We all make bad financial decisions, or sometimes, we just put off thinking about our finances. We swipe our credit card, and don’t really look at our statements at all, or until it’s too late.
It can be easy to forget about our finances and put off getting them in order or talking to a professional about them. However, we should be thinking about our finances long before we need to make big investments like buying a house, car, or running into an unexpected (expensive) emergency.
How to budget for the first time
So where do you start when it comes to taking charge of your finances? We suggest looking at your budget. Budgeting can seem intimidating or a lot of work, but it really doesn’t have to be, and it’s never too late to start budgeting. Here are some tips to help head in the right direction:
Know your cash flow
Before you can get anywhere with your budget, you need to understand how much money you have coming in or out of your bank account. If you have a full-time job with regular hours and a consistent paycheck, this will be easy. Identify how much you are making each pay. If you are someone with an abnormal work schedule and your paycheck is different each month, look at the last 3-5 months in your position and figure out the average pay you bring in each month to give yourself an idea.
It’s important to also consider any additional dollars you may get in a month. For example, if you have a side gig or project that brings in extra money. Your cash flow should be representative of all the money that comes into your account each month consistently.
How much money is going out?
Next, you’ll want to take a look at what money is leaving your account each month. These are your fixed expenses that occur each and every month. So no, shopping or your morning Starbuck’s does not count. This should include things like:
- Rent or mortgage payments
- Car payments
- Insurance payments
- Hydro and electricity
- Internet and phone bills
- Gym memberships
- Daycare or childcare expenses
- Tuition or education expenses
It’s important to look at your savings before you spend all your money on things you don’t need. Savings can be towards a variety of things. For example:
- Buying a house or other large expense like a car
- Retirement (RRSP)
- Your dream vacation
- College or university
- An emergency fund
Even if it’s hard to envision any of these things in the near future for you, it’s important to think ahead. Look at what you have available after you pay for your fixed expenses, and what you can reasonably allocate towards your savings goals. This may be a weekly withdrawal that goes into your savings account, or it may come out of your account at the end of each month, take a look at what’s realistic for you and set automatic withdrawals to ensure you don’t avoid or forget to add dollars into your savings.
How much do you have left over?
Now ask yourself what you have leftover when you subtract your above fixed expenses and savings with your incoming cash flow. These dollars are what you allocate to other expenses that occur during the month that can be identified as “wants” versus “needs”. Aka you can live without these things. Some of those “wants” that may be where all your money is going towards are:
- Subscription services like Netflix, Prime, etc.
- Entertainment (movies, going out to the bar, alcohol, etc.)
- Restaurants and dining out
When you first take a look at budgeting, it can be hard to identify where your money has been going and you may not realize areas that you are spending a lot of unnecessary dollars in. To help you get a better grasp of where you may be overspending, take a look at your transactions for the last three months and group similar transactions together to see where you are overspending and where you could potentially be saving.
Stick to it
One of the hardest parts of budgeting can be actually sticking to your budget. Thankfully, there are a ton of tools and apps out there now that make this easy to do with minimal effort. Here are some of our favourites:
Wally is like walking around with an expense sheet. Whether it’s for a business trip or your personal day to day spending, Wally lets you log your expenses by manually entering or by take a photo of your receipt. You can also turn on the location services so Wally can see where you are spending and to help log an expense. If you’re looking to monitor your spending habits Wally is the app for you.
Spendee is a great app to give you a visual as to where you are spending your money. By tracking all your finances, this app gives you the options to create different wallets for different expenses and create budgets within those wallets to track spending. Creating this visual of where your money is going helps to see where you can cut back and start saving.
Pocket Guard helps you track and lower your bills. Anything from a vacation, a new gadget or paying down debt, Pocket Guard lets you see your spending categorically, uncover opportunities to save and get notifications about what you have available to spend. This is a fun and motivating way to start saving and get in the habit for the future.
One of the most popular and reputable budget apps is Mint. Mint works by gathering all your financial information, everything from regular bank accounts to investments and bills. It takes what your income and your spending patterns and automatically updates in real time.
What to do when you’re having trouble saving
As we mentioned above, saving is important. However, lots of people struggle with being able to do it. Why? Here are some of the reasons that could be stopping you:
You’re not keeping track
Maybe you’re avoiding creating a budget, and not developing the habit of keeping track of where your money is going to so savings isn’t even a thought that crosses your mind.
You have a “maybe later” mentality
You’re living in the present, which is great, but not so great for your wallet. It can be hard to see past next week let alone think about decades from now when you can retire. However, the only way you are going to get to those milestones is if you start preparing now.
You’re lifestyle isn’t practical
You may just simply be living outside of your means. You might be a “yes” person and are going out and spending a ton of money, eating out for every meal, shopping whenever you want something, and the list goes on. It’s okay to have fun, but it’s important to remember to live within what you are able to.
So what are some tips for those that are having issues with the above? Asides from knowing your cash flow and spending habits, and having a budget, here are some additional things that can help you:
- Use credit wisely
- Take a look at the unnecessary expenses you are overspending on (for example, a morning Starbucks)
- Set your money goals (both short-term and long-term will help you stay motivated)
- Meal plan versus always buying food out
- If you’re a homeowner, look at these tips to help you save
- Love to travel? Here are some tips to save money on that too
Other common money mistakes & how to fix them
There are so many little mistakes people are making daily when it comes to saving money. All these little things may not seem like much but they add up quickly and could be stopping you from saving for the future you want, or living the life you want today.
If you’re a couple, one of the biggest mistakes you could be making is not communicating properly about your finances. It’s important as a couple that may have joint expenses to fully understand what one another is making, sit down and work on a budget together, and also be up front about the debt you are bringing into the relationship and your plan for paying it back. You should also have the discussion about whether or not you are on the same page with savings. What savings are you bringing into the relationship and what do you want to be saving for together?
There’s also a ton of ways you could be spending and wasting money that you didn’t even think about. Such as:
- ATM fees
- Bank fees (are there better bank accounts or credit cards that could be rewarding you?)
- Grab & go meals
- Cell phone bills (are you using all the features you pay for)
- Travel (are you taking into consideration all the extra charges that go along with it)
- Fitness (do you fully use all the benefits with your membership? Is there a cheaper way you could be exercising?)
- Subscription services that you hardly use
- Not shopping on shoulder seasons so you’re paying full price for items versus catching them on sale
- Being late on paying bills and being charged interest
Learning to make better spending decisions
Last but not least, it’s important to retrain yourself and build the healthy habit of learning to make better spending habits. This isn’t going to happen overnight, but being more conscious and aware of what money is coming and going will help you make better decisions.
Some people simply cannot handle being responsible with credit cards and look at it as “free money”. If you are one of these people, we suggest retiring your credit cards completely (or at least until you have a better hold of your spending). Credit cards make it easy for us to overspend outside our means, and also rack up interest when we can’t pay them off on time. If you are often finding yourself unable to pay your credit cards, it’s time to change over to debit or cash only.
Bills and savings
Being more in control of your monthly unavoidable bills is another great place to start. You may want to build out reminders in your calendar of when each bill is due, or put aside money in a separate account to ensure you don’t spend this money and in turn end up paying your bills late. Same goes for savings, when you’ve figured out how much you want to be saving, find a plan that is realistic and automatically move this money into a safe account that you will not easily access and spend. This may be a time you need to look at your debt, and what the best way is to get it paid off, which in some cases may be looking for a quick loan at GoDay to avoid being late on higher interest bills or debts.
Be more conscious
Lastly, you want to ensure you are being conscious of what you are spending all your money on. Everytime you tap that card, ask yourself if this was a necessary purchase or just something that is “nice to have”. By being more mindful of the purchases you are making, you’ll be able to identify any habits or patterns that are a money suck. Like eating out too much, spending too much at the bar, or opting for Ubers more than just walking or taking public transit.
Taking charge of your finances can be incredibly empowering. It can make you feel like you are prepared and ready for whatever life throws at you, and most importantly, you can set yourself up for the life you want to lead versus always having the stress of your finances.
What are some of your biggest tips for saving money?