Financial literacy is a skill.
By now we all know it — despite what your Boomer uncle may post on Facebook, your occasional avocado toast habit isn’t what’s standing between you and a down payment on a house. But there are so many small and large money myths — invest money in Starbucks every day instead of drinking a Starbucks every day; education expenses will always pay off — that we live with, even when it’s to the detriment of our financial literacy and our wallet.
But knowing how to save your money and evaluate your finances is a skill, just like any other. “There are two things we are never taught, in a formal school setting, growing up. These are relationships and money,” Natalie Chaves, lead planner and Certified Financial Planner (CFP) at Facet Wealth, a financial planning firm, tells Bustle. “Instead, we learn about them from our friends, family, and community."
Luckily, it's never too late to adopt better saving and financial planning habits — even during a pandemic. If you're looking to learn more about evaluating your finances, preparing for the future, and controlling spending triggers, Chaves and other financial experts debunk some of the biggest saving myths out there, and share tips for finding strategies that will actually enrich your wallet.
"When I Make More Money, I’ll Have More Money"
Yes, technically that’s true, but experts say that the best way to make the most of your money is to build better financial habits now, regardless of how much you make. That’s because when you make more, you may become subject to what’s called "lifestyle creep." For instance, instead of springing for a $2 slice of pizza when you don’t want to cook, you’ll order $20 sushi because your paycheck can cover it.
“Theoretically having more money coming in would mean that there is more available to save, but sadly that’s rarely where the money goes,” Lauren Anastasio, a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) at SoFi, tells Bustle. “Lifestyle inflation is a phenomenon that takes place when someone experiences an increase in income, like from a job change or promotion, and finds that their fixed expenses like rent and transportation tend to increase with that income because they are pursuing a lifestyle associated with higher income instead of allocating the extra money towards saving.”
The best way to avoid lifestyle creep? Give yourself a "salary" — and put the rest of your cash in a savings or investment account.
"Credit Cards Should Never Be Used"
Some financial experts suggest cutting up credit cards, never to use them again. While it is true that credit card debt is bad news, a credit card, used responsibly with a balance paid in full, can be a smart financial tool. This is especially true when rewards come into play. While some people have spreadsheets and a serious rewards strategy, you don’t need anything that complex to take advantage of them, Colleen McCreary, CreditKarma’s Chief People Officer and financial advocate, tells Bustle.
“If your credit card is helping you rack up points as you continue everyday spending on things like groceries and gas, use them,” says McCreary. “As we head into the holidays, which are a big spending moment for many of us, sometimes the points can help you purchase things like the newest gadget or gift cards to your favorite online stores. You can then take the money you would have spent on that gift or experience and put it into savings.”
"You Can’t Plan For The Future When You Have Debt"
Debt can make you feel stuck. And while it’s a good idea to have a plan for paying it off, you don’t have to wait for your life begin to do so, Leslie Tayne, a debt relief attorney and founder of the Tayne Law Group in New York City, tells Bustle. “Having less debt will certainly be helpful for your financial future, but you don’t necessarily have to choose between paying off your debt and saving for long-term goals."
Even putting $20 a week aside for a vacation can help you stay on track — and less likely to blow your budget and get even more off course. “Assess your budget and look to work in debt payments, savings, and fun money," Tayne says. "Every individual’s situation is different, so consider what makes the most sense for you both financially and psychologically.”
"All I Need Is Willpower To Save"
In theory, willpower is simple. But in practice, when you’ve had a bad day and you’ve got multiple Poshmark tabs open, it’s not so easy. Instead of gritting your teeth and trying not to swipe your card, a smarter strategy may be to identify your spending triggers, Dasha Kennedy, finance coach for millennials and founder of The Broke Black Girl Facebook group, a community where women get candid about money. That means doing a mental check-in when you’re feeling the urge to splurge. “The first step to controlling your spending triggers is to recognize them. Ask yourself, how am I feeling at this moment? Will this purchase make things better? Take time to identify your spending triggers and create an alternative, affirming reactions to the stimuli,” says Kennedy.
It can be helpful to have less pricey ways of treating yourself. Maybe it’s making sure you have ingredients for an indulgent pasta on hand so you’re not tempted to run for takeout. Maybe it’s calling a friend or taking a specific yoga class online. Or it could be giving yourself a certain amount of money you can spend any way you’d like, so you can buy what you want without feeling guilty.
"Always Look For A Bargain"
It can be hard to overlook a sale, but the smartest strategy is to determine whether or not you need that item at all, reminds Tayne. Tayne suggests using sales smartly — only buy what you need on sale, and put the difference in a savings account. It’s a painless way to save.
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