Many of us come out of the winter holiday season a bit flabby in more ways than one. We eat a few too many sugar cookies and buy a few too many last second stocking stuffers. If that sounds like you, don’t worry. It happens to the best of us.
And whether you’re carrying a little extra weight or a little extra debt, the solution is often the same: pick a workout plan that works for you. There is no one-size-fits-all option, because what works for you may not work for someone else. But if you’re looking to make a change and get your finances back in shape, these tried and true fiscal exercises are a great place to start.
Step down your spending
If you’re carrying some extra debt, a good way to free up the money necessary to pay it off is to cut back on your spending. Massive cutbacks, however, can be tough to swallow and may not stick as a result. Instead, try a series of smaller, less painful cutbacks.
If you like eating out, you can still do that – you just do it less. If you need your cable TV, you can keep it – you just downgrade to a slightly cheaper package. The idea is that you don’t have to completely rewrite your life. Instead, you just try out a few small edits, one at a time.
Keep a spending journal
One helpful trick for anyone trying to tighten up their finances is to start tracking your spending by hand. You can use an app if you prefer, but there’s something rather enlightening about forcing yourself to write down every little thing you buy. It forces you to think a little harder about how you’re spending your money. After a few weeks, it also leaves you with a handy little budgeting starter kit. Because once you see what you’re already buying, it makes it easier to create a plan for how you’ll be spending your money in the future.
Make paycheck goals
If you find big picture goals hard to stick with (and judging by the number of New Year’s resolutions that get dropped before March, that’s a lot of us), try creating a series of smaller, more focused goals. One idea is to create new goals for every paycheck.
For example, with your next paycheck you can make a goal of paying back 15 percent of your credit card debt. Once you know what that amount looks like, you work backwards, budgeting your remaining funds accordingly. You can do this every paycheck, mixing in savings goals, debt repayment goals, and even special spending goals.
File your tax return ASAP
As we like to remind folks, the money you've overpaid on taxes isn't collecting interest – but the debts you could use those funds to repay are. The sooner you file your taxes, the sooner you can get your refund and use that money to help you repay debt or build your savings.
One a day, every day
Feeling overextended is very stressful. And the more work you need to do to fix the problem, the more stressed and overwhelmed you may feel. If that’s you, do yourself a favor and remember that most problems can’t be fixed in a day. Instead, make it your goal to take one positive step every day. Even if those steps aren’t huge, they’ll add up over time. Meanwhile, you’ll find that staying active helps to relieve some of the anxiety that’s created when you’re faced with an enormous challenge.