Getting real (and serious) about your financial future

Have you ever wanted — really wanted — to change your financial situation but, when you tried, you felt like you were slogging through wet cement or trying to turn a huge ship around? You got exhausted and stopped, right?

Change is like that.

You can change — and you can also make it easier for yourself. But first, are you clear about why you want to change?

Clarify your reasons

I assume you have already spent some quiet time contemplating why you want to improve your financial situation.

Why do I say that?

Because if improving your financial situation were easy, you would have done it already. But you haven't, and I am guessing you haven't because your current lifestyle and habits are making it tougher than it should be. (Even though it's still not easy to change any way you slice it.)

There's no shame if you haven't been successful yet, by the way. Who is completely successful right out of the box when it comes to finances? It takes practice. It requires persistence and a willingness to educate yourself and even experiment sometimes.

Still, there's a reason you want to improve your finances — a goal of some sort. If you can make your goal crystal clear, it helps to keep you focused and, well, motivated. The “why” is your fuel.

What do you want to change?

After you decide why you want to change, consider what you want to change. You're focusing on your financial situation, but get laser-like and concentrate on what you want to accomplish first.

  • Do you want to increase your savings account balance?
  • Do you want to cut your spending?
  • Are you trying to simplify your life?
  • Have you decided to increase your income?

As I look at this list, I want to do all these things. But what do I want to do first? Pick one (or another option entirely). Now, how are you going to change?

Your budget — an easy way to identify problem areas

Problem areas usually start to surface when you change what you're doing. And when it comes to finances, an easy way to discover a problem area is to start reviewing your budget.

Your problem area(s) will be different, but how will you know there's a problem in the first place? Well, it's important to measure your progress. But another way to know is if it meets this criteria: It's getting in the way of what you want to change.

For example:

  • Are you spending a huge amount in rent because you want to?
  • Are you traveling to expensive places because you want to?
  • Are you eating out often at restaurants because you want to?

Is the reason you're spending money based on your own perceptions and the perceptions of others? In other words, look at what you are spending money on because you want to and what you are spending on because you think you have to.

Parts of your budget can also be greedy — consuming more of your money that it should. A standard to measure your own spending against is the Balanced Money Formula.

Change habits/lifestyle to decrease spending

If any of your budgeting categories appear bloated after comparing it to the Balanced Money Formula (or something else like your own budget method), tackle that bloat first. Cut back the portion sizes. This is easier said than done, but…

Even if your budget is in check, you can still find ways to improve your lifestyle.

To make this lifestyle change easiest, focus first on the areas where you spend the most. For me, that's our housing.

So I would ask myself these questions:

  • Why are we living in our current home?
  • Does our home choice coincide with our current lifestyle?
  • Could we live more cheaply elsewhere?
  • What about renting instead of owning?

Most likely, housing is probably your largest expense too. Making changes to where you live is a big deal, but sometimes this choice can catapult you into the next stage of personal finance.

What do I mean?

Finding the inspiration to change

If you read the recent article on Andrew and Amanda Argue, you learned that they lived in expensive downtown Miami before moving to less-expensive Orlando. Now they gallivant around the globe, most recently residing in Costa Rica, a place with a reasonable cost of living. And their monthly expenses? Around $2-2,500/month.

If you do move to a less expensive house or area, you may find that move indirectly affects other parts of your budget.

Here is a small example from my own life.

  • My first job out of college paid well for a recent graduate. After about three years, though, I got burned out from the schedule and took a different job that paid $5 less per hour. Everyone at this job earned less than my previous co-workers, and it showed. All of us ate out less, went on fewer vacations, wore less expensive clothing, among other things. I also couldn't save as much money, but I think the concept is still worth thinking about.
  • The Argues noted similar experiences when they moved away from downtown Miami and the expensive cars driven by their coworkers.

You may decide not to change your housing. That's fine, of course. But once you've decided what to change, you need to figure out how to change it.

Remember that wet cement I talked about earlier? You're just about to step in it…

Make changes easier to implement

We need to make this as easy as possible.

To make changes easier to implement, eliminate choices in other areas of your life. You have already decided where to focus your time and energy, right? By doing so, now you know where NOT to focus your time and energy.

Here are some examples of making life easier (assuming these areas are what you're NOT concentrating on):

  • If you don't enjoy taking minutes each morning to decide what to year, create a personal uniform, by wearing the same type of clothing every day. Or, wear the same five outfits each week.
  • Although we all have to eat, here are a few ideas for how to spend less time in the kitchen. Create a master shopping list. Meal plan the same meals every week, or if you want more variety, $5 Meal Plan can help. Amanda Argue spent anywhere from eight to 10 hours cooking on Sundays each week to make it easier to pack her lunch and eat at home. This prep time doesn't always have to take so many hours, but it could include cutting up vegetables, prepping lettuce, making green smoothie packets, making freezer meals, cooking once/eat twice by doubling the recipe and freezing the second, or making those salads-in-a-jar that I keep seeing on Pinterest and haven't made yet.
  • Note when you are short on time. Then, when you have extra time, prepare for those times when you have less margin in your life. For instance, maybe your very-busy times are certain times of the year (or certain times of the week or month). Our CPA and his wife work together in his office. Obviously, tax time is a very busy time for them. She compensates by putting meals in the freezer at the end of the year, so they have quick, healthy meals when they're working much longer hours when January comes around and they're in the thick of tax season.
  • Similarly, note when you are tired. If you're worn out on your commute home after a long day at work, you're vulnerable. That is NOT the time to decide what to eat when you get home. It's too easy to turn into a drive-thru and get some fast food. As Amanda Argue admits, “We ate at restaurants we didn't even like!” For me, gift-buying — if it's to be a thoughtful gift, anyway — must take place when I am feeling energetic. Otherwise, everyone gets cash or gift cards. Simply put, I spend more money for a gift that usually misses the mark.
  • If you're tired of turning down invites from friends because you need to rein in spending for entertainment, why not be the one to initiate the social plans? (Naturally, you'll choose a less expensive activity, right?)

If you want to make significant progress at turning your financial life around, it can really help to find strategies that make these changes easier. These ideas include reminding yourself why you want to change, evaluating your budget to identify where your budget's problem areas lie, deciding which parts of your lifestyle to change, and then — of course! — making those changes easier to implement.

With some focus, mindful spending, and hard work, you can make progress toward your goals.

Do you find it difficult to change your financial situation? Have you changed your lifestyle to make improving your financial situation easier? Tell us what helped you reach your goals in the comments!

More about...Budgeting

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
16 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
lmoot
lmoot
4 years ago

I LOVE the idea of a personal uniform. I’ve always wanted to do this in a purposeful level. I still have and wear clothing that I have to pick out and put together, but going forward I want to experiment more with basics that I can wear multiple times per month, or even week. I love having a uniform to wear at work, and hate having to dress/ shop for my corporate job. One job even provided shorts, shirt, rain jacket, and the belt. Took 3 min to get dressed. Those were the days… Anyway I find that as long… Read more »

Ali @ Anything You Want
Ali @ Anything You Want
4 years ago

I am working on tweaking my lifestyle to improve my finances right now. I recently looked at how my budget has changed over the years and discovered some serious lifestyle inflation. I’d like to try to cut back on frivolous spending (clothes, eating out) to get my finances to where I’d like them to be. I think that just seeing the numbers laid out is really helping to motivate me. It is easy to pretend there isn’t a problem if you don’t really know what is going on.

Nikita
Nikita
4 years ago

I do Meal planning on Sundays. I cook the whole week’s meals and refrigerate them in different Tupperware’s. then i put up a menu on my fridge, to make it easier to remember what we are supposed to eat on that day. so after a long day at work, i get home, look at my fridge door menu for that day and warm up those Tupperware’s in the microwave.

Mike in NH
Mike in NH
4 years ago
Reply to  Nikita

Totally unrelated to personal finance (I think your meal planning and menu idea is great!), but I would be careful about heating food in plastic containers with the microwave. 🙂

Nikita
Nikita
4 years ago
Reply to  Mike in NH

LOL blonde moment. comment was meant for a different article. thanks

Mike in NH
Mike in NH
4 years ago
Reply to  Nikita

Nooo I meant my comment – yours was definitely related!

Annie
Annie
4 years ago

Thank you for the motivation. My eating out routine had gotten so expensive. I began tracking my expenses again and hope to put more money into savings!

Jerome
Jerome
4 years ago

I always thought I was the only one having a personal uniform! I have done this since I started working in a company where dress-code was not very strict. You only need one suit for special occasions. And your personal uniform. The only variation I have is with my ties. You save both time getting dressed and when shopping for clothes.

Sanjeev Shrestha
Sanjeev Shrestha
4 years ago

Good Article !!! I became serious about my finance around 2009 time. I had a good job and I never paid attention about saving and investing before. Although, I was not in debt, but saving for emergency, investing for future was not my thing. I was spending all the money I had. Then, things changed in December 2008. I did not have the job. They let me go. Suddenly, I did not have a job and no money. I had to ask money from others family and friends for next 6 months. The job market was bad. I found job… Read more »

Jeff @ Money Talks Coaching
Jeff @ Money Talks Coaching
4 years ago

For me (and I suspect a lot of other people) there’s a big gap between wanting to do something and actually doing it. I spent years buried in debt, was always upset about it, lost sleep, avoided bills etc, and always wanted to get out from under it but never actually did anything but want. Once I started digging my way out for real it wasn’t easy but it was easier than I assumed but I had to take that first step.

Bryan@Just One More Year
[email protected] One More Year
4 years ago

Understanding your why is a very important step. Lisa, you stated: “Still, there’s a reason you want to improve your finances – a goal of some sort. If you can make your goal crystal clear, it helps to keep you focused and, well, motivated. The “why” is your fuel.” I can’t agree more with knowing your “why”. I recently mentioned that in a post that discussed asking yourself “Why” 5 times. Each answered is followed up with another why. Very quickly it takes you to the root of why your goal is so important. There is an emotional element usually… Read more »

diane @smartmoneysimplelife
diane @smartmoneysimplelife
4 years ago

The thing I really need to work on is increasing my income. But, I seem to have a few problems getting out of my own way and really having a go at establishing some new income streams.

You’d think paying the bills would be motivation enough but I still seem to be procrastinating (or maybe it’s resistance?) and therefore not achieving anything. I guess that means I need to go back to my ‘why’ and get that clear in my head. If only it were easy! 🙂

red
red
4 years ago

Most finance blog post explain how to reduce the spending but it does not explain to increase the income. In my opinion, it is also important to increase income for our financial future

Alexandra @ Real Simple Finances
Alexandra @ Real Simple Finances
4 years ago

Being too tired to cook is one of my biggest financial downfalls — however, when I actually plan what we’re going to eat I get much more excited about cooking and am more likely to do it.

I really think that’s the biggest reason I don’t make more financial headway!

Meghan Cross
Meghan Cross
4 years ago

These are some excellent tips. Planning recipes for the week ahead is huge for me, because it avoids the need to figure it out with kids a-foot and time a-tickin’. Another thing that can be important is recognizing the things that we do to self-sabotage. For example, sometimes I’ll make a decision to not eat a certain amount of usual sweets for the month. Great! But then I’ll unconsciously go buy something super-sweet that is definitely not what I ever normally eat. The same is with finances. Getting to the heart of why we self-sabotage, or why we are addicted… Read more »

Chella
Chella
4 years ago

Thanks Lisa. Your account is very inspirational. My spending lately has become notoriously expensive. In February and March, I saved a paltry $40. I will adopt you plan and try to cut off my expenditure on unnecessary wants. I hope I will soon be saving satisfactory levels like you have done.

shares