Andy Webb reveals his top tips on how to make the most of your money and extend good habits to last the whole year
It’s always comforting to think that, finally, this is going to be the year you get your finances sorted. But a few promises in January will be pointless if you don’t follow through. So here’s an assortment of tips and tools to make sure you take action and keep at it throughout 2020.
Understand your motivation
So many New Year’s Resolutions are vague. Just saying “fix my finances” or “get on top of my bills” doesn’t actually say why you want to do something, which makes it a lot more likely your resolution will fail. If you can narrow down why you want to make changes you’ll find getting started—and carrying on—a lot easier. You can have multiple goals and they can be big and small, long-term and short-term.
Often these are savings driven. Perhaps you want to be able to pay for a holiday without borrowing, or save up for bigger expenses such as getting a new kitchen or moving home. Great! Now you know why you are saving rather than just saying you want to “save more money”.
It’s also worth thinking about whether there are any broader goals behind your desire to make some changes. It could be that you want to reduce how much you worry about money, or maybe you want to be able to take early retirement. Focusing on these outcomes can help you put some of your spending decisions into perspective and allow you to make some tough choices in order to achieve your goal.
Once you’ve grasped why you want to take action, try to keep it in your mind. Visualising the outcome can really help. Sometimes it’s as simple as having a photo of the eventual outcome (the new kitchen, for example) on your fridge. For more abstract goals it might just be about putting a person in mind who’ll benefit from your decisions. Anything that can remind you of what you hope to achieve can be what keeps you going.
"If you can narrow down why you want to change, it'll be a lot easier"
Now you know the “why”, you need to work out the “what”. If you want to go on holiday, where do you want to go, and how much will it cost? When do you want to go on this holiday? If we say your desired break costs £500 and you want to go in seven months’ time, then you’ll need to put aside £71 a month to cover it. All this helps you focus on what you want to achieve.
You might also need to break your goals down further into mini-goals and tasks. If the broader goal is to stop worrying about finances, then you’ll have to work out what the causes are. This could then lead you to sub-goals such as sorting out your debts or building up an emergency fund. Or both. Think about what these entail and when you want to do them by. Now you’re starting to get a plan together.
Check that what you want to do is realistic
But you also need to check if what you’re going to do is realistic. It’s easy to say you need to put aside that £71 each month for that holiday, but is it realistic? You won’t know if you don’t first get together an accurate picture of your finances.
Set aside a few hours and gather all your paperwork, such as bank statements and credit card bills. These will help you to find out your true bottom line and show you how much you can actually afford to save each month. If you’ve only got £50 spare, then you might need to rethink when you can reach your goal.
Or you can use this information to identify any actions you can take to help achieve those goals. It could be cutting out needless expenses, or trying to bring down costs through some savvy shopping.
Taking it further you can even build up a proper budget detailing individual expenses such as supermarket shopping and petrol. This will help you can see line by line where money is going and where there’s potential waste.
In fact this process might even be a large part of the “how” for some of those broader goals—especially ones which concern money worries.
Start slow and make it a habit
It’s easy to think you have to achieve all your goals in a day, but some changes will take time to get used to. Gradually add in new things you want to tackle, building on new skills as you perfect them.
Whatever you need to change or start doing to reach your goal, you want to keep going through the year. One way to do this is to make it something you always do. Try to make any changes you need to make in your spending habits apply to everyday situations.
"Set a reminder to check-in once a month. It'll help you keep focused on your goal"
Make sure that you don’t lose track of how you’re doing. If you can set a reminder to check-in once a month— it’ll help you keep focused and spot if you’re ahead or behind in achieving your goal. You can also make yourself accountable by telling others about what you’re hoping to change and how you’re doing it. You might even be able to share your goal with a friend or family member so you can encourage each other as you go along.
Review your goals and reward yourself
But don’t be too rigid. As the year goes on, you might find your financial situation changes, or other priorities come along.
Changing your goals when this happens is no bad thing, and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It’s better to reassess and work towards something realistic than give up.
And remember, achieving some of your goals is going to be tough. There might be times you have to go without or really cut back, especially if your goal is about saving money. So make sure you factor in rewards too.
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