Establish financial priorities and stick to them

Document created by mep_90 on May 27, 2016Last modified by amara.mastronardi@socialedgeconsulting.com on Dec 5, 2016
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I employed a variety of methods to help me get my finances in order.

 

1. I use credit cards that carry very low risks. 
The first thing that I look for in a credit card is that it has NO ANNUAL FEE, forget the flashy offers.  Perhaps in the future I will explore more ways to earn cash back and airline rewards, but at the moment, having a line of credit with minimal risks is most important for me.  Similarly, I funded a $4,000+ dental expense (not covered by my insurance) with a CareCredit card.  This card offered interest-free financing for 12 months.  I made sure to pay off this expense within a year (as the interest rate skyrocketed after that), but it was nice to have that extended time to pay it off without interest.

 

2. I use budgeting apps.
I love staying organized, but I'm not a big fan of entering all my card information into my phone (for security purposes), which some apps like Mint require you to do.  Instead, I modify my approach.  I use an app called iSpending, and enter my income (each paycheck) every two weeks.  Then, I subtract for every expense that comes out of that (rent, utilities, groceries, student loan payments, etc.).  This allows me to track my spending as it happens, rather than constantly checking my bank account or balancing a checkbook / waiting for someone to cash a check.  This may seem like a small difference, but I find it very helpful to see exactly how many dollars in discretionary income I have left until my next paycheck (after paying myself first in my savings accounts, of course).
As a side note, I ALWAYS put money into my savings the moment I receive it.  If you rely on putting "whatever's leftover" into savings, or to pay down loans, you'll likely never get there.  Much like Parkinson's Law that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion," I believe that your spending will expand the more you have money just sitting around in your checking account.

 

3. I compartmentalize.

I first saw a financial advisor in 2015, which helped me realize some basic financial needs, like starting an emergency fund and actually thinking about retirement at 25.  The biggest realization came when she handed me a budget sheet, and I actually had no idea how much of my money was going towards what each month.  I started to budget things out much more specifically.  I currently keep a Google Spreadsheet (so it's accessible in my Drive no matter where I go) with very specific budget items, and columns for allocating funds per month, and per paycheck.  As I start to notice my spending more, I adjust the figures as I go.  For example, depending on the time of year, gas can cost between $25 and $35 for me to fill my tank.  I currently have $60 per paycheck budgeted for gas money.  I make sure to have a specific dollar amount budgeted for going out/entertainment expenses, or else I risk spending too much on a night out with friends.

 

4. I prioritize.

I make a list of my top 3 financial priorities and put those in my budget as well, so they're always visible.  For example: 1. Paying off the capitalized interest on my student loans (so my payments can start going directly to the original principal amount) 2. Establish an emergency fund (already have $1,000 saved, I'm aiming for $5,000 soon 3. Save up to travel

 

Since this time last year, I have paid off $12,500 of my student loans, plus all capitalized interest (about 30% of my total balance), despite changing jobs twice.  I owed a lot of this to my side hustle as a musician on occasional nights and weekends.  Every time I received supplementary income, I immediately applied it to my loans.  As long as I had no financial emergency or monetary need to take care of at the time, it was easy to send off the payment before I even had time to enjoy the money, or envision how I would spend it.  Actually taking control of my finances has helped reduce a lot of my money anxiety and really made me feel empowered and in control of my life.

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