Hey guys! Courtney here. First of all, April is Financial Literacy Month. There’s a great 30-step challenge (which you can start at any time during the year) designed to help you develop a healthy understanding of personal finances. As a woman in particular, I want to understand personal finances and feel confident when making financial decisions for myself.
I say as a woman in particular because one of the most common types of domestic abuse comes in the form of financial control. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, financial abuse includes “tactics to limit the partner’s access to assets or conceal information and accessibility to the family finances.” You can read more about these tactics here, but in general, the more we know the better off we’ll be in tough financial situations. I’d also love to see more women investors, which is why I get so excited about companies like Creating Capital that are working to close the gender gap in investors.
I’ll admit that I don’t know as much as I should. One of my biggest goals this year is to gain confidence in managing my finances and in turn build a stronger, more durable financial foundation for myself. We never know what life will throw at us, and I would love to be as financially prepared as possible.
With all this in mind, I asked my friend Sherita, an Accounts Specialist at State Farm, to share some of her best tips to help us all stay financially fit over the summer. I love how she turns a potentially boring subject into the motivational push I need. Not to mention, she’s hilarious! I’ve chosen a few of her tips for myself and will be working hard to save up money for a trip to Scotland next year. Please welcome Sherita to our blog, and let us know which of these tips you’ll be using over the summer!
We’ve all read those motivational blogs, watched YouTube videos, pinned inspirational quotes on Pinterest, or followed the Instagram sensations on how to get fit for the summer, but what about being financially fit? What does that even mean? Paying less at the gym? Paying more for a trainer?
If we all spent the same amount of time and energy teaching people how to save money like we do teaching them workout routines, everyone could be rich! Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but more people would probably feel a little more stable on the financial roller coaster life brings us. I want to pass on a couple—and when I say a couple I mean ten—tips to help YOU get financially fit this summer!
Before I share my ten tips, take a few minutes to write down all your bills for the month. They should be somewhat consistent. Add up the numbers. Now take what you make and subtract your bills. Notice I said bills and not expenses. Bills are mandatory. How much is left? How much did you save?
Wait what? Save? Who’s able to save these days when after paying all your bills you feel stressed because you have no more money, so you go shopping, go out every other weekend with your friends so you can regain some joie de vivre after a long week of work (the place where you obviously haven’t made much money), and then end up on the couch ordering pizza and feeling sorry for yourself because you are about to have to do it all over again? Been there, done that! (I can’t be the only one, right?)
Or maybe you’re like me—a single mom or dad—and you literally don’t make enough! At the very least, you feel like you can’t ever get ahead. Let me open your eyes to see those dolla dolla bills with the following 10 tips.
1) Use Your Tax Return Wisely.
This is tax season! Did you get a return? If you answered yes with a smirky smile, STOP. Don’t go on a shopping spree. Do you have credit card debt? That’s the number-one life ruiner out there! Take a portion of your return and pay off or down your credit card debt before anything else. You can thank me later.
2) Pack Your Lunch.
If you work in an office, do you have a lunch break? Of course you do! The real question is, do you buy fast food every day? How about twice a week? You are killing your bank account! Start bringing your lunch to work. Meal prep is key, people! Eat outside if you want to get out of the office, but you’ll start to see more money in your bank account and feel healthier not ingesting fried food and soda every day. An $8 lunch a day adds up quickly! In this Huffington Post article, they reveal that the average American worker can spend close to $2000 a year just by going out to lunch (source).
3) Say No to Fancy Coffee.
Tired much? Coffee is key to almost every adult I know to keep a professional level of functionality and motivation. All my coworkers stroll in to work every day, Starbucks in hand. I shake my head because they’ll spend $20 in a workweek on coffee (and close to $1000 a year), while I spend about $1.75 a week making coffee at home. Yes, I buy the beans, sugar, and creamer, but I make it last almost the entire month! Make a one-time splurge and design your own coffee mug on shutterfly.com! Or if you really need a latte, save up to buy a latte maker and whip up those fancy coffees at home!
4) Refinance Your Loans.
I know some of y’all feel the pain of the never-ending student loans! Do people pay on those their entire lives or what? Oh, you haven’t looked at your loans in five years because it’s on autodraft? Maybe now is a good time to log in to your loan site and look at your interest rates. Should you refinance your loans? You can refinance federal and private loans to get a lower interest rate than you originally had. It never hurts to ask around and see what other people are paying. Plus, it’s great to get into the habit of talking to friends and family about financial matters. You never know, someone might have really good advice or experiences to share. Don’t be afraid to talk about money!
5) Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate.
Time and patience are key to saving money, but who has time and patience in a fast-paced world where we say it was just Thanksgiving and then realize that Thanksgiving was almost half a year ago already! Set a couple hours aside this weekend or even a weeknight. Sacrifice your special alone time to call your phone, Internet, and cable providers. When you first sign up for service, additional fees are added on, and you can actually argue those fees away! See if companies bundle. See if companies have specials offers. You can even threaten to leave because you’re unhappy with “something,” and trust me, cable companies will lower your bill, or give you free HBO! Several companies out there have the power to negotiate, but most people just don’t take the time or have the patience to do it! Here’s a great post from The Financial Diet about someone who lowered five expensive bills just by calling and asking. It’s got some great tips for you to do the same.
6) De-clutter and Make a Buck.
What’s better to do during the spring than spring-cleaning? Go through your closet or even your entire home. Ask your kids what they don’t want. Have a garage sale or start posting items on OfferUp, Ebay, Craigslist, Amazon, etc. You’ll be surprised at the amount of items in your home that you don’t want or even use. But I guarantee that someone else will want those items. Plus, it’s refreshing to de-clutter!
7) Think Before You Purchase.
So many people make financial investments for emotional reasons without considering the long-term costs. The biggest example I can think of are pets. Are you an animal lover? Do you have visions of snuggling a puppy or a kitten or maybe even a guinea pig? So many people are animal lovers, but does that mean you can actually buy or adopt a pet? I hate to say it, but no. A lot of people don’t realize animals can be just as expensive as children. If you can’t afford an animal, then wait. My best friend is a vet, and she said the hardest part of her job is when customers bring their animal in and end up needing a specific surgery performed or medication that they just can’t afford. These pet owners take their animal home to suffer. Which is extremely difficult for both the pet and the owner (and for my friend, who really wants to help). This is truly an awful and heartbreaking situation. Again, if you can’t afford an animal, either wait or let someone else step in who can.
8) Don’t Splurge on Your Kids’ Friends’ Birthday Gifts.
As I mentioned above, I’m a single mom. My sister has two kids. And several of my friends have little ones too. Kids are expensive, period. On top of that, kids have friends and that becomes expensive when there are 15 birthday parties in a year! A growing trend I’ve witnessed is that people spend an arm and a leg to get the best gift out there. I’m talking $50-$100 gifts for a one-year-old! This is nuts! Don’t you remember back in the day when getting $20 was like winning the lotto at your birthday? Don’t worry about impressing anyone. It’s not about anyone else but the birthday kid, and chances are, they probably won’t even end up playing with the toy you got them or wear that name-brand shirt they secretly hate. Less is more!
9) Make Saving Money a Game.
Planning a summer vacation? Wait, with what money? Did you save this month? Well, you can start saving now. Every time you go to buy something “extra” such as a Sonic drink, a random shirt that was just “too cute,” an afternoon snack, a fancy coffee or smoothie (see #3 above), I want you to STOP and THINK! Put that money in a jar or bag. Think about your vacation and the things you’ll get to do. You’ll be surprised how much money you save when you consciously spend and save your money for something fun. Get the kids involved and make a game of it to see who saves the most! That jar will be full before you know it! If you want a specific challenge, one of the Behaviorists, Holly, shared an awesome post about saving up money over the course of a year, one baby step at a time. You can read that post here!
10) Be Honest with Yourself about the Gym Membership.
I had to end my tips for staying financially fit by telling you something related to actual physical fitness. If you go to the gym less than two times a week, give up your gym membership! People can spend over $100 a month sometimes to go do something that can be done at home and outside. Especially if you live in a place where the weather is relatively fair on a regular basis. Do you go to the gym to run? Great, you can run outside. Do you go to the gym to lift light weights? Great, you can buy some at Wal-Mart or Target and lift them at your home any time of the day. Do you go to the gym for the comradery? Great, you can invite a friend to work out with you. If you’re still not convinced, here are some stunning statistics about gym membership owners that might change your mind.
- 67% of people with gym memberships don’t use them.
- On average, the amount of money that’s wasted from gym membership underutilization per month is a whopping $39. That’s almost $500 a year! (source).
If you haven’t been to the gym in the last month, but you keep saying you’ll go, save yourself a good chunk of money by cancelling your membership.
I don’t expect you to do all ten of these, but if you want to, I will applaud you! Starting with at least one could give you the motivation you and your family need to kick start your financially fit summer! Remember, time and patience are money.
Sherita is an Accounts Specialist and Sales/Retention Specialist at State Farm. She loves telling people what to do with their money! In 2009, she volunteered for a nonprofit called Cross Cultural Solutions in schools and orphanages in Ghana, Africa. Not long after that, she served in the Peace Corps in South America, teaching kids how to read in their native language and leading a girls group. Currently she’s getting her teaching certificate to teach personal finance in high schools. She’s the mother of a beautiful boy named Pierce and loves hanging out with her nephews.