The absence of formal education on personal finances is one of the reasons why the gap between the rich, the middle class and the poor keeps widening. Improving your finances is a fundamental aspect of basic human existence. Yet schools grill students on all kinds of subjects; on atomic particles and the periodic table, transverse and longitudinal dunes, geometric shapes and trigonometric functions, Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies. Everything but how to manage personal finances.
It is not that these subjects mentioned are not relevant. They are, for professional life. But getting a job is not the whole picture of adulthood. As Robert Kiyosaki states, schools teach us only how to work for money. Whereas the bigger lesson should be how to harness money’s power. While we may achieve professional success, financial stability is not tantamount to income. You must be intentional about what you do with your money. The following steps can help improve your finances-
1. Ask yourself money questions
A lot of us struggle financially because we do not have answers to the following questions. Matter of fact we haven’t even given the subject much thought-
- How do you spend your money?
- Do you know how to grow your money?
- Is there a way you can earn more?
- How long can you keep your money?
- How hard can your money work for you?
In the last couple of months, we (Atte and I) asked ourselves these questions repeatedly. Strange that we have been married well over six years and this conversation was only just happening. Better late than never, I guess. We implemented the pointers below. I kid you not, it is astounding how differently we perceive money. How transformational our spending habits have become. But most importantly, the shift that has occurred in improving our overall finances in just nine months. I believe when you ask yourself (or partner/friend) “money questions” you begin to see opportunities that had been there all along. You just did not notice them because you were not looking. To Improve your finances is a process, one step at a time, one day at a time, but first, have honest conversations around the subject.
2. Read on everything finances!
Reading is such an underrated habit which we all need to cultivate. The Bible verse, “My people perish for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6) holds one of the deepest truths to humanity and where we stand as a people. If you are seeking to improve on your well-being in general, and on your finances in particular, your second move should be to READ. It has been said that knowledge is power. Power to stir your life in the direction you would love to see it go. To have better finances, you have to become financially literate. We have already established that formal education is all about literacy, but lacking a ton on money-matters. Reading books on personal finance creates such in-depth awareness of money and your role in its increment or reduction.
For starters, reading will debunk myths about money. One such being; more money will solve your problems. Money only accentuates the cash flow patterns running in our heads. That is why many people who have won the lottery go on to be destitute and homeless in just a matter of years. No one is saying having more money is not a good thing. However, the way you manage and spend the little you have would be the same way you manage and spend when you have more.
Once you have debunked this myth, it does not matter what your income is. You will find a way to work on your finances. My best reads on this subject have been Rich Dad, Poor dad (which I reference a lot in this post) and The richest man in Babylon, and The Smart Money Woman. These books have personally been life-changing and I am positive they would help you improve on your finances.
This may sound like a no brainer but guess what? An overwhelming majority of educated individuals do not budget! I got paradoxical responses while talking with friends and family on this subject. Those with huge monthly incomes considered budgeting a thing for those with small incomes and vice versa. Whether you consider your income to be huge or small, budgeting is for everyone seeking to have better finances.
Budgeting gives you an overview of where your money is going. Once you understand where your money is going, it is a lot easier to cut out excesses or find ways to compromise and manage your money. Up until recently, Atte and I did not budget. Not on grocery, not on extracurricular activities…we went with the wind! Consequently, our bank accounts were constantly in the red zone because we did not have a grip on how we were spending, and what we were spending on. Deciding to budget has been pivotal for our finances on so many levels. Not much has changed in terms of income, yet the benefits of budgeting cannot be overstated!
If you do not have a budget for grocery, for instance, you are most likely to grab articles which are not on your list because of one deal or the other. Things you do not necessarily need but have some “irresistible” deals. You are also more likely to jump at the prospects of visiting a new restaurant which just opened. Go to the movies for a new release. All of those are cool but you need to ensure you can afford them. If you do not budget, your expenses will keep increasing as your income increases. If you have a budget, however, you stay within your margins. Not depriving yourself of the fine things in life but having a “SmartMoney” mindset which transforms finances.
And while you budget, go shopping with cash, and not your cards…you will not be going above the designated amount!
4. Develop a “SmartMoney” mindset: grow finances
Generally speaking, a SmartMoney mindset is thinking of your financial health in terms of the long run, rather than short term gratification. I have two sons. The younger one lives and breathes hand-me-down items, in my opinion, as he should. But my brother does not share my sentiments. To him, every child should own some of their own items. Every time I have the urge to buy something new that my second son already has, I save that money for the future. You be the judge here, do you think that child, when he is sixteen or seventeen, would appreciate pictures of him in his own clothes, or a bank account which could sponsor a trip across continents?
Speaking of “SmartMoney” mindsets, I read a post which held so much truth, I wish I had seen it sooner. It said something along the lines of, “If you see an article at a reduced price of sixty from a hundred euros and you leap at the opportunity and buy it, you haven’t saved forty euros, you have spent sixty euros”. It felt like a personal attack. The writer of that post was all up in my business!
Reading short posts like these daily could reinforce your will to be mindful about limiting your expenses. It had been the story of my life for the longest time, to get excited over fifty and seventy per cent deals. And my logic was I was saving since I was not buying at full price. And this logic drove me to spend irrespective of whether these articles were needs or wants.
Once I internalised the rationale in the post, and several others relating to it, I experienced a rebirth in terms of finances. Do not fall for the pop-up deals on your social media feed. I have been able to grow my finances simply by not jumping at reduced prices.
Another “SmartMoney” mindset is giving yourself a seventy-two-hour window before ordering something you’ve been contemplating on buying. If you leave items in your online cart for three days, you would be forced to confront yourself. To ask yourself questions such as, “do I really need these?”
P.S To those looking forward to Black Friday sales, take mental notes of prices now. Sometimes it is the same price from a month ago! You get excited because you haven’t been paying attention. Marketers are working overtime.
5. Buy assets and not liabilities to improve on your finances
When most people hear the word asset, they think they need to be making huge sums of money to buy assets. This is quite far from reality. You do not need a whole lot of money to buy assets. You need to understand the difference between assets and liabilities. Simply put, an asset is anything which adds money to your pocket, while a liability takes money out. Good examples are all those kitchen gadgets we keep acquiring convincing ourselves we need them meanwhile they just add to our electricity bills.
Personally, there are a lot of liabilities we would have bought this year, had we not asked ourselves the money questions I mentioned in the first point. The excitement of finally having my driver’s license should have been rewarded with a car. We would have told ourselves anything scrappy and cheap I could use until my driving was no longer worrying (one year later I still lateral park like I am drunk!). The down payment may cost just a few thousand euros, but is that where the costs end?
Instead, we deliberately focused on acquiring income-generating assets, while keeping expenses and liabilities down. It is true a car is a necessity until it truly isn’t. We have been buying stocks to grow our asset column. Stocks are tricky, but worth your while in the long run (more on this coming soon). And yes you could buy stocks for fifteen or twenty-five dollars. It does not have to cost you a fortune, do your research and be bold and have faith in taking calculated risks.
6. Understand the true meaning of being broke
We most often use a false metric to measure our finances. Thinking in terms of how much money we make, rather than how much we keep. In Arese’s The smart money woman, she breaks down a couple of money concepts in an interesting way. She measures being broke in terms of sustainability. To her, being broke means if you lost your primary source of income today, you wouldn’t be able to maintain the lifestyle you have become accustomed to because you have nothing in terms of savings or assets.
In other words, if you do not have an emergency fund which can pay all your bills for at least four months after you lose your job, it does not matter how much you make…you are broke! Well, that sounds a tad too dramatic, someone may argue. You may actually get a better paying job two months later. Or stay unemployed for more than four months. Either way, being broke encompasses a lot more than savings. To some degree, those arguments are valid. The point is, have cash saved up for emergencies, and rainy days.
If you let Arese’s definition sink in, you would think more about saving than spending. Buying assets aside, think of creating an emergency fund. It might take you a while to build a three-month safety net, but you must start from somewhere to improve on your finances.
She goes on to argue that “when a young adult starts earning more than they need to survive, they end up living from paycheck to paycheck because they think about their incomes largely in terms of spending“. This is so true for a lot of young people. Change only comes when you deliberately hold the reins of your finances.
7. Think passive income or side hustle
A lot of us think passive incomes and side hustles require time and energy we do not have. Meanwhile, we spend hours on our hobbies entertaining ourselves and not generating a tiny bit of income from them. My sister/friend sends me video messages daily. These messages usually open with “your favourite uber driver here”. I really don’t know what this girl is looking for, but she is constantly on the road. I have asked her, “since you love driving so much why don’t you make some money out of it? The income would be passive in the sense that your passengers are going your way.” Seems implausible until someone else does it and makes a fortune out of it right?
My brother, on the other hand, loves music and partying. He turned that passion into a side hustle. He makes lots of extra pounds every month as a DJ while having fun! What is it that you are doing and receiving “thank yous”, for friends and family members, which could increase your cash flow?
To improve on your finances, think about your passions and how you can make money out of them. Personally, I love to sell, eBay has been a dear friend lately!
8. Set a financial goal= improved finances
Setting up a financial goal could be as minimal as saving two hundred euros a year. Or as ambitious as retiring before your thirtieth birthday. Whatever it is, it helps you create a roadmap for building wealth and getting to where you see yourself financially. To help you achieve this goal, stay inspired by other success stories. There are a lot of ordinary people out there doing extraordinary things financially and sharing their journeys towards attaining almost far fetched goals. Let them be your motivation.
All in all, a lot of us leave school without any financial aptitude and have to learn the hard way. In general, we are not taught in any framework on how to keep and grow money. The aforementioned points have been a real game-changer for us, I hope they help you improve on your finances. What tricks have helped you turn your finances around? I would love to read about your own experiences on money-matters. Looking forward to your responses in the comments.