We’re right in the middle of the overindulgent, wonderful, stressful and unrelentingly festive holiday season. It might seem like a slightly weird time to think about budgeting, but it’s also almost the start of a new year, which means resolutions.
It’s important to make an intentional shift toward creating better spending habits to ensure that your new goals are not only aspirational, but realistic. And the first step is avoiding overspending this shopping season.
“Keep your holiday budget manageable. You don’t have to impress your friends and family with the gifts that you can purchase. Take care of yourself and your budget so that when you have an emergency, you can take care of those,” said LaTisha Styles of YoungFinances.com, pointing out that overspending on holiday gifts today can equal not having enough money to cover an emergency, next month.
MyFabFinance founder Tonya Rapley said one of the best ways to keep holiday spending in check is to avoid “guilt gifting,” which is where you stretch past your limits in order to buy gifts that you feel obligated to purchase, even if you can’t afford them.
“If it’s not on your list, then it’s not on your list,” Rapley said. She also suggested buying “small and less expensive gifts that will have a big impact,” like gift cards for online classes, for example.
As far as making plans for 2016 goes, Styles suggested avoiding using the term “resolution” because “you won’t feel bad when you break those resolutions because everyone around is you is breaking their resolutions.”
“Call them goals and you just happen to be starting Jan. 1 — really if you can start before then, that’s great,” she noted.. “It’s a tiny thing, but it’s a mental shift that helps you reach financial goals.”
Styles also suggested writing down one specific target, like “I want to save an extra $50 from every paycheck,” twice a day, in a goal book, in order to help you stay focused on reaching your goal. She also cautioned that goals should be “measurable and reachable.”
For example, don’t commit to saving an unrealistic amount of money at one time (i.e. half of each paycheck), especially if those dollars are already earmarked for necessities, like rent and groceries. Instead, Styles said to “start taking the steps to rearrange your budget, cutting out your expenses.”
Ginger Dean, founder of Girls Just Wanna Have Funds, prefers to call budgets “spending plans.”
“Some of us think budgeting…means that we have to deny ourselves everything that we love.”
Her advice is to use tools like the one-page budget that she will be publishing on her site at the beginning of the year. It allows you to enter your income as well as all of your expenses and what you’ll have left over at the end of each month.
“It encourages you to give every dollar a job,” Dean said. “If you still have $800 at the end of the month when you’re putting in all of your expenses, that’s $800 you could blow. Even if you are just going to put it toward your vacation fund, it needs to have a job.”
Rapley, whose blog began as an “accountability partner” to help her get her own finances under control, suggested starting by “committing every day to not creating debt.” She also advised cutting out unnecessary expenses (like getting professional pedicures in the winter, for example), committing to saving 5 percent of your income and creating new, good habits.
“Sometimes, it’s not necessarily a direct financial habit, but it’s something that impacts it,” she said. “Research shows that people who regularly go to the gym or have another habit that they’ve created become more disciplined in other parts of their lives.”
Using budgeting tools can help make it easier to assess the financial damage you’ve done in the past, pinpoint your bad spending habits and make a plan for starting fresh. One popular tool that Styles suggested using is Mint.com. “Mint has a great way for you to review your transactions and review where your money went. Then, you have the opportunity to rearrange your expenses and be intentional with every dollar and figure out where you want them to go,” she said. The site also can send you notifications when you’re spending more than you’d planned on takeout food, for example.
“I like how innovative their budgeting functions are, because they’ll give you a different perspective on your money. Hellowallet will tell you, ‘Here’s what you spent your money on, outside of your mortgage or rent.’ It’s eye-opening. What were the other competing expenses?”
Of course, with anything like budgeting or starting a new fitness plan, there’s going to be some backsliding. “Accidentally” blowing $300 on a purse, racking up a higher-than-expected bar tab or forgetting to close an unnecessary account are all examples of financial slip-ups that can knock you off course.
“Traditional marketing works really hard to make us fall off of the wagon. It’s a multi-million dollar industry that works really hard at getting us to spend money. Everything is conspiring to get us to spend money,” Rapley said.
But instead of beating yourself up about it, Rapley suggested you forgive yourself and move on.
“We have to realize that these are long-standing habits. It won’t happen overnight. Habits are ingrained in us and you’re working against time and what’s comfortable for you.
“You’re changing your belief systems, the way you’ve done things and how you gratify yourself. It’s a process and you’re going to face setbacks, so you have to have plan for how you’re going to bounce back from those setbacks.”