We spend a lot of time, especially at the beginning of the year, talking about health, body, wellness, and even relationship goals. In additional to physical, mental, emotional, and relational wellness, financial wellness is incredibly important to having a healthy, well rounded life. Of course money doesn’t buy happiness, but being financially secure and self-sufficient is an important part of adulthood. With the upcoming tax season, I wanted to share some of the financial rules I live by to ensure that my money supports, rather than stresses me.
Everyone knows that they should budget. But there’s a difference between an unrealistic budget that you’ll never be able to stick with, and a budget that actually makes sense for you. One mistake I used to make when I was younger was set budgets that weren’t realistic. For example, if I wanted to save an additional $100 a month, I’d try to cut $100 out of my grocery budget because some article said that you should spend $200/month on food. But that meant that my groceries wouldn’t last me through the week (because NYC prices are crazy), leading me to spend more money on takeout & delivery. Now when we make budgets for our family, and when I budget for my business, I budget based on my actual spending over the past three months. That way I’m not pulling numbers out of the air or based on articles on the internet that don’t know my situation.
Pay your dreams first
Most financial advice will tell you to automate your savings and transfer money there before it even sees your checking account. I like to think of my savings accounts as paying for my dreams. Before the baby came along, we allocated a portion of our savings to prepare for him, so anytime money went to savings, there was a tangible reason to put it there. The next biggest financial plan we’re working toward is home ownership, so now when money goes into savings, I don’t think of it as sitting in an account for no reason, but being set aside for our future home.
Treat credit like cash
My parents have taught me a lot of things, especially when it comes to money, but one of the best financial lessons I learned from them is to pay off your credit card every single month. I have never carried over a balance from my credit cards, and I’ve been using credit cards since I was 18. By treating credit cards like cash, and only spending what you know you have the money to pay for, you can take advantage of membership rewards like points for travel or discounts on hotel stays, all while building your credit. I only have two personal credit cards – an Amex Platinum card (the signup bonus, lounge access, and 5x points on travel made this an easy sell) and a Macys card (which is essentially a permanent 20% discount) – and recently got a business credit card. By only having effectively one card for personal and one for business use, I always have a clear sense of how much my credit card bill is in relation to my bank account balance. I also find it easier to rack up meaningful points and rewards when using just one card.
Pay off a large bill before splurging
Our family is REALLY really close to being debt free, but before we made any large purchase over the past few years (usually travel), we put a significant amount of money towards paying down our debts. This is crucial as we get into tax season – if you’re expecting a tax return this year, use part (ideally, most) of it to pay down a large bill, and then the rest to treat yourself. If you’re an entrepreneur or running your own business, landing a huge contract is very exciting and you may be tempted to buy a designer bag or a new computer. Before you do that, pay your quarterly estimated taxes or invest in new branding that will help your business earn even more income.
Invest in something
Whether in stocks or real estate, setting aside money to grow outside of your bank accounts can be the difference between retiring at 45 and retiring at 65. My parents have been investing in real estate for years, so they’ve helped me learn the tricks of the trade. However you don’t need a ton of extra cash to invest in real estate, and there are plenty of millennial real estate experts (The Key Resource is my favorite) you can follow for more advice on how to hack real estate investing. Likewise for stocks, you don’t have to have intimate knowledge of economic or the stock market to invest. Apps like Robinhood and Ellevest make investing easier to do without a financial advisor, and some simple searches can help you find stocks that have an upwards trajectory and are likely to earn you additional income. Our two household rules for investing in stocks are to invest in companies we actually buy from (since we’re already giving them our money, we might as well earn something from their success), and to invest in grouped stocks (officially called exchange traded funds, or ETFs) when possible, since a pool of stocks lowers your risk of losing money if just one fails.
Don’t be afraid to talk about money
I know that money is a taboo topic – alongside politics and religion – for dinners, dates, and family gatherings, but avoiding discussing money can hurt you in the long run. Talking about money in your workplace can make you aware that your coworkers are earning far more than you for equal work, information you can use to make a case for a raise. One of the most critical reasons why I was able to financially excel in my career is that I spoke to others in the space to learn more about rates and pricing. I was fortunate enough to have parents who openly talked about money when I was growing up, which made me comfortable with money rather than afraid of it, which I think has helped immensely with my journey to financial wellness.