If you feel like your finances are always out of whack, you’re not alone.
Eight out of every 10 Americans are in some form of debt, whether that’s due to a mortgage, student loan, or credit cards. And as it gets harder and harder for average people to earn a living wage–let alone provide for a family–many Americans are left wondering exactly how to turn their financial situations around without accruing even more debt.
If you need help getting your finances in shape, here’s a guide to get you started.
Budget like crazy.
Get control over one’s finances can be almost impossible hardif it’s unclear where money is going every month. One of the easiest ways to get finances in order is to budget monthly income by tracking expenditures while planning out how to use income.
Spend one month saving receipts for all your purchases (including to cups of coffee–those add up!). Lay everything out and figure out how much is being spent on every last detail: food, rent, utilities, evenings out, clothes, transportation, cell phone, you name it. After a month of tracking expenses, you’ll be able to see what you’re spending too much on–and where you can trim the fat.
Next, talley up your post-tax income for the month and divide it up into separate categories of needs, wants, debts, and savings. Each category gets further divided by category, (i.e. groceries, rent, and car insurance under “needs”), and a percentage of funds gets allocated to each area. Experts recommend the 50-30-20 rule: 50 percent goes toward essentials, 30 percent goes toward things you want, and 20 percent goes directly to savings and paying off debt.
Downgrade vacation time.
Everyone loves to travel–and experiences are always worth investing in. But instead of spending thousands on a cross-continent trip, learn to have fun for less. Camping in national parks, exploring vacation homes in less touristy areas, or using vacation time to visit (and stay with) friends and family all cut back on vacation costs. Don’t be afraid to get creative, either–RV Parks in North Bend, OR allow you to stay in accomodations you already own while enjoying the scenery (and nearby Mill Casino!).
Live more simply.
Living small means spending less. A big house requires more cleaning, more decorating, and more furniture to fill the space. Large homes also cost more to fill with central air or heat. And while many of us instinctively think success means going big, studies show that smaller living tends to bring people more joy. When there’s less to clean and organize, there’s less to stress about. And when there aren’t huge rooms with space for lots of furniture, a person learns to make do with what he or she already has.
Moving to a smaller place can be a serious improvement to financial conditions.
Start a side hustle.
If you can make money on the side, you’ll be closer to improving your financial condition. We live in the era of remote work; where freelance opportunities from blogging to data entry are available to all skill levels whether you’re a seasoned coder or newbie product reviewer.
Another great way to make extra income is by becoming a landlord, which doesn’t require any special degrees or qualifications. A good landlord has just two things: determination and good landlord software. If you can bring in additional income on the side while sticking to your current budget, you’ll see debt shrink fast.
DIY your way out of debt.
Can you fix that lamp instead of buying a new one? Can you remodel your kitchen with a few cans of paint instead of paying remodelers to tear everything out? If you can do it yourself, you should.
Same goes for gift-giving. Making things by hand is often more meaningful, and it’s almost certainly cheaper. Coffee tables, home decor, baby shower gifts, and holiday presents can all be done DIY–just beware of biting off more than you can chew and winding up with a serious Pinterest fail.
Live with less.
Our consumer-driven culture has trained us to constantly want more. If there’s a sale, we go. If there’s a newer model, we need it.
But to improve your financial situation, you have to start thinking in terms of what you can live without instead of what else you need to have.
Living simply has the added bonus of being less stressful. A basic television, fewer clothes, fewer new gadgets, and one body fragrance at a time can make life less hectic while lowering debt and increasing savings.
Get a better degree.
A lot of people spend only on necessities and still can’t make ends meet. When this is the case, it’s time to find a job that pays better. And that often means getting a better degree.
Career advancement is hard work that can pay off big-time in the long run. And thankfully, a lot of degrees can now be had online and on your own schedule.
An online RN to BSN degree program runs its course in two years or four. An automotive & diesel technology college in NY trains you as a mechanic, so you can work for a business or start your own. These programs can get you on course to earn better wages fast.
Make a debt plan.
If you’re in debt, one of the best ways to work on getting out of it is to make a plan. You may want to work with a professional to create a debt payment plan, or devise one yourself. A debt plan typically includes consolidating all of your debt into a single category, then setting aside payment amounts for each month. For your payments, you likely have a set amount you’re required to pay (without late fees) but see if you can pay more than that amount each month. For every dollar you pay off interest free, you’re saving a percentage of your future income.
Pay off the credit card every month.
Credit cards are convenient and useful, but they can quickly turn into consumer debt if you’re not careful. Instead of treating a credit card as a blank check, you can think of it as a debit card instead. Budget your expenses carefully, and never spend more than you can pay off at the end of the month. Credit cards come with great benefits and customer perks, and they won’t burn you if you treat them like cash. The simple rule of thumb is: if it’s not in the bank, don’t spend it.
Keeping careful track of waste is a great way to save cash.
Only buy as much food as you can eat in a week, and reduce utility use around the home by turning off lights and minimizing air conditioning use. You’ll end up with cleaner finances and a healthier planet at the end of every month.
Getting your finances in shape certainly isn’t easy. But by tracking spending, keeping a budget, simplifying things and increasing salary potential, you’ll be well on your way to financial freedom.