According to a 2015 survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, less than half of Americans keep close track of their spending, and nearly 30% aren’t saving for retirement.
Clearly, there’s room for improvement.
#BIBetterMoney is a 14-day self-improvement plan designed for the busy professional, featuring a simple task a day for two weeks to help you take control of your money.
We recommend participating with at least one other person, so you have more fun and keep each other in check. You can start on any Monday and should complete actions on their specified day when possible.
The following slides go through the days and the thought behind them in detail, and you can also reference our infographic calendar.
Let's dive right in.
In his book 'Cold Hard Truth on Men, Women & Money,' 'Shark Tank' investor Kevin O'Leary recommends that before you take any steps to improve the way you manage your money, you get what he calls your 90-day number: A sum of every dollar you've spent and earned in the past three months.
'It's going to be a positive or negative number,' he writes, 'because money is black or white. There is no grey. You either have it or you don't.'
You'll do this in two steps: First, add up your income, and next, add up your expenses.
Income number - expenses number = 90-day number
If it's positive, you're starting off on the right foot. If it's negative, we have some work to do. And if it's hovering around zero, you're playing a dangerous game.
You made a big effort yesterday, so today, we'll keep it quick: All you have to do is choose and implement a system to keep track of your income and expenses in the future, so the next time you want your 90-day number it will be available in a matter of minutes.
While you're welcome to break out a notebook and pen, you'll probably find it easier to take advantage of technology. Two of the most popular options are:
Mint, a website and app that you can connect to your credit cards and bank accounts. It automatically pulls in data from any connected account to log every expense and paycheck, so you can see the full picture of your finances in just a few clicks.
A spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel, which requires more manual input but allows you to manipulate the data in myriad ways. If you're already a big Excel user, you might be more comfortable with this format, although you will need to take a minute or two every morning -- or a few minutes once a week -- to update it.
All debt isn't equal, but it does have the same bottom line: You owe money to someone else, and they're charging you for the loan. The money you pay them is money you can't use elsewhere. Generally, experts divide debt into two categories:
• Good debt, which has relatively low interest rates and which pays for something immeasurably valuable or accruing value. For example, mortgage and student loan debt. Paying off good debt is less urgent than paying off bad.
• Bad debt, which has relatively high interest rates and pays for a depreciating asset, like credit card debt or a car loan. You'll want to pay this debt as soon as possible, because it gets more expensive by the day.
One of the hardest things for many people to do with debt is simply to face exactly how much they owe -- so we'll get that out of the way today.
Log into your accounts and get the balance for any debt you've been avoiding or has been weighing on you (take note of the minimum monthly payment while you're there). Add it all up, and face the number: This is money to be repaid, and tomorrow, we'll start figuring out how.
A budget is simply a plan for how you'll spend your money, to make sure it goes where you want and doesn't vanish in a slow, untraceable drip.
You have lots of choices about how to do this: Mint and You Need A Budget provide budget templates, or you can create your own in Excel. There are also downloadable budget templates online, such as those from Vertex42, Google Docs, and Dave Ramsay.
All you need is a line for each category of your spending and income, as granular as you want to get (more specific categories will make it easier to notice anomalies or issues in the future).
In each category, set a proposed amount you'll spend that month. Since you've already gone through your income and spending data for your 90-day number, you should be able to plug in three month's worth of data right off the bat, and use those numbers to guide reasonable spending limits going forward.
Also take into account yesterday's exercise in debt by creating categories for your debt payments. If you have consumer debt, you may want to set aside more than the minimum payment.
Going forward, your system for tracking your spending (Day 2) will show you whether you're sticking to your budget. And remember: This budget isn't set in stone. You can always tweak it to better suit your current needs -- and you should!
What do you want over the next five years? 10? 30? And how many of those have a price tag?
This isn't a scientific exercise. It's an exercise in prioritising what you want, and starting to plan ahead to achieve it.
Common goals include buying a house, taking a trip, building an emergency fund, buying a car, having a baby, sending your child to college, and retiring comfortably.
The daydreaming is a good start, but now it's time to make it a little more real by assigning a price to your goal. A little research can help you with this, and keep in mind that prices for things like homes vary widely depending on your area.
Now, time to work backwards. Let's say you want to save $50,000 for a 20% down payment on a home, plus broker and other fees, in eight years. If you're saving in a regular savings account with insignificant interest, $50,000 divided by eight years is $6,250 a year -- $521 a month, $130 a week.
Better build a line for these savings into your budget.
Where will this money come from? We'll get to that next.
People hate the idea of saving money because it feels like money you don't get to use. In fact, money you save is just money you set aside to use later on the things you really want, as opposed to the things you kind of want today.
That's why today, we're going to free up some money to save. One of the best ways to do this is to reduce your fixed monthly costs by making a major change such as moving to a cheaper home. However, that's a little drastic for a single day's task.
Today's task is to go through your monthly bills and see where you can reduce them. This task is two-fold: First, we'll see what we can negotiate down or cancel. Next, we'll see which bills we can reduce over the next month.
Negotiate bills like phone, cable, utilities, and gym memberships. A few minutes calling your providers can make all the difference. For guidance on how to do it, check out this list of bills you can lower in minutes, and these science-backed tricks for winning a negotiation.
Reduce bills like groceries, restaurant spending, and clothing. There aren't any benevolent providers to reduce these bills for you -- it's up to you to spend less in the coming month. Luckily, your budget will help you keep track! If you're looking for tricks on how to do this, try these strategies to spend less at the grocery store, and watch out for the psychological tricks restaurants use and stores use to make you spend more money.
You're halfway there!
Today's task is pretty simple: You're going to set up a system to make saving money automatic. You're going to pay yourself first.
Instead of waiting to see how much money you have at the end of the month and funelling that into savings -- unless there's none left because you accidentally spent it -- you're going to make a point of having money available to save.
How? By having your chosen amount deposited directly into your savings account before you ever get the chance to spend it.
It's a simple matter of logging online or calling up your bank and arranging for a regular transfer of a portion of every paycheck from your checking account into your savings.
Psychologically, automatic transfers will give you a leg up, because it's much easier to keep from spending money you hardly remember you have.
The other half of 'spend less money' is 'earn more money,' and it's an effective way to better balance your budget. Again, embarking on a new career or securing a large inheritance is a little too ambitious for a single day's step.
Instead, we're going to take the first step to earning more money: Identifying how to do it.
Boosting your income could take several forms, and it's worth thinking outside the box. Here are a few ideas:
• Negotiate for a raise at your current job
• Start looking for a higher-paying job
• Sell your skills on the side through a site like Elance
• Create a course in your field of expertise for a site like Udemy
• Get a one-time cash infusion through selling unwanted items or clothes on a site like Twice, Poshmark, or eBay, or selling unwanted gift cards through one of the many sites available
Take into consideration whether it's an avenue you genuinely want to try, and how much you'd have to earn to make it worth your time. Here's a guide to figure out how much your time is worth.
Today, you're going to take a critical eye to your investments.
It's important that you select investments that are both low-fee and diversified, with an appropriate level of risk for your goals. You can read more about the fees that lessen your returns and how to find them, and how to diversify properly.
The flashy kind of investing that makes people billionaires tends to be putting all your cash in a single corporate basket, but that approach doesn't work for most people -- even Warren Buffett advises a more conservative approach. Specifically, he recommends investing in index funds.
One way to put your money in index funds is to use an automated investment service like Wealthfront or Betterment, which manages your investments for you with minimal or no fees, depending on how much money you put in.
For the most part, a solid investment portfolio is best served by being left alone to weather the market. The notable exception to this is rebalancing, which adjusts the makeup of your portfolio to a level of risk that best suits your age and goals. Read a guide to conducting a quarterly portfolio checkup.
If you haven't started investing yet, now is the time. The chart above is a good illustration of why time is your greatest asset when it comes to investing.
Today's task is a simple one: You're going to get your credit score.
Your credit score is a three-digit number between 301 and 850, and the higher, the better. Generally, you don't want your credit score to dip below 650, and you never want it below 600.
It exists to help give lenders an idea of your trustworthiness, and can affect whether you get approved for and the interest rates you receive for major loans like a mortgage. The number is based on your past behaviour -- things like whether you pay your bills on time, how much of your total credit limit you use (maxing out your cards is bad!), and how many accounts you have (generally, the more the better). You can see the full breakdown above.
Technically, there are three credit bureaus that generate credit scores for you and each of the above sites chooses (and clearly discloses) which bureau it pulls from. One score is usually enough to give you a good idea how you're doing, since they tend to be very similar.
Optional: Get your credit report.
If you're shocked by your score -- in a good or bad way -- you might want to go a step further and get your credit report, which is also free. AnnualCreditReport.com is the only free place to get it, and you're permitted one report from each bureau per year. You can get them all at once to compare, or request one every four months to keep tabs throughout the year on any errors or misrepresentations.
Some banks make over $1 million a year in fees from their customers, and you probably don't want to contribute.
If you're paying unnecessary bank fees for basics like holding a checking account, or withdrawing cash from an ATM, you're getting a raw deal.
One of the smartest things you can do is read the disclosures before opening an account at a bank, where they will tell you exactly what you're expected to pay and how to avoid the cost, in the case of something like a minimum balance fee for your checking account. Between getting your 90-day number and establishing your budget, it should be clear to you if your bank is charging you fees for services you could otherwise get for free.
You have two options to deal with that:
1. Get clear on the requirements to avoid fees, and set up a system to make sure you always meet them. If it's keeping your checking account at a certain balance, set up a text alert if you balance gets dangerously close. If it's using your debit card five times a month, make a practice of always using it at the dry cleaner. If it's withdrawing money from an ATM, swear off out-of-network machines.
2. Change banks. Your options are no longer limited to the biggest banks in the country. Now, online banks such as Ally, Simple, and BankMobile pride themselves on their lack of fees to the consumer, a privilege they can afford because they don't maintain brick-and-mortar storefronts.
The next time you're charged a surprise fee, take a few minutes to call -- you never know, they might just go ahead and refund you.
Today, put all of your important banking info in one place. That place is not an email draft called 'passwords,' and it's also not a sticky note on your fridge that says: '123456.' (Seriously, that's a common one that makes the list of absolute worst passwords you can use.)
If you're still dealing in paper, an accordion folder will probably come in handy.
If your banking is primarily online, however, there are some higher-tech options you can use to keep track of the information that lets you access your 'paperwork.'
Having insurance is a lot like carrying around an umbrella. When you don't need it, it's a pain, but when the sky opens up, you've never felt smarter.
Some types of insurance are mandatory -- like home and car insurance -- but for others, it's up to you to buy them and decide how much coverage you need.
Take today to read over your insurance policies, and to think about whether they're sufficient for your current life.
It's recommended that you have the following coverage:
Starting in your 20s: health, auto, renter's, and disability insurance
Starting in your 30s: life, homeowner's, and pet insurance
Starting in your 40s: long-term care insurance
You made it! Over the past two weeks, you've taken major strides to improve your financial management.
Now, let's not let that work go to waste.
Today we're going to set calendar reminders to stay on top of our money over the next few years. If you use an online calendar such as Google Calendar, this couldn't be much easier: Just make recurring appointments. If you use a paper calendar, you're limited to a year, but you can still pencil in your dates.
• Evaluate my budget, once per month
• Check my credit score, once per month
• Get my credit report, once every four months
• Check the balance on my retirement account, once every six months
• Adjust my savings goals, once every six months
• Evaluate my investment accounts, once a year
And, if you'd like, you can go ahead and place a final reminder on the calendar -- to take #BIBetterMoney again next year.