Gearing up to change your money habits for the year ahead? You’re in good company. Many women use the new year as a marker to take control of their finances. But when you’re swapping out old money habits for new ones, how do you know that they’re the right ones? Calling out our own bad money habits, like overspending or being semi-serious about paying down debt, tends to be effortless. But why is it so tricky to identify what our good money habits should be?
One reason might be we’re thinking too big. 1/1 isn’t always the best date for a financial overhaul (forget resolutions, too). In fact, there’s tons of research to support the idea that the key to achieving big goals is breaking them down into bite-sized tasks. When we practice small money habits, we notice small wins, which can be truly transformational. Why? Because they produce visible results. No more questioning our money habits. Now we have proof that they’re working for us.
This new year, pick up one or two (or more) of these low-lift money habits and watch the financial FOMO fade away.
Good money habits to automate
Pay yourself first
We’ll start with our most important budgeting tip. Automating payments to Future You means you’re consistently making progress toward your goals. Set up a direct deposit straight from your paycheck or from your checking account into your emergency fund, retirement account, and other investing accounts. Don’t forget to automate deposits to your F*ck-You Fund, too, so you can flex your financial freedom when you need to.
Set up recurring payments
Shooting awake in bed over a missed payment deadline is a financial stress no one should experience nowadays. Not when it’s so easy to set up recurring bill payments. Plus, some billers (like insurance companies or student loan servicers) offer discounts if you set up autopay. In addition to automating all of your monthly bills, don’t forget to set aside a little in a sinking fund for future non-monthly expenses. Vet bills, oil changes, that sort of thing. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, be cautious to avoid accidental overdrafts.
Good money habits to practice daily
Check account balances
We know your account activity can be hard to look at, especially if it’s a new money habit. But you know what’s even harder to look at? Overdraft fees. Surprise charges. Extreme balances. Add checking your account activity to your morning routine — maybe right after you check your email? Before you start cruising social media? Even if you know you have enough to pay your bills or cover that charge, check your balances in the morning. It can help you review yesterday’s spending and reset your money mindset for the day ahead.
Organize receipts as you go
Make year-end tax planning easier by filing away relevant receipts (deductions, FSA reimbursement, etc) as you receive them on any given day. Try adopting the Marie Kondo mantra “don’t put it down, put it away.” It’s a hack that might help you avoid this clerical task slipping through the cracks and creating clutter. For physical receipts, choose one container for them all and keep it in an easy-to-access place. If you deal with a lot of receipts, consider using a new envelope or folder for each month. For digital receipts, set up inbox rules so that incoming receipts automatically skip the inbox and get sorted into a certain folder or label.
Good money habits to practice weekly
Track your small wins
You’re already focusing on the small stuff, but it’s beneficial to get even more micro. In addition to tracking your progress toward big savings and investing goals, be it a vacation in a few months or a down payment on a home, spot your small wins. By recognizing and celebrating weekly accomplishments that tend to go unnoticed — You checked your account balances every AM! You spent $0 on Tuesday! — we boost our motivation and confidence (two things crucial for having healthy financial wellness). Create a spreadsheet, write in a journal, or slap a sticky note on your computer monitor to record your weekly victories.
Buy the damn latte (or flowers, or …)
No. Small weekly expenses — like barista-brewed coffee, fresh flowers, the more expensive toilet paper, or a happy-hour cocktail — aren’t getting in the way of your long-term financial success. (Trust us, we did the math.) Those little purchases are making life that much more enjoyable, and you deserve to enjoy life. The next time you’re thirsty, don’t waste time feeling guilty about spending. Just buy the f***ing latte. Because zero-fun budgets shouldn’t be a thing.
Good money habits to practice monthly
Create a budget
For a lot of people, “budget” is a loaded word. We like to think about it as less of a restriction, and more of a way to keep track of how much you have to spend on fun stuff. Sure, your spending allowance might not always be as much as you’d like. But knowing exactly how much you have to spend on yourself is a small way to relieve financial worry. (See: “Buy the damn latte” above.) Our favorite budgeting methods are the 50/30/20 rule and the one-number approach. Want more hands-on budgeting resources? Ellevest’s live Budgeting How-To workshop could be a good option. Or download a Budget How-To worksheet (free for Ellevest clients) to help the process feel less punishing. Review your budget each month to check that it’s realistic and that you’re staying on track. If you’re not, don’t be hard on yourself. Simply adjust it for the next month until you find a balance that works for both you and Future You.
Build a donation habit
The holidays and tax season are great times to give back. But having a regular monthly giving schedule might work better for the causes you care about — and you. They get year-round support. You make donations fit into your budget by giving 12 smaller amounts (instead of a big chunk once). This approach might even allow you to give more over time, though donations don’t always have to be money. Some orgs take home supplies that you can drop off (or ship).
Good money habits to practice quarterly
Keep a money mindset journal
A lot of the work of achieving financial goals is mental, especially if you’ve been conditioned your whole life to believe that you’re “bad with money.” It’s time you felt what it’s like to take back your financial power. Get started by journaling a few times a year about your relationship with money, past and present. Working to unlearn myths and toxic thought patterns is tough, but it’s the first step toward a more confident financial future. Some prompts: What money lies have I been told and bought into? How often do I worry about money? Are there any money moves I can make to feel financially prepared? How can I get more comfortable talking about money?
Check for lifestyle creep
When your expenses increase at the same rate as your income does, that means the amount you’re saving and investing stays the same. So set quarterly financial health check-ins to keep yourself honest about lifestyle creep. If you get a raise or a bonus, or have extra cash from tax refunds or birthday money, a little bit of self-gift-giving is generally extremely appropriate. But keeping your fixed costs down as your income goes up is probably the easiest way to help that Future You part of your budget grow.
Good money habits to practice annually
Review your core values
Your values are the core beliefs that are most important to you — the principles that bring meaning and purpose to your life. When you can use them to guide your financial decisions, you make more intentional choices. You also feel more aligned with the outcome in situations where you have to make a tradeoff. As you evolve, your core values do, too. So take time once a year to reevaluate them. Have they stayed the same? Have they changed? If so, what new values are helping you spend intentionally (and invest intentionally, too)? Make a list or download the Ellevest Core Values worksheet (free for Ellevest clients).
Sync with your financial planner
At least once a year, check in with your financial planner to review that your finances and goals are on track. You’ll want to notify them of any lifestyle changes that might affect your financial plan. Say you got married, or got laid off; sold your house, or received an inheritance; changed your mind about the timeline of a big investing goal, or *surprise* you’re pregnant. Your financial planner will set you up to make the most of your unique situation.
Don’t have a financial planner yet? Ellevest’s team of all-women financial planners can simplify and de-stress your finances, regardless of your situation. Each 1:1 session is highly personalized to address your unique needs. Plus, you don’t have to have a certain amount of money to get started. Research shows that people with a financial plan have 3x the net worth of those who don't. And trust us: We want to put more money in the hands of women. It’s our whole thing.
Not sure if you’re making the right money move for where you are? Book a free 15-minute call with one of our all-women financial planners and feel better about where you’re headed right away.
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