This column hit my local paper about a month ago--although Christmas has now passed I hope it's still relevant as we enter the new year. I hope everyone has a safe and happy celebration!
Countdown to 2017
What kind of a year would you like 2017 to be? Let’s hope it’s peaceful. But on a personal level, what do you want for yourself and your family in the coming year? Obviously, good health and time together will top the list but how does “stress-free” sound? If you could put some effort into preparing for the financial challenges you will face in the future, would you? Remember that if you keep doing what you’ve been doing you will keep getting what you’ve been getting. If money has stressed you out in 2016, what changes are you willing to make so that 2017 doesn’t follow that same path?
December may be an impossible month to think of having a shopping ban, but January is well suited to some frugal cutbacks. Who wants to see the inside of a store in January, anyways? But what about the Boxing Day sales, you might ask. Unless there’s something you’ve been waiting to buy on a fantastic sale, avoid spending more after you’ve already blown a wad on Christmas.
Is there really anything you need? If so, Boxing Day is a great time to buy if your item is significantly reduced in price. But how many other “deals” will you be unable to resist? It’s a slippery slope when money is tight. Remember that by the time the credit card bill arrives in January the “new” will have already worn off your impulsive splurges. Will you regret it then? Maybe it’s best to avoid the sales and the buyer’s remorse that comes with them.
Do some winter reading
Prepare for a more financially stable 2017 by reading about budgets, reducing debt and saving. Keep these issues on the forefront of your mind—there’s much inspiration to be found on blogs like Mr. Money Mustache (language warning!), written by a retired 30-year-old. Frugalwoods is another great read, following a family that saves over 70% of their monthly income with extreme frugality. Do you need to be so radical? Of course not. But if you’re struggling and don’t know where to start, reading about people who have gained control of their finances is very motivating. Likewise, some financial classics such as Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin, Debt Free Forever by Gail Vaz-Oxlade or David Chilton’s The Wealthy Barber are as relevant now as ever (get them from the library!).
Pay yourself first
After your bills are paid, and before you buy yourself or your kids any extras, have money automatically transferred to another account. Earmark this money for an extra mortgage payment, investments, emergencies. Whatever you decide, don’t go to the trouble of reducing your spending without actually putting the savings to good use. It’s very possible to reduce spending in some areas only to have it trickle away in others. Make a plan with concrete objectives and follow through with action.
This isn’t a New Year’s resolution
We all know what happens with the promises made over champagne on New Year’s Eve. By February the gym membership is a waste and you’ve resumed all your old habits. Unless you immerse yourself in some education and develop new attitudes to money, 2017 is likely to be as stressful as 2016 was. Be proactive. If online shopping is your weakness, unsubscribe from mailing lists and limit your internet time. If apps like Pinterest make you yearn for more stuff, remove them from your phone or suspend your account. Instead of meals out, connect with friends over a cup of coffee. Turn no-spend days into no-spend weeks. Graduate to entire months where you buy only the essentials. Challenge a friend or relative to a shopping ban. And remember, when you feel pressured to join in on expensive activities that you can’t afford, “No” is a complete sentence. You don’t need to explain or justify that decision. Real friends will respect that. Spending to be accepted is not only foolhardy, it is chasing approval that you can’t sustain.
Finding a new normal
This is not to say that the financial woes of the last few years are simply a consumer problem. People took a significant financial hit and it takes time to recover. But recovery will come when you can consistently spend less than you are making. Create habits that save you money. Get creative about earning more. Do something with the surplus—build an emergency fund, snowball your debt, plan for your retirement. Invest your time in people that enjoy you for who you are, not for what you own. New “stuff” does nothing for your future. It gives a fleeting sense of accomplishment and a joy that quickly fades. It leads to more stress. Start preparing now for a 2017 that takes you down a more simple, stable financial path.