I consider myself pretty fiscally responsible. I paid off my education debt before marriage, auto-distribute as much of my paycheck into my 401(k) and IRA as makes sense for our family, and live a frugal life some would consider borderline extreme.
But, like most people I know, I’ve got a monster in my money closet. His name is Bill, or more specifically, Unpaid Bill.
Since buying our first house a couple months ago, we’ve received a ton of new bills we didn’t have to worry about when we lived in NYC (new furniture, repairs, garbage, water, gas, and homeowners association fees, to name a few). Water has been shut off. Late fees have accumulated. It has gotten ugly.
I know I’m not the only one with a demon on my financial shoulder, so I asked amateur accountants and seasoned savers to find out what bad money habits are holding them back—and how they managed to kick them. With spring cleaning vibes—whether at home or in life—in the air, now is the time to wake up the bear and get with the pecuniary program.
01. Thinking of Credit Cards as Free Money
Ruth Verdoliva, a loyal Disney Cast Member, cautions, “Don’t buy stuff you can’t afford.” Sounds easy enough, but retailers and credit card companies have come up with ingenious ways to make spending look like a steal.
Verdoliva shares, “I opened a credit card just to buy a TV and sound bar that I haven’t even used, and I’m still paying on it. Lesson is to wait until I had the money to buy (and pay it off) in cash as well as wait until my plans to actually use it came to fruition.”
Kathleen Kristen Rose, a nurse and healthy living blogger, shares, “I used to be ‘swipe crazy,’ but now (for the most part) I use cash during the work week. I find myself spending less on ‘necessities’ like Starbucks coffee, snacks for the commute, lunch, and dinner. Now, instead of reaching for the wallet, I find ways to consume what I already have. Like taking advantage of the coffee bar at work or packing AND eating my meal-prepped lunch. When I first started, I realized how expensive eating out really is when I spent a fourth of my cash budget on Boiling Crab. I could have used that money for other things!”
02. Retail ‘Therapy’
Sometimes we allow our emotions to get the best of our wallets. Sales engineer Katherine Loh, 28, confesses that her bad financial habit involves “retail therapy when work is stressful.” As a general rule of thumb, ask yourself if you would purchase a particular item without the emotions attached to it. Your answer will determine if the purchase is worth it and if you truly need it, too. If you’re still unsure? Wait five days, and if you’re still thinking about the purchase, at least you’ll know it wasn’t an emotional impulse buy.
03. Caving to Convenience Spending
From sales to Seamless to Amazon Prime selections, when you feel like it’ll save you time, money, or both, you’re more likely to judge your purchase as a good decision.
Traycie Dohzen, a registered nurse in Los Angeles, shares, “I gave up buying things on Amazon for Lent. It’s amazing how much less online shopping I do in general when I’m not tempted to buy anything/everything with just the click of one button. Amazon is definitely convenient, but I found myself buying things I didn’t need just because I could.” Likewise, try bringing your lunch for a week rather than popping out for a sandwich and packing snacks rather than hitting the vending machine—you’ll be surprised at how much you save.
04. Avoiding the ‘B Word’
In January, Facebook Insights published a white paper analyzing how Americans between the ages of 21 to 34 manage their money. Researchers wrote, “The burden of debt weighs so heavily that millennials have redefined financial success around it, with 46 percent saying that financial success means being debt-free.” Budgeting is the only way to take control over your finances and pay off your debts. But how many of us have become buddies with this “b word”? Luckily for us, technology has made a a healthy relationship with our budgets easier than ever.
For those I interviewed, Mint was the most popular pick for online budgeting. Silicon Valley tech designer and director Audie Roldan says, “It can be intimidating and time-consuming at first, but it becomes easier if you set it up right. Once you get in the habit of checking it, it can be a money-saver and truly automate a lot of things from letting you know when bills are due and how much, when you’re about to or have gone over your budget, where you’re bleeding financially, how you can save money next time, etc. After a while, it almost becomes—dare I say it—an addicting game of balancing your budget. Also, the mobile app is definitely less clutter than the web app.”
If the thought of Mint makes you want to run for the woods, try something simpler. Ezra Dabu, an occupational therapy professional in her twenties, recommends an app called You Need a Budget. “You don’t have to link it to your accounts. When you start, you input all your current balances. Every time I spend something, I whip out my phone to input the expense and categorize which budget it will be coming out of. Sometimes I look before I purchase to make sure I have money saved for that. If I don’t have time to input it, I save the receipt and do it later. . . . It helped me ‘adult’ a lot.”
05. Not Talking About Money
If you’re anything like me, you float through life with your husband, fiancé, boyfriend, roommate, or other financial partner ignoring the existence of spending habits and financial goals. While it isn’t the most enticing conversation to linger over, money talk is healthy for relationships.
Ignoring it doesn’t make problems or potential pitfalls go away. From financial skeletons to how compatible your goals are, now might be the time to share them. Sarah Jane Panfil shares, “Similar to the way that night lights conquer children’s fears of monsters in the dark, a little conversational sunshine on the topic of money has the power to shrink issues down to size, rendering them supremely conquerable.”
06. Worrying Too Much About Money
Or you could be on the other end of the money-talk spectrum. When Roshni Kavate, a nurse manager and wellness blogger, moved into a new house with her husband, they found themselves discussing money too often. “All we talked about was house repair and decoration, too much of it frankly. So we decided to save it and discuss everything house-related on Monday nights. We make a quick dinner and calendar all social/appointments/bills and prioritize what needs our attention around the house and who will do it. Once a week is a guaranteed way of addressing all matters house, so we don’t have to talk about bills and repairs every time we are together.” If you aren’t doing this yet, pick a day and make a date out of it, whether it’s alone, with a friend, or with your significant other.
07. Not Using Autopay Wisely
As for Unpaid Bill? I’m guilty of ignoring the autopay feature available for most bills nowadays mainly because I’m paranoid that I’m being over- or incorrectly charged and won’t catch it unless I check myself. Turns out that there is a simple solution for that. Loh says, “I set a reminder for myself once a month to go over my bills (especially credit cards) and make sure everything looks right.”
Rannel Liwanag, a business consultant in his thirties, notes, “Make sure you have the funds to pay at the due date. When I moved back to Los Angeles, I created a simple spreadsheet (I didn’t want to use any apps) that had my fixed expenses (rent, student loan, insurance, etc.) and variable expenses (food, gas, drinks, etc.). Then I matched that to my monthly income. I don’t touch the total for my fixed expenses per month because I know I have to pay those. And I can control the variable if needed.”
Get smart with your money this spring by throwing out your bad financial habits with those jeans you haven’t worn since the eighth grade. You’ll feel financially empowered, and you’ll have a bit of extra cash to show for it.
Photo Credit: Britt Rene Photography