We already know what you are thinking. A budget? Really?
Yes. A budget.
Hear us out here. A budget is the #1 way for the vast majority of people to take control of and transform their relationship with money. If you can’t answer the following questions, then you need a budget:
How much did you spend on food (groceries + restaurants) last month?
What % of your after-tax take-home income were you able to save (and/or invest) last month?
Do you know what your expected monthly savings rate is this month?
A budget will be able to help you answer these questions. Knowing where your money is going and how you spend it is a game-changer. The days of being surprised that you weren’t able to save more money are over.
But you have to put the work in. It’s like running a marathon. If you don’t train for it and put the work in, you will fail.
And if you think managing your finances and sticking to a budget are easy, then you are in for a surprise. If it were easy, why aren’t all of your co-workers wealthy?
But the good news is that making a monthly budget isn’t rocket science either. In fact, you can make your own spending plan pretty easily using our step-by-step guide to making a monthly budget and our accompanying free monthly budget templates. Use them! They are FREE!
2. Lower Your Overhead Or Fixed Expenses
If you are looking for ways to save money on a consistent basis, you need to cut down the things that you pay for repeatedly (like rent, utilities, cable, phone bill, contact lenses, toiletries, etc.)
If finding a roommate to move in isn’t an option, then choose 1 utility bill to lower (we suggest phone or TV since there always seems to be room for improvement). You can cut your cable and rely on your internet to watch movies and shows. If you have AT&T or Verizon for your cell phone bill, you can switch to Cricket or another low-cost phone carrier. Over a couple of years, you can easily save thousands of dollars.
If you wear glasses or contact lenses, you probably pay too much for lenses so make sure you utilize sites like Contacts Compare to find the lowest price available for your contact lenses. You wouldn't buy a flight without checking prices first, so why do the same thing with contact lenses?
3. Start To Slowly Build Your Ability To Delay Gratification To Limit Impulse Shopping
Look, we’ve all been there. You go into Target to buy some soap and shampoo, but you begin to mosey on over to the electronics aisle to peek at the cameras on display. Before you even realize it you’re already rationalizing why you need that new $800 DSLR camera.
But there’s a trick you can start to use in the new year to get better at delaying gratification. Do not buy ANYTHING you don’t absolutely need unless you’ve written it on a *WISH* list for 21 days. If after 21 days you are still convinced you need it, then go ahead.
The catch here is that every month you should extend the time horizon so that you’ll eventually feel comfortable waiting 6 months before making an unplanned purchase.
The trick here is that you’ll start to see that you’ll be happier if you wait longer to buy something (the research has proven this). You’ll also save money since you’ll only buy things that you actually need.
4. Try Meatless Mondays
How do you know if someone is a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.
Jokes about vegans aside, there’s actually two incredibly important reasons why eating one less meal of meat a week could be the most important change you make this year.
The first reason is that it’s better for the environment to eat veggies, nuts, legumes (beans), fruits and other non-meat products. That’s because the greenhouse gasses emitted from the production of animal processing plants and the transportation costs associated are tremendous.
If you have kids, then do them a favor by helping keep their planet clean after you’re no longer around (hopefully they’ll do the same for their kids).
The 2nd reason is more selfish but equally as valid: better health. If you want to be around to see your kids and grandkids get married, then you need to take care of yourself. And substituting things like vegetables and lean cuts of fish can help lower your cholesterol and lower your chances of heart disease.
Since this is a personal finance website, we also have to mention the fact that your increased longevity and good health will lower you annual health care expenses. A win-win.
5. Stop Grocery Shopping Without A List
Going to the grocery store on an empty stomach is like walking into a room full of bubble wrap and being told not to pop any of it. IT’S IMPOSSIBLE not to lose a little self control.
We know you don’t ALWAYS use a grocery list.
“Wait a second, how do you know that?!”
Well, it’s pretty obvious because whenever we look around at the other shoppers at the grocery store they rarely have a grocery list, and those on their phone are looking at bad meme’s on Instagram.
So a SUPER easy way to reduce your grocery bill is to plan ahead. Look before you go to see if there’s anything on sale that you want.
Also, make sure you eat a meal before shopping. Going to the grocery store on an empty stomach is like walking into a room full of bubble wrap and being told not to pop any of it. IT’S IMPOSSIBLE not to lose a little self control.
By sticking to your list you’ll buy healthier things, save money by not buying random things like that bag of chips at the checkout counter, and lower the chance that you’ll forget to buy something you really need.
6. Go For A Walk
Small goals lead to big wins.
When it comes to New Year's resolutions, losing weight and exercising is always on the list for most people. The problem is that most people only do it for a couple of weeks before life gets in the way.
Which is why we LOVE the idea of setting smaller and more easily achievable goals. So if in years past you have failed to get that beach body you’ve always wanted, simply start by going for a 30 minute walk around the neighborhood 3x a week.
Do that for a few months and it’ll be your new normal. Once walking 3x a week is something you don’t even think twice about, you’ll be that much more likely to go for a jog or stick to a clean and healthy diet. It’s all about building and fostering self discipline.
Small goals lead to big wins.
7. Be More Mindful With Your Time And Money
If you have a garage or basement full of things you don’t need or use, chances are that you could benefit from spending your money more mindfully.
The best part is that research shows that it’ll also make you more happy.
So what does mindful spending even mean? In simple terms, it’s all about being thoughtful and intentional with how you spend your money. If you regularly pay for things that you never actually use or enjoy, then you should rethink whether it makes sense to continue to do so.
The same applies to your time. If you spend 2 hours a week on activities that you don’t love, enjoy, or that help other people, you might be better off saying no to them and instead doing something you know will bring you happiness.
And more isn’t always better. When it comes to buying physical products and goods, research shows that your money would be better spent on experiences. So for example, paying $150 for those new sneakers would bring you less long-term happiness than the tickets to that concert you’ve ALWAYS wanted to go to. Great memories will last you a lifetime. Those sneakers will get dirty in a few hours.
8. Meditate On A Regular Basis
The one thing we’ve learned through going through med school, graduating from Harvard, and other rigorous and intense academic and professional experiences is that stress can be paralyzing and excruciating.
When it comes to school or work, there’s always more that needs to be done, and it’s so easy to get lost in it. This is why finding your balance and being able to take a step back and regain perspective is so important.
It may seem like failing a test or not getting that promotion at work is the end of the world, but the reality is that it’s not. There are many more important things than money and prestige.
The first things that come to mind are family, friends, other loved ones, your faith and spirituality, and helping others.
One way to connect with yourself and those ever-more important things is to meditate. And with so many free meditation resources like podcasts, youtube videos, and apps, there’s no excuse not to try it for a few months.
9. Buy Yourself More Time
The most precious thing any of us have is our time on earth. It’s limited and once it’s gone, it’s gone.
So if there’s anything chore or activity that you absolutely cannot stand doing, try to occasionally hire someone else to do it. No, it doesn’t make you weak or soft if you receive help once in a while. And it doesn’t have to break the bank either.
So if it’s snowing outside and the last thing you want to do is shovel the sidewalk and driveway, then paying someone $20 to handle it for you will be much better spent than paying $20 for some random thing at the store you’ll never use again.
Not sure where to find someone to help? Check out sites like Taskrabbit and Angie’s List. If you’re looking to make extra cash, you can use these services to get hired by other people.
10. Practice Gratitude
At the end of the day, having all of the money in the world doesn’t matter if you aren’t happy. And believe us when we say we’ve met plenty of people who have it all, yet seem to always find themselves unhappy and unsatisfied.
Research shows that one sure way to increase your happiness is to practice gratitude. An easy tactic is to simply write down 3 things you are thankful and grateful for on a daily basis. If you write quickly you can probably accomplish this in 15 seconds.
That’s right, you can become more happy by simply writing 3 things down in a matter of seconds.
Don’t have three things you are grateful for? What about the fact that you’re alive, can read, and made it another year? Or what about the meal you had for breakfast? The roof above your head? Or your beautiful family?
Simply reflecting on those things on a daily basis is enough to make you happy.
So if you aren’t sure what your New Year’s resolution is this year, this list is an easy way to get you started.