Financial responsibility starts with you. What to do when your money never stretches far enough.
Updated: Dec 29, 2021
Do you ask yourself questions like:
Why do I never have any money?
How am I going to make it until payday?
How can I get some money fast?
What frugal living habits can I adopt?
Why are all my credit card payments going to interest?
How am I ever going to pay all this debt?
How am I going to pay my childcare this month?
Am I going to lose my house?
Can bill collectors garnish my wages?
We are barely out of 2020. I think everyone is stressed about money! So, lets talk about personal finance for a little bit, and get a plan going on how to get our finances under control in the rest of 2021. And I don't mean hiding in your closet and biting your nails until you start getting the $300 per month checks from the American Rescue Plan either. I am talking tips you can start working on today!
With these personal finance basics in your toolbox, you will be able to start getting your finances on track today, without needing to spend any money!
Making a Budget
Making a budget for your family is the first, and probably most important, step to getting your finances under control. So, if you are anything like me, go look through that giant stack of papers in the kitchen for your bills. It may take a while to sort through kid's drawings and Chinese food menu's to find them, but you are going to thank me for it later!
Keeping track of your bills, your income, and your spending will set a baseline for your finances. There are many ways to set up a budget, from using a notebook and writing them down old-school, to apps that automatically sync with your bank account.
Since I have spent years working with budgets, I typically have gone with MS Excel for my budget spreadsheet in the past. The last couple years though, I have migrated into Google Sheets, because of the ease of accessing my budget from anywhere! Also, another difference between MS Excel and Google Sheets is that Google Sheets is free, whereas Microsoft requires a paid subscription or download of their software. Most of the basic functionalities of the two programs is the same, I find I only need the advanced functionality in Excel for typing spreadsheets that need to use VLOOKUP's. (If you don't know what that is, not to worry, it probably means that you don't need it!)
Whatever format you choose for your budget, the basics remain the same. You will want to have a section for your income, and another section for your bills. Then, a comparison of the two to determine if you have a positive or negative cash flow. (more about cash flow later!)
Personally, I also like to have columns for the amount due, date due, and date paid. Some people are OK with having a simplified form that just tracks the amounts you have actually paid. The benefit of having the additional column is so that you will be able to track if, for example, you have paid an additional amount on a credit card or your mortgage payment in order to pay your bills down faster.
There are customizable budget spreadsheets available in the shop too, like this one. Also, check out this tutorial on how to make a budget in Google Sheets so that you will be able to access it from anywhere!
Understand Your Financial Situation.
Once you have made a budget, then you will be able to see where all of your hard-earned cash is going. It's important to know if you are in a positive cash flow (where your income is more than your bills), or a negative cash flow (where your bills are more than your income). Once you know where you stand, then you can start taking control over your money!
Just remember mommas, go easy on yourselves while you are working on this! Life doesn't come with a handbook on how to make money, so it takes a bit of work for all of us!
When I was a tween, my dad taught me how to balance the family's checkbook, and call the banking hotline to see if he had outstanding checks. It's fortunately much easier now, with online banking to do all of that for you, and tell you all of your pending transactions!
Look at "Problem Areas" In Your Budget.
Once you have made a budget, and looked at what is in collections, look at everything you are spending money on that isn't a bill.
Do you have a lot of car repairs? Huge phone bill? Do so much online shopping you forget what you ordered until it shows up at your door?
What ever the case may be, look at how you are handling your problem spending areas. Are they things you were already aware of? Or did they catch you buy surprise?
Often, we spend money on a day to day basis on "small" things that really add up in the end. Recently, my partner noticed that he was buying Gatorades at the gas station for $3 each. At the supermarket, they are 4 for $5. So, he started buying them at home to take with him in the morning. I know saving $2 per day doesn't seem like much. But if there are multiple items like this that you are buying for a more expensive price due to convenience, it is easy to rethink where you buy things!
Frugal hacks like this can easily be incorporated into your daily life! If you want to change up where you are buying things, to get the exact same items, check out my post on what you can buy at the Dollar Store!
Either way, now that you are truly aware of problem spending areas, it is time to talk to your spouse about your financial hardships, and make a plan together on how to tackle them. It is important for couples to work as a team on finances, as that is one of the top things that couples typically argue about.
When you and your spouse or significant other can work as a team to confront a problem, then it is the two of you against the problem, instead of the two of you against each other! That is so important about making your relationship work!
If there is a specific bill or expense you are struggling with and would like me to write about in the future, let me know in the comments!
Next Steps for a Positive Cash Flow.
If your budget is in a positive cash flow, where you have money left over after you pay your bills, that may mean you are spending more money than necessary on items that are not in your budget.
The first thing to look at in this case would be your online banking screen. Look at all the transactions that aren't bills, and write them down by category.
Do you spend money on eating out? Subscription boxes? Coffee? Toys for the kiddos? Lunch at work? All of these things are easy to work on reevaluating one by one if they are eating up a lot of money.
What if my bills put me in a negative cash flow?
If you are in a negative cash flow, there are many things that you can do to take control of your financial situation. Sometimes, there are bills that you can negotiate a price or shop around. This would be like your phone bill, insurance, or trash service. It does take time to shop around for a cheaper price, but with many of these it is a good idea to shop around every 6 months.
If your bills are mostly credit cards, like what is the case for me, you can try to call the credit card companies one at a time, and ask if they have any type of plan to either skip a payment, or to lower your interest rate. Again, it may help to do this every few months to see if new programs become available.
Once you have tried these options, if you are still struggling, it may be time to consider credit card consolidation, or filing a bankruptcy.
When I was a kid, my parents had to declare bankruptcy twice, so they weren't really the best example for me of what responsible spending looks like. You may have had an upbringing similar to mine, with a lack of responsible role models to teach you about your finances.
I think that is true for a lot of us, and we have to learn the hard way when our own bills go into collections!
Hopefully, you aren't in this category, but right now with the way the economy is, I wouldn't be surprised! There are so many of us who lost our jobs, or lost hours in the last year, it is unprecedented in our lifetimes.
For us Millennials that grew up in the Clinton Era and afterward, we had no idea that a depression like this could come in our lifetimes. We thought, if we work hard and pay our bills more or less on time, then everything would be fine!
If you are dealing with collection agencies, check out this video for some tips on how to get back on your feet!
Coping with Hard Times.
If you have googled Personal Finance Basics at all, every basic personal finance tutorial you can find on YouTube will tell you to have enough money in your savings account to pay 3 months worth of bills. These days, even if you did that before COVID, nobody would have told you that you could well be out of a job, with your kids home from school for over a year!
In 2021, moms have had to disproportionately leave the work force because of a shortage of childcare. Many centers have had to permanently close due to the pandemic, which in turn put even MORE women out of work, since childcare providers are almost all women as well.
It has been hard times ladies, but if we help each other by sharing the wisdom and resources that we learn, we can make it through this pandemic with lessons learned and not just survive, but thrive!
These are the basic first steps to take for personal finance success. If you are looking for more personal finance tips, and a goal setting process to get your finances on track, check out my new ebook: Happy. Healthy. Rich. The smart mom's guide to living your best life. There is a whole section on personal finances to get your money situation under control.
Let me know in the comments any personal finance hacks that you think others should know about!