Recently a coworker sent me a study which stated that one in three U.S. adults find their financial situation is worse than they expected it to be. This isn’t surprising to me in the least. I’m currently in that all too common phase of life people face in their 30s: two kids, mortgage, car payments, lingering student loan debt and a pathetic retirement account that has me convinced I’ll be working well into my 80’s.
I look at my friends on social media and we all appear to be in one of two boats. Either we are slapping filters on everything to build the appearance of perfection and financial stability, or we’re posting flowery emotional memes about accepting where we are in life, even if we don’t have a steady job, significant other and we are still rocking the twin bed in our childhood home.
All I can say is that expectations are hard. Everyone in my life now is just starting to grow out of that stage when we compare ourselves to the success of our friends. Now we are entering into the stage when we practice self-guided breathing techniques and just try to make the next right move. Now we use words like “emergency fund” and “GAP insurance” and “budget spreadsheet”. It feels awkward, but in my thirties, I’ve stopped thinking about whether I should be more intentional with my finances and I’ve started focusing on how.
Although the journey is different for everyone, there’s a few easy ways to get started. First, get a grip on your debt. Making lists is kind of my thing. I have lists of all the lists I keep. I prefer spreadsheets, but Excel just isn’t for everyone. However you do it, make a list of all the debt you have. Credit cards, store credit, student loans, auto loans, mortgage loans, anything with an interest rate (even if it’s deferred… don’t play), put it on the list. Getting a free copy of your credit report from someplace like Credit Karma is an easy way to do this. Add up all that debt. Do some estimating on how long it would take you to get it all under control. Look at methods like “snowballing” to pay it down as quickly as possible. What ever you do, make a plan to deal with that list.
Secondly, add yourself as a debtor on that list. Start making payments to yourself in a savings account. Personally, I opened a separate account in 2016 to have automatic savings allocations dumped into once a month like I would a bill that was set up to pay automatically. Somehow, without even realizing it, I saved almost $3,000.
Lastly, take a hard look at how you are spending your money each month. Once, my husband and I decided to live a year only on cash. We were so broke and had a new baby and I was struggling to find ways to feed a family of three and buy diapers with our income and oh so much student loan debt. So at the beginning of each month, we’d each get our cash budget for groceries, clothing, paper towels, etc. and once it was gone, it was gone. We always somehow made it stretch. The physical barrier to not having anything to spend, really put our spending habits in their place. Maybe cash isn’t your thing, it wasn’t for us after that year. Find the thing that works for you, but reign in your spending.
And as a final, last bow to what was only supposed to be three steps… stop setting expectations for where you should be financially. Set small goals. A goal for tomorrow. A goal for the summer. A goal for a few years from now (if you can).
If you need help, 1st Financial has certified counselors hanging out, just waiting to give you some free advice.
Or, I’ll give you the same unlicensed advice I give to my girlfriends after they have their first baby…”Look for a mom who appears to shower often and ask her how she does it.”
For you, I’ll tailor it a little and say “Look for someone you trust, who seems to have it financially together, and ask them how they do it”. Either they’ll come clean with their own issues and you’ll find comradery in your shared financial woes, OR they’ll be ready to impart some new financial guru wisdom. Take all you can get. Just stay off Google. Google can’t help you be a better first time mom or solve your money woes.
That’s all for today. Live long and prosper.
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