With little to no money education to go on, for many of us figuring out how to personal finance is something of a circus act. Accessing credit is easy, but learning how to balance credit and other bills while paying for food and shelter takes some juggling --- and as with most circus acts, there’s a learning curve.
My own foray into personal finance was a bit of a fiasco. It took me more than two years of barely paying my credit cards on time and finding threatening letters in the mail to get the message that I had to control my spending and get with the payment program. Life and trial and error were my guides— and based on what I hear from others, this is a fairly common story.
BuzzFeed also noticed this fake-it-til-you-make-it trend and asked its female community members how they were managing to improve their finances. After all, women face unique challenges. Thanks to the gender pay gap and pink tax, women make less but pay more.
Well, I say bah! to this patriarchal nonsense. It's time for us ladies to leverage the power of the internet.
So, whether you're already working towards a better money future or you're just taking control of your money for the very first time, here's some inspiration and smart finance tricks. All quotes were provided to BuzzFeed.
1. Figure out how much money you need to survive.
"I was constantly using credit cards to make my money stretch. I had it under control in that I wasn't in debt, but I was always dipping into my savings when my card payment was due. I decided to figure out how much money I actually needed to cover the bare minimum costs in my life. For me, this amount was $1,000. This amount could cover my rent, pay utilities, and buy groceries. Once I set this limit for myself, I kept my checking account as close to $1,000 as possible — any time I went under this amount I stopped spending, and any time I had more than this amount in my checking, I transferred the extra cash to my savings." —Keren Duff, via email
Figuring out how much your life costs and making sure to have that much money in the bank is the most basic of personal budgets. This method works without using any additional tech other than your existing bank account because it relies on you remembering one single number and sticking to it — in this case, $1,000.
To determine your survival costs, add up your monthly rent, utilities, internet, phone, and transportation costs for the month. Add in pet costs, if applicable. Then estimate how much money you spend on your own meals per day, and multiply that by seven. Add that to your bills, and there's your basic budget.
If you can make sure to have this much in your bank account at all times, you can use credit for the extras, but you won't have to rely on your cards for your basic expenses. Plus, if you have money left at the end of the month, then you can transfer that to a savings account. When it comes to saving, every little bit adds up.
2. Be aware that your budget will be different every month.
"I hit a financial low earlier this year. My husband lost his job, bills started piling up, and it was a struggle to meet our mortgage repayments. People talk about living paycheck to paycheck but we weren't even able to do that. I was telling people 'I'll pay you back next Friday,' only to be paid on Friday, then be broke again by Monday. I felt defeated.
It was around this time I remembered that a friend had once recommended Dave Ramsey's financial plan. I signed up for a nine-week course and learned a lot, including the idea that every month needs a different budget. Now, at the start of each month, my husband and I set time aside to talk about upcoming expenses. Some months have birthdays and weddings, so this is the time we note those and plan ahead. We then set a dollar amount for each category in our lives (groceries, gas, entertainment, home improvement etc.) and do not go over that budget — it's a contract we both adhere to." —Julie Mundt, via email
The thing about life is that it likes to throw wrenches into your plans. Winter tire shaped, bridal shower sized, Christmas themed wrenches. The trick to dealing with these unexpected expenses is to add some flexibility into your basic budget (that amount you've decided you're going to always have in your bank).
One easy way to do this is to multiply that number by 0.10 to get 10% of your budget. Add this amount to your basic budget and now you've got some flex! If your budget was originally $1,000, then 10% is $100. Your new, more flexible budget is $1,100. With this bit of wiggle room, you won't be totally screwed the next time your friend begs you to join her for a b-day spa weekend or Mother's Day comes around...again?!
(Love you, Mom!)
3. Be totally honest with yourself when budgeting.
"Budget for the things that matter to you. I have a large gift budget and a large food budget because I know those are the two things I enjoy spending money on. However, I have barely any budget for entertainment or makeup because it isn't a priority for me. Your budget should be a reflection of who you are and what you value." —Eliza Roemisch, via email
You won't be able to stick to your budget unless it suits your priorities. If money is tight because you either don't have much income or have some major debt payment commitments, keep it real and stick to life basics. Pick one little gift to yourself that you can have occasionally that will keep you sane while you get through the lean times, and add that into the budget.
If you're in a slightly better financial spot, then making sure to have room in your budget just for the things that really matter will ensure you're satisfied, but that you also have a bit of money left over to put into your savings.
As you get better at budgeting and paying your bills, don't forget to think of yourself. Taking control of your cash and making your money work for you through saving and investing is a powerful personal finance move.
4. Forget the monthly budget and work out how much you can afford to spend each day.
"After having no luck with monthly budgets (how am I supposed to know how many times a month friends will want to go for drinks?) I decided I needed to try something new and make a daily budget. I took the total of my after-tax paycheck and subtracted my costs that don't change — rent, phone bill, internet, insurance, loan repayment — then divide the leftover amount by the number of days in the month. I keep track of my daily spending in my phone and if I go over one day, I try stay under the next or if I know I have plans that weekend, I'll try keep costs low during my weekdays." —Melissa Bouffard, via email
This is a super smart plan if you've got the math skills and the time. Now, I'm not going to lie, my math skills (and memory, and follow-through) are not top-notch, so this awesome plan wouldn't work for me.
To get around my own humanity, I use Mint. This app has been such a lifesaver — and glory of glories, it even comes with a daily allowance solution. If the idea of going through setting up a budget ONCE and determining a daily spending allowance sounds like an easier way to control your spending, then this could be just the ticket. Mint allows you to budget for the unique details of your life and make up your own spending categories — and even helps out by automating your bill payments and putting money into savings, if you need a bit of help with that, too.
5. If you feel like you just can't get your head around saving, try the highly-recommended You Need a Budget software.
"I've always been pretty good at keeping track of my finances, but about a year ago my spending got out of control and I racked up a considerable amount of credit card debt. While you do have to pay a yearly subscription fee ($50) for You Need a Budget after your month-long trial ends, I think this service is truly worth it even when compared to free money-tracking apps. This software mimics an envelope system but doesn't mean you have to carry around cash all the time. It helped me get back on track and I recommend it to everyone I know." —Arianna Rodriguez, via email
This one is another no-brainer and a fantastic smart tech option to help organize your money. In the past, You Need a Budget forced you to enter all your spending manually. But thankfully, now the app lets you integrate it safely with your bank account and you can import your daily spending details.
YNAB works on the concepts of tracking every penny in order to make sure it's doing its job, including paying every bill on time and putting money aside for saving. Because it tracks all your spending, you won't ever be left wondering where all your money went. Instead, you'll have a very clear view of your spending and saving and be able adjust your budget for surprises when they come.
6. Work out what kind of spending you say "no" to and what kind you say "yes" to, rather than telling yourself that you can't buy anything at all.
"When I say to people that 'I can't afford it,' I don't literally mean I have no money, I mean I don't have money for that specific thing. Knowing what I say 'yes' or 'no' to has allowed me to make informed decisions when spending money. It's a plan for my money, but one that's flexible and changes with me." —Isabelle Collins, via email
It can be hard to say "no," especially to the people who are closest to us. But making a commitment to what you will and won't spend on is making a commitment to your own values.
Think about what's most important to you, and stick to it. Don't be afraid to speak honestly about your goals, either. In the end, the people who matter most will understand and appreciate your commitment to being responsible with your money. You might even inspire them to reconsider their own spending.
7. Write a shopping list before you leave the house or start browsing Amazon.
"I write lists before I go shopping. It sounds too easy but it means I only ever get what I need, and don't buy other things spontaneously. I also stopped window shopping 'just for fun' because, spoiler, if you don't actually end up buying anything, it's just not that fun." —Maxerica
The shopping list was invented for a reason — but it only works if we stick to it. And sticking to a shopping list online is well-nigh impossible! From online deals to "insider emails," the entire system is designed to push us to spend more by constantly bombarding us with ads for things we need (okay, would like to have) at great prices.
I could rant about it all day, but instead I'll tell you what I do. I have a Google Doc that basically functions as a long-term shopping list. In this doc I add the items I need to buy (right now that includes new pillows because my current pillows are murdering my neck) and some things that I want to buy eventually (a glorious cast-iron pan). These items all go in column A.
As I receive deals in my email and as my browser shows me websites' oh-so-helpful promotions for things I've been researching online, I add these deals one by one into my spreadsheet beside the item they're for. This essentially creates a shopping list that also helps me comparison shop over time. Because I'm not a millionaire, I have to look for a good price and I can't afford to buy everything at once.
Every so often when I have extra money to spend or just get a major itch to buy something already, I'll go into the spreadsheet and see what I can afford. If I've found a great deal, then maybe I'll get it. But if an item is still too expensive to get this month, then I'll keep looking for a better deal — or accept the fact that I have to save a bit more money and get it next month. Basically, this is an ongoing project that helps me leverage the power of internet shopping without letting me spend all my money at once.
8. Write a list of things you want to buy and only commit after you've waited a few days.
"I'm in high school, so while my savings aren't as necessary as they are for those living independently, it's still nice to have some money to pay for things I want. I have a job but I was finding that as soon as I got paid, I was spending everything. I decided to start page in my bullet journal where I would write down anything I wanted to buy that day. Next, I'd wait three days. If I still wanted to buy the thing then, I could, because I know it was something I actually wanted. I have a lot more money than I used to and I still have the same job and pay!" —riyakataria
Plenty of research (and life experience) has proven that shopping is an emotional activity that can help make us feel better if we're angry or upset. But given the ease of spending with a credit card, this can easily lead to overspending our budgets.
The simple tactic above is based on the principle called the "72 Hour Rule," where you refuse to give in to the emotion that's pushing you to buy. When you see that thing, instead of whipping out your card, you whip out your phone instead and write down the item and the price. Then you wait three days before buying it. Simply taking the time to cool off and think about whether you can really afford or need to buy that thing is extremely effective for curbing impulse spending.
9. Set up an "automatic transfer" that sends a small amount of money from your checking account to your savings once a week.
"When I got out of college I started on a decent salary, so I decided I needed an easy way to save that didn't take a lot of thought. I set an automatic transfer to my checking account that sends $25 to my savings account every Monday. This was the perfect amount for me because it was enough that it added up every month, but small enough that I didn't even notice it each week. I've had this going for four years and I don't even think about it anymore. I can also proudly say that I'm now able to put myself through grad school with NO student loans!" —Kate Heidemann, via email
This is a perfect example of how a small, manageable change to your money habits can almost magically transform your financial future for the better. There are no two ways about it: whatever debt you need to pay or money goal you have, putting aside a small sum of money every week can help you get there.
Whether you take the hands-off approach and get an app like Mint to do it for you, or you actively log in to your online banking to make that transfer every week, you'll be pleasantly surprised (or insanely overjoyed!) to see how fast that money adds up. As a certain unnamed sports brand would say, JUST DO IT!
10. Take on odd jobs to bring in some extra money.
"I'm 25 and living in NYC on a $50,000 annual salary. I've managed to pay my rent, maintain somewhat of a social life, and get my student loans down from $32,000 to $11,000 since graduating in 2014. How? I use the booming sharing economy to my advantage. Airbnb, TaskRabbit, and Uber are just some methods you can make solid side income in your spare time, but personally, I'm a Wag walker! I get to walk adorable pups for an average of $15 per walk. I try to do at least six walks each week, which makes up my grocery money." —Emily Burke, via email
Budgeting is an amazing tool, but it will only get you so far. At the end of the day, to get beyond covering the bills, you might simply need more money coming in. That's where the glorious gig economy comes in.
Now, thanks to the plethora of gig platforms out there, you can make extra cash for your saving and investing goals while doing something that doesn't drag like the 9 to 5. Whether you're outdoorsy, indoors-y, techie, foodie, healthy, sporty, or Etsy, you can find a way to get paid to do something fairly enjoyable. Even making a small amount of extra money every week can make a huge difference to your financial independence.
11. Listen to Jean Chatzky's HerMoney podcast.
"It helps to hear other women talk about how they managed to move from a dire financial situation into a thriving one while doing what they love." — elkidmariealvarezm
Finding inspiration in stories from other women who have successfully taken control of their finances really can help you through your personal finance challenges. Women tend to prioritize things differently than men, so hearing about how other ladies have bested the money dragon can be more relevant and super motivating.
HerMoney offers insightful podcasts of about 20 minutes and up. If you're short on time, then you can also check out Money Girl. At 10 minutes each, these podcasts are short bursts of inspiration you can easily add to your schedule, no matter how busy it is.
12. Save all the five dollar bills you come into contact with for a year.
"My 2017 new year's resolution was to save all of the five dollar bills I came into contact with during the year. I keep them in a big glass jar so I can see my progress and can't use any of it until December. It'll help ensure I have more than enough money saved for buying gifts this Christmas." —Elizabeth Rae, via email
The beauty of this idea is in its simplicity.
You can use this same tactic to save money for any short-term goal, which is defined as a goal you can reach within 6 months to a year. A getaway with the girls? Here's your spending money. Buy that fancy purse? Bam. Make a bigger dent in your debt payments? You can do it.
Incremental savings will get you there.