Have you noticed how every spring, glossy magazines try to draw us in with miracle diets to get us back in our bikinis by summer? Have you ever tried one of those diets? I’m guilty of that, too.
And let me tell you – it has never worked. What can I say? I like to eat. What works for me is moving around and not limiting my food intake. I have the same attitude towards my personal finance. I love traveling, and those good eats come at a cost, too. So I look for ways to earn more so I can afford my little pleasures.
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But unlike dieting, when it comes to personal finance, I have my habits ingrained. So much so that I know when I spend too much and need to balance my budget to get back in shape.
When it comes to money, I'm that annoying skinny model who tells you she can eat whatever she wants and still keep her figure.
Staying in Financial Shape
While I haven’t mastered the food equilibrium just yet, I can teach you my personal finance secrets to stay in perfect financial shape. A crash diet won’t cut it. You can’t wake up one day and decide that you're going to go from broke to saving 50 percent of your income by the end of the month. You have to start small and grow your savings incrementally.
If you have no savings, try starting with $5 a week. Yes, it seems ridiculous – same way I think it's ridiculous to skip dessert when you’ve already have had a big steak with mayo fries. But it will make things a little easier when you try to go for a run the next morning.
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There is a cool challenge that makes you save $1 the first week, $2 the next, and so on until you save $52 the last week of the year. Doesn’t seem like much, does it? Well, if you manage to make it to week 52, you'll have $1,378 in savings.
Saving $1 on Week One will go unnoticed, and by the time you reach week 52, the slow increment will make saving $52 painless. On the other hand, if you start with $52 right away, you may feel the pinch, and give up after a few weeks – just like starving yourself. You’ll end up having that double cheeseburger and ruining all your efforts.
Focus on Your Own Efforts
Of course, it makes you envious to see other people with way more savings. But they started earlier and they got the hang of it slowly-but-surely, just like you're doing now. Try finding an amount that works for you. Maybe $1 a week is a little too small, and you want to go bigger. Figure out your sweet spot.
If you eat lunch out every day and spend $10, try packing your lunch once a week. That puts $10 in your savings jar.
Not a big effort, and you'll save $40 by the end of the month. Once you get used to packing your lunch once a week, increase to twice a week – or find another area of your spending you could cut without feeling deprived.
The other bad part of a crash diet is that your body is brutally forced to function with half the calorie intake it used to receive. It gets confused, and then it makes you feel super hungry later to make up for what you put it through. Saving too hard, too fast will probably have a similarly negative impact on your savings.
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Your balance may “yo-yo” and end up even lower than when you began the savings resolution. Instead, try the “skinny model” approach. Yes, she eats chocolate. Once a week, she has one tiny square. She doesn’t have a Mars bar after each meal. She savors it and balances it with lots of veggies.
Leave Room to ‘Splurge'
Your personal finance habits should be the same. Do you really want that piece of clothing or that vintage chair? Go for it. Enjoy it. Use it till it's barely recognizable. But just buy that one item that will bring you great pleasure. Be more cautious about other areas of spending.
And like most eating habits developed over a period of time, after a while, saving also becomes second-nature. You know when you’ve had too much to eat. It was great, you had a nice time, the company was great, and so was the food. Let’s go home and have soup for dinner.
Just think about this the next time you feel like splurging. Tightening the belt too hard is not the solution. So find your “just right.”