Now's The Perfect Time To Assess Your Finances, And Here's How To Do It
Money is a feminist issue — and yet, women are still reluctant to talk about it. According to a recent Bustle survey of more than 1,000 Millennial women, more than 50 percent of people said they never discuss personal finances with friends, even though 28 percent reported feeling stressed out about money every single day. Bustle's Get Money series gets real about what Millennial women are doing with their money, and why — because managing your finances should feel empowering, not intimidating.
With summer in full swing, and now that the year's half over, now's the perfect time to assess your finances. After all, with temperatures getting hotter and hotter in much of the world, more and more people are traveling and making vacation plans. However, it's also the perfect time to make financial checkup plans.
"Summer is here and it is the best time to do a mid-year checkup on your finances," Kimmie Greene, consumer finance expert at Intuit's Mint, tells Bustle. "With vacations and so many summer weddings on your calendar, it is easy to get off track from the savings goals you set at the beginning of the year — and if you've already gone off the rails spending-wise, there is still time to get back on course before the busy fall and holiday season take over. The most productive way to conduct a full mid-year financial snapshot includes reviewing three key areas — spending, savings, and income — which will give you a realistic snapshot on how you're tracking toward your goals and ultimately help you make smarter choices about your money."
Below, you'll find some tips to help you reassess your finances and budget, so your summer can be as stress-free as possible.
1. Look At Your Spending
With the fun summer months here, it's an ideal time to go shopping, from getting new summer dresses and clothes to bathing suits. But, not so fast. "'Don't spend what you don't have'" remains the ultimate truth in managing day-to-day finances," Greene says. "Monthly spending includes both fixed and discretionary expenses — or, in other words, your needs and wants. While some fixed expenses — i.e., your dream apartment — may be breaking the bank, it's often discretionary spending, like happy hours and those trips to [stores] for 'just a few things,' that takes its toll and adds up quickly. So, consider shifting your mindset around the way you spend to be more mindful of not only where your money is going, but what you're getting for it and how long it will last."
2. Set Mini Goals
I don't know about you, but come January 1 each year, I set monthly and weekly resolutions, not just annual New Year's ones. Jennifer Barrett, Chief Education Officer at Acorns and Editor-in-Chief of Grow, has a similar idea when it comes to finances. "Setting mini goals helps to keep your motivation up," she tells Bustle. "If you want to save $1,000, for example — a good place to start if you don't yet have a savings account to cover unexpected expenses — break it down into monthly goals of $167 or even weekly goals of $42. Then, look for areas where you can free up some funds to put toward your goal. That could mean committing to cutting down on food costs and making lunch or dinner instead of getting takeout a couple times a week, negotiating down things that are blowing your budget, like your monthly cable and cell phone bills, or picking up a side hustle. As you hit each milestone, make sure to take a moment to recognize and celebrate the progress you've made."
3. Get An Accountability Buddy
Just like you may need a gym buddy, you may need a keeping-your-finances-in-check buddy, too. Plus, this won't cost you any money! "This month, review your financial resolutions and see if your actual spending matches up," Maggie Germano, Financial Coach Women, tells Bustle. "Connect your accounts to apps like Mint or Clarity Money if you haven't yet. Does your spending over the past several months reflect the goals you set for yourself? If not, what can you do to get back on track? Try not to beat yourself up; we all fall off the wagon. If you need support, find an accountability buddy! Set up weekly meetings where you can check in with each other on your goals."
4. Analyze Your Savings And Investments
During your summer financial assessment, a big question you should ask yourself is about your saving habits. Because, without a consistent saving plan in place, your money management, or lack thereof, can derail — and fast. "All too often, savings are considered to be whatever is leftover after bills and expenses are paid," Greene says. "However, a more deliberate approach to savings can encourage and motivate people to save more intentionally. With a solid savings plan — one that meets big goals and small goals — it really doesn't matter if you choose to spend the rest on avocado toast. The good news is that it's now easier than ever to begin building a nest egg with new savings and investment apps, such as Mint or Acorns, may help you get over the hump and build new habits by starting in small increments and putting savings on autopilot."
5. Bump Up Your Savings
So you are analyzing your savings, but why not aim to save even more?! After all, every takeout cup of coffee adds up, and if you're spending $5-10 a day on that coffee, that's $35-70 a week, of course! Instead, you can save or invest that money! Brianna McGurran, student loans and personal finance expert at NerdWallet and fellow female Millennial, is all about amping up your savings however you can. "If you got a raise, bonus, or started a new job with a higher salary in the last six months (go you!), bump up your savings," she tells Bustle. "Increase your retirement account contribution so it gets closer to 10-15 percent of income, or start to solidify your emergency fund. Here's a handy rule of thumb: 50 percent of your newfound money should go toward savings or debt repayment, and 50 percent should go toward fun stuff — reward yourself for all that hustle."
Jamie Young, personal finance expert, Student Loan Hero, agrees about setting up extra savings accounts. "Lazy rivers, beach vacations, and backyard BBQs with friends — the last thing you want to do during the summer is check in on your finances," she tells Bustle. "But halfway through the year is the perfect time to do it, so you can get on top of any issues before the holidays start. If you do a money checkup around July, you won't be caught by surprise come November and December — when your finances can really get stressed. Start a separate savings account now to cover holiday expenses so you won't need to rack up more debt by putting gifts and decorations on credit cards."
6. Take A Serious Look At Your Income
Yes, you may be thinking, "My income is always the same, why assess it?" But, that's exactly why you should assess it. "At the end of the day, after taking a comprehensive look at savings and expenses, a complete financial checkup includes some soul-searching on income," Greene says. "While it seems basic, confirming whether the money coming in is enough to cover what's going out remains important. All too often, people are living close to the edge. Skimping on savings goals for even a few months can make a big dent that is often difficult to overcome. Be aware of you where you stand financially — and whether or not you expect to fall short. Considering a side hustle or asking your boss for a raise may go a long way."
7. Take A Look At Your Retirement, Too
I know, you may think your retirement is far off — why look at your retirement savings?! But it's better for your financial and emotional health knowing something is in your retirement fund versus nothing. "Check in on your retirement savings progress," Arielle O'Shea, investing and retirement specialist for NerdWallet, tells Bustle. "If your plan was to max out a 401(k), IRA, or both for the year, the halfway mark is a good time to take a look at where you stand. If you're behind, it's not too late to catch up, but you may need to buckle down. Even boosting your contribution rate by $10 or $20 a week could get you there. Overall, make sure your savings goal is still the right goal for you. If you've seen any change to your finances this year — a new job, a raise, you got married, or had a baby — it's worth using a retirement calculator to revisit how much you should be saving."
8. Keep In Mind That Financial Markets May Be Calmer In The Summer
I know, you may be wondering why summer is a good time to reevaluate your finances. And there are several reasons. "Summer maybe a good time to take stock in your finances and investments," Paul Meeks, professor and personal finance expert at GOBankingRates.com, tells Bustle. "You have more time to gather data and concentrate on the task — also, the financial markets are typically calmer. While we applaud a thorough annual financial checkup, and summer may be an ideal time to do that, we recommend that you evaluate your portfolio and other key financial policies every quarter."
9. Focus On Your Top Few Finance Goals
Miranda Marquit, personal finance expert, Student Loan Hero, thinks the key to financial goal success is making it more manageable overall. "Disappointed that you aren't reaching your financial goals? Maybe you set the wrong goals at the beginning of the year," she tells Bustle. "Too often, we make a laundry list of things we think we're 'supposed' to do. In reality, these might be things we don't actually care about. Now is the perfect time to look over your list, and figure out if the items on that list actually make sense — and if they will help you reach your lifestyle and financial goals. Instead of creating a long list of wishes, pick two or three items that will really help you move forward — evaluate what's working, and what's not working. Ditch what isn't working and create a new plan based on what you want your money to accomplish for you."
10. Be Realistic
Of course, when looking at your progress regarding your finances, you need to be realistic. "The beginning of summer is a great time to reassess the financial goals you set out in the new year — you probably have a lot of goals that you've already forgotten about, and that shouldn’t have to wait another six months to come back into the picture," Shannon McNay, personal finance expert, Student Loan Hero, tells Bustle. "Now, you can see what kind of progress you made (or not), and create a more realistic game plan for the remainder of the year. And if it sounds like too much of a drag, grab a pen and paper and do the work while sitting at a park or on the beach! Then you can get back to having the real fun while knowing you can hit your goals because of the strategic plans you've made."
As you can see, there are many areas of your finances that could use some assessing as summer rolls in. After all, you'd probably rather head into the season feeling good about your finances versus burdened by them, right? "Remember, this is a great time for a mid-year checkup to see how you're pacing toward your goal and what adjustments you need to make in order to reach it by the end of 2017," Barrett says. "A mid-year checkup is a good idea regardless of whether you made a New Year's resolution or not. You still have six months to set and reach a money goal — and you can make a lot of progress in that time! Start by getting a full picture of your financial life. Track how much you're earning, spending, saving, investing, and putting toward any debt. Then look at where you can make improvements."
Exactly! And the key to any resolution is just starting.
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