It took me a few years to understand the benefits of financial planning and, you know, making any sort of budget or savings plan for my finances. All I ever knew about making a “plan” for my money was a rule my mom told me when I started my first job: to always save 10% of my paycheck.
Other than that, I never really thought about financial well-being until the weight of my money issues all exploded on me one day. I found myself on my floor, crying, surrounded by bills, credit card payments, and rent that I somehow needed to pay by the end of the month. I’d be stressed about money, but I’d go out for drinks with friends or buy a latte on my way to work in the morning. And for some reason, I never put it together that this might be contributing to the problem.
I started cutting costs left and right. I quickly recognized how much I was spending on things like coffee and food delivery. I realized I was spending my money on toxic habits, and II recognized that I could tackle those poor decisions head-on by deciding not to make those transactions.
When you organize your financial life, overall stress and anxiety will decline because your money won’t be such a big worry anymore.
The reality for most of us is that rebuilding our finances after recovery is tough and seems totally daunting. But, the ability to rebuild is a beautiful part of the process.
Don’t let the anxiety and stress of looking your finances in the eye deter you from trying to rebuild. In fact, making a plan for your money will actually help reduce some major stressors. When you organize your financial life, overall stress and anxiety will decline because your money won’t be such a big worry anymore. This should lead to a better quality of life which can help put you on a successful path to recovery.
To help you rebuild your financial future, I solicited the advice of some financial advisors and experts to get you started.
1. Create a vision for yourself
When you are staring down a mountain of bills, financial obligations, and still want to make room for a little fun, figuring out where to begin might be difficult. The first step is to simply figure out what you want your financial future to look like. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and visualize your future.
The first step is to simply figure out what you want your financial future to look like.
“It’s like if you’re going to write out directions, you have to know where the destination is. This could be through meditation, a vision board, or journaling,” said Kristen Euretig, CFP®, Founder & CEO of Brooklyn Plans. “The foundation of a financial plan is really connecting to the core of what you want your finances to do for you.”
2. Set your goals
Once you envision how you want your future to look, you can start laying the foundation for your goals.
“You have to set your goals first. Without goals, it makes it impossible to plan,” advised Erin Voisin, Director of Financial Planning at EP Wealth. “Knowing what your money is going to be used for is the first critical step.”
Once you identify your goals, you can get into the nitty-gritty of what it will cost to obtain those goals. You want to think short-term and long-term, and then plan accordingly.
Spencer Barclay, Founder and CEO of Savology, says that understanding what you are working towards is critical.
“Long term goals can help you keep on track holistically while reaching short term goals can give you the motivation boost to keep up the good work,” he advised.
Depending on your living situation, a long term goal might be saving or restructuring your finances so that you can afford to live on your own. I, for one, knew I needed to move out of my community house because my roommates constantly kept the fridge stocked with alcohol for parties. I knew it would be more expensive to move into my own place, but I was able to restructure my finances to make it affordable. Other long term goals might include a car.
In the short term, you could determine what items are both affordable and necessary right now. This might mean looking into the purchase of a bicycle if you need a new mode of transportation but cannot afford a car right now.
3. Start with the fundamentals
Barclay suggests starting with the fundamentals, especially if it’s your first time ever putting together a financial plan. Personal finances can be super complex, so the last thing you want to do is jump in and overlook the basics.
So what are the fundamentals?
“The first steps to getting on track are to make more than you spend, pay off high-risk debts, build an emergency fund, and protect your finances with basic insurance policies,” says Barclay. “Those are more important than investing when you are just getting started.”
By paying off debt and living within your means (not spending more money than you bring in) you set the foundation. Add in an emergency fund and you are on the right track to set yourself up for financial success.
4. Build a budget
Those fundamentals are a great place to start, and once you have them figured out, you need to actually make a budget and plan for how you are going to spend your money.
“While this is probably the most painful part of planning, it really is the most eye-opening,” said Voisin. “There is absolute power in knowing exactly how you are spending your money.”
There is a lot of power in knowing how you’re spending your money because once you understand where your money is going, you can better control how you spend it.
There are many ways you can make a budget for yourself, it just depends on what works best for you. You could simply make an excel spreadsheet and track your monthly bills and weekly spending. Or, you could use an app, such as Mint or Wally, to help you budget and track spending. Also, many banks offer tools in their app or online to track spending, so you can always ask your bank for help, or check if they offer any auto-save or tracking features.
There is a lot of power in knowing how you’re spending your money because once you understand where your money is going, you can better control how you spend it. It will change the way you think about spending once you realize what’s essential and what is not. Sticking to a budget ensures that in the long-term, you’ll be able to pay bills on time, build a savings account, and have extra money for the fun things.
5. Have an emergency saving funds
The idea of an emergency savings fund feels very relevant right now with our current state of affairs. Whether you have a savings or emergency fund right now or not, you might want to ensure your future self is ready for any unexpected changes from now on. Working an emergency savings fund into your financial plan is an investment in your financial and personal well-being. It’s a line item you can add right into your budget.
“Your savings are here for you in times of emergency and it’s so much better to use savings for an emergency than debt,” says Euretig. “You will have gratitude for your savings being there in your time of need.”
It can be difficult to start a savings fund when you are already struggling financially, but one tangible way to get started on an emergency fund is to look at your expenses and cut out what is not essential. An easy place to start is monthly subscriptions.
This might mean you need to cut back on entertainment subscriptions for a bit, such as Netflix or Spotify. If you have multiple streaming accounts, consider pausing them and only use one for a few months. You could also consider cooking more and saving the food ordering for special occasions.
6. Be honest with yourself about your budget
When you finish creating your budget, it’s important to take a step back and assess. You need to be honest with yourself about your spending, especially if things are tight. You also want to plan for unexpected expenses if you can.
“It is important to really have an honest conversation with yourself and see where you could potentially cut back before rushing to your assets,” suggests Voisin. “Allocate fixed expenses first and then look at the discretionary number and see where you could spend less, especially keeping in mind that this may not be forever.”
Look at your fixed, monthly expenses, such as rent or mortgage, utility bills and anything else you pay on a monthly basis. Then, consider your discretionary spending, which is the money you spend on things that aren’t monthly bills — entertainment, food, and clothes or toiletries.
7. Find an accountability partner
Friends and partners are great people to lean on, especially in financial recovery or when you’re just starting to rebuild your financial future. Once you have a plan set and financial goals to hit, finding someone to hold you accountable can really help you stay on course.
“For many people, that is a spouse or partner, but if you are single then bring someone else into the fold,” Barclay said. “Share what you are working on and ask for their help to get you there.”
Rebuilding your financial standing might sound overwhelming, but taking it one step at a time makes it more digestible. By setting goals and taking an honest look at your finances, you will be off to a good start. Setting a solid foundation is the first step.