**Non-food post ahead. Though admittedly there will still be plenty talk of greens.**
Let’s talk money. After all, it’s the subject of today’s #FebPhotoADay.
Although the above piggy bank is mainly used for spare change and random one-dollar coins, it’s also the ubiquitous symbol for saving. [History lesson: The name originated from “pygg,” a type of clay used to make jars that held money.] And even though I am technically a bootstrapping entrepreneur, saving is a huge deal for me.
I am frugal by nature, but my habit of reining in on budget intensified when I became a business owner responsible for generating my own income, managing both personal and business expenses while simultaneously trying to plan a wedding. Fortunately, Mama B. was and is there to provide guidance on all of these things as both my accountant (she’s a CPA) and the ultimate party planner.
The return on investment for learning how to budget goes beyond the physical, in my opinion. It’s mental, too. Having the peace of mind I need to focus my full attention on the projects and business activities that I am passionate about ultimately leads to better results.
I’ve discussed what I’ve learned in the past, but thought these tips would be worth repeating. I’d love to hear from you at the end of this post, too.
Tip #1: Set goals for every month, quarter and year – and evaluate your progress.
- Mint.com. Mint is a free financial tool that you can access every day. You can use it to set many different goals and access all of your detailed information, including bank accounts, credit cards, loans, investments, property…and on and on. This website has been absolutely essential in helping me stay on track. I can easily set budgets for things like groceries, shopping, transportation, etc. It even sends me an email to notify me if I am coming close to or have exceeded that budget, so I know where to cut back and work to improve for the next month.
- Make a list. I’m a big believer in bringing out the old pen and paper (or Word doc, if you must) and writing a list of all the purchases you hope to make over the course of your lifetime. If you want to buy your dream home someday, for example, you may find that suddenly the must-have spring dress is not as essential anymore, especially when you already have plenty of cute clothes in your closet. This is one example, but putting the big purchases in perspective will help make it easier to avoid giving into the temptation of little purchases, which tend to add up quicker than we realize!
Tip#2: Pay your bills on time every month (and in full, if possible).
- Set calendar reminders. Whether you are addicted to paper planners like me or can’t get enough of Google Calendar on your smart phone, set up monthly reminders for credit card bills, cell phone payments and, most importantly (and least fun) for business owners, income and payroll taxes. If it’s on the calendar, you are much more likely to remember and avoid late fees.
- Set up automatic bill pay. Pretty much every online bill payment service now offers the chance to set up automatic payments that debit from your account on a specific day each month. As long as you are comfortable, this is a great option that saves a lot of time. Personally, I like to log in and see the payments go through myself (blame it on my Type A personality).
Tip #3: Set aside one afternoon each month to devote to your finances.
- QuickBooks. Comprehensive accounting software for small businesses. POP! Social Media and DreamChamps uses this once a month to get up to speed on invoices, payments, expenses, salaries and more. It will make everything much easier during tax time if you have all of this information in one location. Plus, then there are no surprises and you are able to set goals for the future. Quicken is a great personal tool that is modeled much like QuickBooks for businesses.
- Bring back the calendar – again. Make sure to mark the day you are setting aside to focus on finances so that you can’t let alternative plans tempt you to put it off for another day!
Tip #4: Remember that a paycheck does not equal a shopping spree.*
- Open a savings account. Having a physical location to move money you would like to save for the future makes you much more likely to, well, save that money for the future. Some banks move a certain amount of money automatically for you every month. But I’ve found that doing the moving myself helps me wrap my head around it and know that this money is “off limits.”
- Start investing in the future. You don’t have to put all of your money in the stock market by any means, but opening a retirement account such as a Roth IRA or looking into your company’s 401K offerings are very important, and the earlier the better. You can also set aside funds in low-risk investments such as a certificate of deposit (CD).
Tip #5: Spend on experiences rather than “things.”
- Examine the research. More and more studies are finding that people are happier spending money on experiences – vacations, classes, concert tickets, etc. – than on physical things.
- Examine how you feel. I know that personally, a weekend at home with my family or a truly delicious meal at one of Chicago’s best restaurants leaves me feeling much more refreshed and satisfied than the feeling I get after buying new sunglasses. Although material things are fun, relationships matter most to me. I take this into account when planning my budget. My restaurant and travel allocations are much higher than what I set aside for shopping and I like it that way!
Obviously budgeting is not “one size fits all” – this is just my two cents (pun shamelessly intended).
How do you feel about saving, budgeting, etc.? What tools/strategies do you use?
*This is by far the hardest lesson to learn, but has been the most important in helping my savings grow.