Holidays are a hassle!!! Between relatives staying over and mall-shopping things can become a havoc. Am I right? During this season I have become swamped by just trying to work down my “to do list”. I have personally been overwhelmed with numerous tasks which has thrown off my budget. Between jobs, school, church, plus the holidays I have not given the attention that a ‘monthly budget’ requires. Busyness is something that happens to everyone. And even though the word once brought negativity, nowadays being “busy” has some sort of positive connotation. Fulfilling demands and responsibilities can makes us feel productive and needed. It makes us feel important and useful. However, being busy also has its disadvantages. For example, it may take away time from family or personal interest. It could also distract us from other important areas of our life like finances.
As I work my way out of this financial plight, I would like to share with you my 4-step action plan. Because if there’s something that we have taught you here at Saving For Hope is that financial freedom is always intentional! Without exception, you must have a plan in order to have financial peace.
- The first step of my action plan involves reviewing my bank statements. What’s great about this is that many banks does this already for free! Once I print at least the last three months statements’, I’ll be able to monitor all previous expenses. As I analyze these statements, I’ll be intentionally categorizing all expenses. Categorizing may vary among different lifestyles, nonetheless, you must be as thoroughly as possible. In my case, there is the “necessity’s bills” category. These are bills like utilities, water, grocery, gas, etc. These are the essentials for anyone to live. Second, there is the “mortgage bill” category. This is also part of essential living expenses, but because it’s a huge portion of my paycheck, it has its own category. I also have “social” and “miscellaneous” categories that I’ll be analyzing in detail, to see how much money I’m spending on each. Again, the point of this first step is to identify patterns and to categorize expenses, to better understand your own monetary flow.
- As part of my action plan, I’ll be prioritizing the bills that were previously identified. If you’re behind, one of the things I do to cope with anxiety is embracing it. Many times, when we are behind, anxiety takes over us and somehow, we tend to ignore our financial struggles. Put all your bills spread out on the table. Prioritize them first on necessities and then by due dates. Your mortgage and groceries are more important than being on time on your cable bill or student loan. Due dates are crucial, but a practical truth about finances and self-control is that bills will not be paid overnight. It takes time and discipline. Once you get all the necessities out of the way then start on the rest of the bills. And remember, acknowledging that you’re behind is the first step to create an action plan.
- Next on my action plan is grocery shopping. In my experience, food is the second category where I spend most of my money after mortgage. Because I have been so busy, I have caught myself eating out too often. It has been very convenient for me to stop at fast-food restaurants when rushing between jobs; however, eating out has corrupted my monthly budget. I’ll be intentionally making my grocery list and refusing to eat out as much as I can. Many expenses can be avoided if we only go grocery shopping instead. From that Starbucks’ coffee to that chicken quesadilla, it could all be found at the store around the corner for a cheaper price.
- Finally, freeze your credit cards. If you are behind on your bills one of the first things that you should do is stop borrowing money. You will never get out of your financial predicament if you keep spending money that you don’t own. This is oxymoron, you can’t use debt to get out of debt. Therefore, I’ll be freezing all my credit cards. Hence, I’ll only use hard cash to pay all my bills. This step on my action plan will help me track my expenses and not dig myself into a greater debt hole.
I hope this brief action plan helps you organize your finances just like it has for me, as we close this holiday season. If you liked it or have any other suggestions, please share with us below. We would love to hear from you. Here at Saving For Hope is not about being perfect in our finances, but about building and holding each other accountable. Enjoy!
Santos A. O’Neill, a contributor to this blog, is a senior educator and post-graduate student that works with teens and young adults as they equip to go to college. He also works as a high school teacher and an athletic coach.