s also about coming to terms with being kind to yourself and realizing that sometimes we will overspend or budget wrong. There is always a way to fix things; you just need to have patience.