I'm like Captain Ahab in search of his white whale; always on the prowl for the tips, money habits, or money tech that changes lives and makes it easier to stay out of debt, save, and live my life without overwhelming money stress.
I can't speak to what works for everyone, but the eight money habits below are kid-tested (by me, not actual children) to have a profound impact on the way you manage your dollars and cents. In updating these, I've also listed the time it takes to do each one. While an afternoon may not seem like a quick money fix, when compared to the year-long effects implementing these habits has, it's well worth the effort.
The Five Small Money Habits You Need This Year
Commit to Writing Things Down
Time Required: 2 minutes each day.
No one loves apps more than I do, but there's science behind writing things down. Not only does it help us to brainstorm better, but we remember more when we put pen to paper. This year, develop a habit of writing down your finances, even if it's just a few financial goals.
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My “Separate Bill Pay Account” Hack
Time required: 4 hours (you can knock this out in one weekend!)
I gave this piece of money advice in this great article by Natalie Bacon. The other women featured in the round up gave really profound, meaningful advice. I missed the boat and went with something more tactical, but I'm going to continue to evangelize this tip because it has truly made the biggest difference of all the things I've done in managing my own finances.
I know in the name of streamlining people only like to have 1 checking account, but if you're prone to overspending (like I am) keeping your cash for bills separate from what's okay to spend can be a game changer. (You can also use this as an opportunity to sign up for a bank account offering a cash bonus. Ca-Ching!)
Start Leveraging Apps (If You Haven't Already)
Time Required: 5 minutes
Flipping over couch cushions and looking for extra change is so 1993. I've even tried keeping change in a jar in my house, but that jar has sat neglected for a few years now as my cash usage has dwindled to nothing. The truth is, even though I'd like to be better about keeping cash on hand, mostly I deal in digital currency (Venmo, Paypal and Debit Cards). I remember being small and taking my change to the grocery store or bank to cash in. I know this adds up over time, but it doesn't super make sense for a hyper-digital lifestyle.
So, what about all of that “extra change” from my purchases? I'm still spending. Enter in new apps that help you save seamlessly by mimicking this “couch cushion” effect. Most of them function in the same way: by analyzing your checking account and removing super small amounts you wouldn't miss. Apps like Qapital allow you to set rules like rounding up to the nearest dollar or saving a dollar a week.
Commit to Learning About How You Really Feel About Money
I'll admit it – this one isn't so much of a “money habit” as it is a commitment to really learning about your money habits. How do you feel about money? What in your past has influenced the way you feel about your finances? There really is no better time to discover your deep rooted connections and attitudes toward money.
Best of all, I've written a series dedicating to discovering those answers. You can find them below.
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Make a Mantra to “Live Lean”
Time Required: 2 seconds to set the mantra, 20 minutes each week ongoing maintenance.
I like to live minimally, and I credit my days as an actor for why I live lean in terms of “stuff” I have around the house. When you're a “working” actor, you move around so much to take jobs across the country that it doesn't make sense to have a lot, so you get used to living with very little. (You're also f*cking poor, but that's another story for another day. )
Even still, I obsessively like to cull my belongings so that only the truly purposeful items: the ones being loved, used and valued consistently stay in my home and creative space. I know I'm different from most in my views on this, but I also believe that people just keep too much “stuff” around.
And while getting rid of your stuff is an opportunity to live more meaningfully, it's also an opportunity to make a little extra cash. Whether it's a holiday gift you didn't like or a dress you bought and wore once, there are many ways to repurpose your unwanted belongings into an extra $25 or $40 here and there. That “extra” cash can go a long way to debt payoff (as seen in my
That “extra” cash can go a long way to debt payoff (as seen in my $8k in 90-days challenge) or toward funding a savings goal.
Audit Your Expenses
Time required: 1 hour for the audit, 2-3 hours if you want to call to negotiate expenses
Here's how to do an audit for your own expenses, and there is no better time than the start of a fresh year to make this happen. I recently switched cell phone providers and nabbed $40/month in savings. That's $480 back into my budget in 2017 for a half hour of work (and yes, I actually went into the store. Some things you just can't outsource with an app, unfortunately.)
Time Required: The time it takes to not give into temptation.
I know, I know. This isn't very fun, but after the decadence of the holiday season, it feels like everyone is in “cut back” mode. Shoppers spent an average of $967.13 this recent holiday season (source: National Retail Federation), which means January is the perfect time to find ways to save money and start paying off holiday bills. The first/easiest thing to cut when you're trying to save money? The daily coffee habit – but not this year!
RaceTrac is challenging coffee lovers to ditch their expensive coffee habit this January and try any size coffee for just $1! From January 1st – 31st (ahem, right now) RaceTrac’s “Crazy Good Coffee” bar is open in stores. That's Jan. 1-31, every single cup and combination is only $1.
- Let's do the math. If you buy a $5 coffee every weekday, that's $25 per week, or $100 a month.
- With this promotion, you could save up to $80.
- Try researching additional ways to cut your expenses or find other retailers offering fun promotions for the fiscally savvy in January.
Brainstorm Ways to Make More Money
Time Required: 15 minutes
I'm not asking you to start a side hustle right now. I'm merely saying as a new money habit for the year for you to think about additional ways you're going to make your little money tree grow. The first one takes a lot of hours and dedication, the second one just take a quick 15 minutes to think through all the way you're going to increase your earning potential in 2018.
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*parts of this post were sponsored by RaceTrac. Thanks for supporting the brands that make this blog possible.
*this post originally appeared in January 2017. It has been updated in January 2018.