The summer holiday period is awesome. Great food, time off work, sun (though not so much in NZ right now, thanks mate)
But soon enough, it’s mid-Jan, you’re all out of Christmas ham and you’re staring at a stack of bills to pay.
This, along with the prospect of going back to work or study, can be incredibly depressing.
Never fear, this article will provide you with some tips to get your finances back on track!
Why you shouldn’t make a drastic change
Too many people either think to themselves “I’ll always be shit with money!” and give up, or else they propose some extremely drastic method to finally fix their problems.
You’ve probably heard about the year of no spending (Yup, it’s exactly what it sounds like – you don’t spend on anything except the absolute essentials)
In this example, the woman talks about how she managed to save so much money by only buying the bare essentials. Amazing effort from her – it must have taken crazy willpower. It sounds really tempting, and really easy in theory, but in reality it’s not the best way to save money. It’s actually just stupidly difficult and you’re too likely to crash and burn.
Not being able to ever do pretty much anything fun ever again would be horrible for me, and probably for you too. Any plan which says I can’t go see Vin Diesel’s new movie “XXX: Return of Xander Cage” is not a plan for Ryan!
These no-spend plans make for great reading, but they just ain’t practical.
Another way a lot of people approach saving money, especially at the start of the year, is by making other grand plans to cut lots of little stuff out.
“If I drink 250 less $4 coffees this year, I’ll save $1000!”
Yes, it’s true that 250 x $4 is $1,000 but this approach is short sighted. Don’t be shamed into cutting out expenditure on things you actually enjoy! If you get a lot of enjoyment out of a few coffees a week, continue drinking coffee! Same goes for telling yourself that you won’t buy any Lush bath bombs, or won’t buy any new PS4 games. You might save money, but it also kind of sucks and you’re not that likely to stick to it.
Check out this article on how you won’t get rich by cutting coffee.
These plans are pretty much identical to the no-spend plans. They look amazing on paper, but when you’re faced with the everyday reality of no coffee, baths that don’t smell good and are still playing NBA2k16 – it just won’t work.
So what should I do instead?
Focus on one or two big wins in order to improve your spending.
This means you need to look at a couple of big areas of your life where you can cut down on your spending. This is seriously exciting stuff.
If you want a quick refresher on how to make an effective spending plan, here’s my handy article How to Save Money Without Budgeting
I know, it’s hard to convince yourself to sit down for an hour with your transactions and figure out where your money’s going. It’s hard for me too! But it is seriously worth it. I try to do this every 6 months or so and every time I find a couple of things I can cut back on. The thing to remember is that you’re cutting back on things you either aren’t using or aren’t enjoying. Also, think about substitutions you can make instead of totally giving stuff up. Get a cheaper gym membership, for example, or get Netflix instead of Sky.
Recently I got rid of a Playstation Plus subscription as I’m not playing games online anymore. In the past I’ve also got rid of my Sky TV, NBA League Pass, a gym membership that was too expensive for what I actually used it for, and heaps of other stuff.
Approach the problem from another angle
What about trying to make more money? One thing almost everyone can do is sell some of their stuff they don’t need any more. It’s almost certain you’ve got things lying around that you can turn into cash dollars. Recently I’ve been selling some old music gear (goodbye, beloved Zildjian cymbals) because I just don’t use it anymore. Anyway, now I’m embracing the tiny house trend, I definitely can’t fit a drum kit in there.
I’m also betting that a lot of you got gifts this Christmas that … well, the thought was nice, but you absolutely don’t want or need it. Or it looks weird on you. All these nice new things floating around that you’ll never use – just get rid of them! You could give them to charity, but if your savings account needs a boost, TradeMe could be your new best friend.
If you do end up getting rid of a lot of your stuff (and a new year is always a great time to do this) then you’ll probably start seeing the benefits of having less crap lying around.
Less clothing to wash and iron, less gadgets jamming the kitchen drawers, less kid’s toys to fall over, less waste and more space. It’s a very freeing thing to do, and even better if it gets you richer.
Another way to make money is to buy stuff cheaply – hunt around on TradeMe and in op shops – and then sell it on for more. There’s a lot of things out there that are going crazy cheap because someone just doesn’t know how much it’s worth! You can make quite a bit out of this, but it does involve being smart and constantly hunting for things. It’s not the easiest way to make money.
Automate and slash fees
So you might have spent waaaay too much over the holidays, and your credit card bill is due. You might have a bunch of fees on things, not to mention late penalties, overdraft charges, and just generally your online banking is a mess.
If you haven’t already – automate!
If this is the only thing you do to help whip your finances into shape, you’re doing amazing. Automate everything that can possibly be automated. Bills, rent, savings, gym, car payments, whatever. If it’s automated, it’s basically out of sight out of mind.
I think it’s really important to have savings automated – a little bit disappearing into savings every week makes such a huge difference. Even if it’s only $20 a week.
Automation pretty much forces your finances into shape without any effort from you. Absolute win.
Fees can really suck, and most people just accept them as a fact of life and angrily pay them.
But you can actually avoid fees way more than you might have thought!
Literally, all you have to do is go see them (or ring up) and ask.
Previously I’ve talked about how you can get the account fees on a credit card waived. Last year I did this with my current rewards credit card and saved $130.
If you splurged a little too much and incurred some overdraft or c/c fees, ring up and get that shit reversed.
It won’t always work, but it’s always worth trying. Banks and credit card companies etc, don’t want to lose you and will almost always do what’s in their power to make it all better.
Here’s my strategy when I try get out of fees I’ve incurred
Tell them what a great customer you are, how you’ve been with them for ages and have always been good. Maybe you made a mistake, which has almost never happened, and now you’d really appreciate it if the fee could be waived. If they seem like they’re not budging, play the “If I can’t get this fee waived, I might have to think about closing my account :(“ card.
This works for me (almost) every time.
You can also switch providers of utilities in order to get better deals, since a lot of companies offer big sign-up bonuses this time of year. Good to remember if you’re heading into a new flat! (Don’t forget to check out the small print though, as some of these great deals can bite you in the ass later)
A quick note on minimalism
Owning stuff is great, I’m not going to preach to you about the evils of consumerism. Stuff is cool and new stuff is even cooler.
However, you may find yourself getting more out of less. It’s amazing how much you don’t miss things you used to be totally attached to.
Being a minimalist doesn’t mean that I live in an entirely white room with only a Zen garden to keep me company. It just means I’m more selective about what I want in my life, and for me this means keeping an eagle eye on my spending and thinking really hard about things I think I want.
I can absolutely say that adopting more of a minimalist lifestyle has been one of the main reasons I’m able to save so much money.
I’ve got less stuff in the house, and I don’t spend money on random junk like I used to. Last year I bought no new clothes (and I wasn’t even on a no-spend challenge!).
I was persuaded last week by my girlfriend to buy two whole new t-shirts for $35, which is now my record for clothing purchases.
All the money I used to spend on essentially useless crap is now put towards things I genuinely care about, and my savings and investments have grown as a result.
If you want to find out more, check out the awesome blog Becoming Minimalist for practical ways to live a minimalist life.
I hope you try out some of these tips on getting your finances sorted. Being in a mess absolutely sucks – I feel ya. Even if you’re not currently in a self-induced financial crisis (big thumbs up for surviving the holidays unscathed) then it’s still a great idea to do a money review and see how you can be even more awesome this year.
That’s it for this week! I’ll be getting back into the heavy investing content soon.
A lot of people have been asking me questions about peer-to-peer (P2P) lending lately. Hit me up if it’s something you’d like to learn more about!