A few years ago, I offered a workshop on a Saturday morning in March called “What to Do With Your Tax Refund.”
I had more than 30 people sign up. They left comments like, “I could really use this!” and “This is exactly what I need!” But when the day of the workshop arrived, a grand total of zero people showed up.
That’s right, zero. Where were the people who thought they needed it so much?
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So Why Do We Self-Sabotage?
The truth is, no one likes to be told what to do with their money, even if they genuinely don’t know how they should use it. And the feeling of suddenly having a large sum of money all at once — like a generous tax refund — makes us feel powerful. In that moment, we can do things for ourselves and our family that we normally wouldn’t be able to do.
For example, a single mother may work a full-time job and typically make only enough to get by. But when she files her taxes and receives a large refund — in this case, let’s say more than $2,000 — she can treat herself and her kids to things that she normally can’t.
She can take them out to dinner, buy expensive clothes, or get her hair or nails done. She can even put a down payment on a car.
In those moments of temporary “riches,” you’re not inclined to take the frugal and responsible path.
You end up spending because the funds are sitting in your account, and you feel like you deserve a small reward with your hard-earned cash. You don’t think of the possibility that you’ll be right back where you were the month prior to receiving your tax refund.
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So there I was offering a dynamic class in hopes of setting them up for success, and nobody decides to show up. Why? Because they’ve already decided what to do with their money. They don’t want me to condemn them for it or try to talk them out of it.
I get it: All those sleepless nights worrying about money and how you’re going to make it to Friday. All those days wondering what you and your family will eat or where to find the money for your kids’ field trips or soccer cleats.
You want it now, and you are buying it now.
All caution goes to the wind when it comes to setting yourself up for a better future because let’s be honest, the future looks pretty grim.
But what if I told you that you can get out of whatever financial slump you’re in and learn how to stop living paycheck to paycheck? Yes, it will delay that big purchase that you wanted to make. But it will bring you to a place of financial balance.
How to Get on the Right Track
First, hold off on whatever you were going to buy with your tax refund. Unless it’s a car or car repairs that you need so that you can get to and from your job, delay all nonessential purchases. Instead, set aside the total amount of your monthly expenses. Let’s say your monthly expenses add up to $2,000.
Set that much aside from your refund, and use the rest to catch up on bills. Now take that earlier $2,000 and pay all of your bills at the first of the month. Don’t use money from your paycheck, just the money you set aside.
From now on, save the money you’re being paid over the next month. Then, on the first, use that money to pay your bills again.
Congratulations, you’re no longer living paycheck to paycheck!
Instead, you’re living off the month before and you have a little cushion if there is an emergency. You’re on your way to living a life full of financial wellness.
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More Tips and Tricks to Make Smart Money Choices
Nearly 80 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, according to a 2017 study by CareerBuilder. If you always feel like you’re one step behind on paying off bills, take a tip from certified financial planner Natalie Taylor on how to get your ducks in a row and your dollars in a stack:
1. Run Down Your Expenses
Review all of your fixed expenses and see if there’s anything you can eliminate, especially subscriptions and memberships you can do without. Redirect those dollars into a savings account by setting up automatic transfers from your checking account on paydays.
2. Credit? Forget It
If you carry credit card debt from month to month, stop using your cards until you have the debt completely paid off. This way, you can see exactly how much you’re spending and how much you’re paying off on your cards.
3. Eyes on the Prize
Spend some time thinking about your financial goals and why you might want to set aside some money for them. Knowing what you’re trying to accomplish will help you make progress.
4. Think Outside the Bank
Open a separate savings account at a separate bank (so that you’re less likely to use it) and set up automatic contributions.
Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney.