Confused and stressed out about how to manage your money so you don’t run out before payday? Put these nine easy moves into action and you’ll be well on your way to simplify your spending.
I know what you’re thinking—simplify and spending in the same sentence? Ha! Like that’s even possible when we have credit cards, debit cards, bank accounts, bills, bill-pay, auto-pay, fees, penalties, interest rates, and fees to keep track of. How can we possibly make managing money simple?
By having a plan. By choosing to become accountable and then using every tactic possible to streamline and de-stress your money.
When it comes to paying for things like groceries, gas and other daily routine items, there is nothing easier than paying with cash. You can’t overdraft it and you won’t have to worry about fees and interest. Once it’s spent, that’s it. Done. So simple.
Organize with envelopes
This is quite possibly the most effective money management technique. Get a stack of envelopes and label one for each of the ways you’ll be spending your cash (food, gas, and so on). Place the appropriate amount of cash in each envelope. There. You’ve got a spending plan. As a bonus, you’ll have a handy place to keep the receipts from each of those categories. And, they’ll be neatly organized by category if you need to return something in the future, or prepare your taxes.
Kids on allowance
For most families, kids plus money equals a big black hole. It’s the constant money drip for food, friends, movies, food, games, school, tickets, food. Bring sanity to your finances by determining a set amount for each child per month. Then, create an envelope with that child’s name on it and put the cash inside. Call it an allowance. Whether you or the child manages that money is up to you. Either way, it’s a set amount you can plan on. And when it’s gone? No more spending until the next fill up.
Most retailers, including supermarkets and gas stations, offer some kind of gift card these days. Use them to simplify your finances. Let’s say you intend to spend $400 for groceries this month. Buy a $400 gift card from your supermarket and use it as you would a debit or credit card during the month. When you swipe it, the amount of that purchase will be deducted from the total prepaid amount available. You can’t “borrow” money from a store gift card and it’s fee-free, too. If you stick with it, you’re guaranteed to stay on a budget.
Track your charges
Whenever you use a credit or debit card, take 30 seconds to record that transaction in the same way you record the checks you write. Deduct the amount from the balance right away, even if you won’t get that credit card statement until weeks from now. You spent the money, right? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that money is still yours to spend until the statement arrives. Enter it in red ink now! Later, when your bank statement or credit card bill arrives, you’ll be able to quickly double-check the red entries.
By putting your regular bills and payments on auto-pay, you eliminate that monthly decision: Should I pay bills tonight or wait until Tuesday? Should I put money into savings this month or buy those cute shoes? You can set up auto payments two ways:
Online bill pay
Use your bank’s online bill pay option, which is a free service at most banks but also at credit unions, brokerages, and mutual fund accounts. An automatic bill payment is a money transfer from your account on a predetermined date or schedule, to pay a recurring bill.
Automatic payments can be made from a checking account or credit card. They are usually set up with the company receiving the payment, though it’s also possible to schedule automatic payments through a checking account’s online bill pay service.
Banks don’t all operate exactly the same way, so go online to check out your bank’s auto bill pay service.
Automatic authorized payments
Most lenders and other service providers will let you set up online automatic payments authorizing them to reach into your bank account to take an amount you specify—the minimum payment, a set dollar amount or the full balance—every month from your checking account right before the payment is due.
Go to your credit card issuer’s and other lenders’ websites to learn more.
Most utility companies now offer this kind of service, too. And while we’re talking about it, if you set up your student loans to be paid automatically, expect to get a reduction in your interest rate as a nice thank-you. You’ll be amazed how this will simplify your money.
Most households can operate just fine with one checking account and one savings account. If you have more, consolidate your various accounts into a single checking account and one savings account. You’ll simplify your banking big time!
Shift to online
Just living life these days can lead to piles of paper—statements and notices from credit card issuers, utilities, insurance carriers, banks, brokerage accounts and so forth can morph into piles of paper. You may push them aside to read later but in the meantime, all those piles can be super stressful.
Shift all of those accounts to online. Get rid of any paperwork that isn’t absolutely necessary. Go to each of your providers and opt to go paperless where you receive statements and notifications online.
Just one credit card
Over the years you may have accumulated a number of credit cards. Maybe it was to get a zero-interest introductory rate or to participate in a rewards program. But once the rewards are gone and the zero-interest account did as you intended, those cards should have little value.
Don’t close those accounts in order to protect your excellent credit score, but focus your credit card use on a single card. Make it the one that offers the best benefits and put the rest away. Simplify your spending and handle payments with a single credit card.