Debt and Mental Health
There are many reasons why people fall into debt. It’s never too late to take control of your money and get help with your debt.
*Last updated: 10 August 2021
Why and how do people get into debt?
There is a common misunderstanding that people find themselves in debt due to living an excessive lifestyle or going ‘wild in the aisles’ with credit cards. The truth is that unemployment and redundancy are the most common triggers for debt problems and can happen to anyone, no matter what their attitude to money may be.
Life changes such as losing your job, mental or physical health problems or separating from your partner can mean that you struggle to pay your household bills. Having to adjust to such a financial change can be difficult.
How can mental health problems affect your finances?
There are many reasons why mental ill-health can make it hard to manage your money.
If you’re depressed, you might not have the energy or motivation to keep track of your money. If you’re going through a manic episode, you may make rash or unwise decisions with your spending. If you need time off work or a hospital stay, you may be faced with a sudden reduction in income and difficulty keeping up with your bills.
Some mental health problems (and conditions such as dementia) may make it difficult or impossible for you to make decisions about money. The ability to make decisions is known as mental capacity. If you don’t have mental capacity, someone else may have to make decisions on your behalf. Our page on mental capacity has more information, including ways to plan ahead in case you become unable to make your own decisions.
How can debt affect your mental health?
A study from the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that half of all adults with a debt problem are also living with mental ill-health. This ranged from a consistent feeling of anxiety and low mood to a diagnosed mental health condition.
Debt can make you feel anxious, especially if you don’t have support from friends or family or from your creditors. Debt can be a considerable burden, made worse by dealing with it alone.
Worrying about debt can affect your sleep. Losing out on a good night’s sleep can not only affect your mood and energy levels, it can also affect your ability to work or have good relationships with friends and family. All of these things can further add to your debt problem.
Questions to ask yourself if you think you may have a debt problem
- Do I often feel anxious when thinking about how I will manage my repayments?
- Am I struggling to make or do I routinely miss the minimum payments towards utility bills, credit cards or rent?
- Do I ignore letters from creditors?
- Do I avoid calls from unknown numbers in case it’s a creditor calling?
- Am I unable to set aside money for an unplanned financial emergency such as redundancy, car expenses or emergency repairs?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then you may want to consider getting help.
How do I get help?
If you’re dealing with problem debt, you’re not alone. You don’t have to figure it out by yourself. Speak to a debt advisor for free from an organisation such as StepChange, National Debtline, Debt Support Trust or Citizens Advice. They won’t judge you and can help you find ways to manage your debts that you might not know about.
Money Helper can help you find online, telephone or face-to-face support in your area. Getting advice can help you feel less anxious and stressed and more in control of your life again.
Talk to someone you trust too, whether that’s a friend, relative or someone supporting you with your mental health. Talking can help you feel less hopeless and alone, and they can help you make an appointment with a debt advisor if you need them to.
How can I help myself?
Getting help from a debt advisor is often the best way to start dealing with debt, but there are things you can do for yourself too.
- Find out if you qualify for breathing space, a scheme that freezes any payment demands from your creditors while you get free advice. There are two types: a standard 60 day breathing space or a mental health crisis breathing space. The mental health scheme doesn’t have a time limit. Speak to a debt advisor or read more about it on the Mental Health and Money Advice website.
- Consider telling your creditors about your mental health. This can be a difficult decision and you need to be sure they will take you seriously. Check their website for a debt and mental health policy. If you do decide to speak to them, Mind has tips on what to consider.
- You could get a debt and mental health evidence form completed by your doctor or other healthcare professional. This form can help make sure your creditors take your mental health into consideration. It means they must adjust their collections process and how they communicate with you.
Mental Health and Money Advice has more tips on managing your money when you have a mental health condition.
Further information and resources
Citizens Advice has information on budgeting, debt solutions, rent arrears and more.
Mental Health and Money Advice has a Mental Health and Money Toolkit that may help you understand and improve your mental and financial health.
Money Saving Expert has a free Mental Health and Debt booklet.
Shelter has a debt and money problems section on their website.
The Crypto Crash Is Here: What You Need to Know
Cryptocurrency has been riding a wave of fame in 2021. With crypto being used as cash to buy major things like cars, vacations and even basketball tickets—it’s safe to say it’s had quite the run this year. Well, that was until the end of June when we saw a crypto crash.
Look, we won’t say we told you so—but, well, we kind of did. No matter how you slice it, cryptocurrency is up and down like a playground seesaw (and a whole lot less fun too). So, what’s the deal with this crypto crash, and will it last? Let’s dive in.
What Is Cryptocurrency?
Okay, first things first—we have to talk about what crypto is. Cryptocurrency is basically just digital money. You can think of it like virtual cash that you keep in a digital wallet online. This digital cash can be used for investing and even online purchases. Did you catch all the times we said “virtual” and “digital” there? Yep, that’s right—crypto money exists only on the web. You’ll never see a physical coin of any kind (unless you cash it out for real money).
When Will Crypto Crash?
Here’s the thing—this stuff is all over the place, and nobody knows when crypto will crash or skyrocket. Ah, the joy of investing. But here’s what we do know: Putting your bets on cryptocurrency is a big risk. And crypto coins have taken a major nose dive lately thanks to China’s central bank cracking down on cryptocurrency trading and mining.
Craft a harder-working money plan with a trusted financial pro.
See, right now, banks and governments are pretty much out of the picture when it comes to cryptocurrency (meaning it’s been decentralized). And the fact that it’s decentralized by those powers that be makes people that much more interested in buying it. So who keeps tabs on cryptocurrency? Crypto exists on something called a blockchain—a database or ledger of sorts that keeps track of ownership without banks and governments watching.
For the top dog Bitcoin, this crypto crash meant that it lost all of the major gains it had made in 2021 as it fell below $30,000 (its all-time high was $65,000 back in March). So, all those news-making, attention-grabbing headlines about how much Bitcoin had gone up this year? Yeah. Consider that all wiped out.
Other big names in crypto took a tumble too, with Ethereum dropping to $1,730 (its lowest since March 2021) and Dogecoin nose-diving to 0.17 cents (its all-time high was 0.74 earlier in 2021).
That’s the way the crypto cookie crumbles. This is why investing your life savings in cryptocurrency is a bad idea. You never know when the rug will be pulled out from under you since crypto is so unstable.
Why Did Crypto Become Such a Big Deal This Year?
Well, if you’ve been riding the crypto train for a while (like the diehards out there), then it’s always been a big deal to you. But there’s no denying that cryptocurrency has had some major wins this year that put it on everyone’s radar. Here are two big reasons cryptocurrency became a topic at the dinner table:
1. Social media meme stocks took over.
It’s clear that when a group of people on the internet band together to buy something that’s pretty random, it’s hard to stop them. Enter meme stocks.
Back in January and February 2021, GameStop, AMC and BlackBerry stock jumped out of nowhere—all because people on the web joined forces to invest in companies that the big hedge fund guys were betting against. So instead of people investing in a stock because it’s doing really well, people invest in it because of its buildup on social media. That’s pretty much the definition of what a meme stock is.
And just like our favorite stories where the underdog comes out on top—it actually happened. The Reddit trend investors transformed these stocks that others had written off into big-time moneymakers. BlackBerry’s stock tripled, and AMC’s was worth 10 times more than it had been. But GameStop outdid them all by going up hundreds of dollars in just a couple of days. On January 21, GameStop shares were $39, but fast-forward less than a week later and it jumped to $355!
Then in the spring of 2021, Dogecoin started its big push “to the moon”—aka trying to drive its price up past $1. And it worked . . . almost. With each tweet from Elon Musk and all the news coverage around it, the Doge climbed all the way to a high of 0.74 cents. Even though they didn’t hit the full one-dollar goal, they made a joke stock go from zero to hero pretty quick.
So, what’s the future hold for meme stocks? Well, it’s probably not over yet. A recent survey showed that 42% of average day traders are influenced by social media when it comes to deciding which investments to bet on. What’s that mean in plain English? Folks are listening to what’s trending on social media when they invest.
2. Cryptocurrency is being accepted as payment at more places.
Crypto started to look like more of a legit investment to people when big names like PayPal, Overstock and even Tesla started to accept cryptocurrency as payment (Tesla has since changed its mind on accepting crypto . . . for now). All of a sudden, cryptocurrency has become more of a household name as companies keep saying they’ll take it as payment for your purchases.
But just because cryptocurrency is being accepted at more places, that still doesn’t mean it’s a good bet for your money.
Alternatives to Investing in Crypto
Well, let’s see, there’s gambling—just kidding. Investing in crypto itself is enough of a gamble already, and although investing is never a sure bet, there are much better places to put your hard-earned dollar bills than in cryptocurrency that’s pretty easy to sink.
Investing in Your 401(k)
It might sound old and boring, but your tried and true 401(k) is a much better spot to park your investment money than cryptocurrency. No, it probably won’t be trending on a Reddit forum, but guess what? It’s way steadier than crypto and has a proven track record over time.
And instead of trying to time to market, placing your bets on whatever crypto is up and coming, and then selling when it’s hot—you’re going to set your 401(k) and forget it. Okay, we’re not talking about forgetting that it exists or anything. You just need to keep investing and leave it alone—aka don’t pull your investments just because someone told you to. Nope, not even if a global pandemic comes along. Remember, investing is for the long haul, and you’ve got the big-picture goal in mind here. In order to see the payoffs from your investment, you’ve got to stick it out. Simple as that.
P.S. You should hold off on investing—period—until you’ve paid off all your debt (except your home) and have a fully stocked emergency fund. Once you’ve landed there, you’re ready to start investing.
So, stay away from playing the Will My Crypto Crash? game, and stick to the way less hyped (but still awesome) plan of long-term investing in your 401(k). And if this whole investing thing just has you scratching your head, don’t worry—you’re not alone there. That’s why you should let a trusted pro help walk you through your investing options. Contact me with any questions. I am happy to help!
20 Ways to Take Control of Your Finances
Whether you’re stuck in a cycle of debt, earning too little to maintain your desired standard of living, or simply wanting to get a jump start on saving for a major financial goal, such as buying a home or investing, you may need help to get on track with your objectives. Follow these strategies for taking control of your finances right now.
Read Books About Personal Finance
There are many books out there on taking control of your finances, from how to get out of debt to how to build an investment portfolio. Books offer a great way to change your approach to managing money.
To boost your savings, you can buy used financial books online or borrow them for free at your local library. Consider audiobooks if you would rather receive the advice by ear.
If you are struggling to handle your finances, then you likely need to create a budget—a plan for how to spend your money each month, based on how much you typically earn and spend. A budget is your best tool to change your financial future.
To start, write down your income and all your expenses, and then subtract the expenses from the income to determine your discretionary spending. At the start of each month, set up a budget to allocate how discretionary funds get spent. Track the spending over the course of the month, and at the end of the month, determine whether you stuck to the budget.
If you spent more than you made, you can fix your budget by cutting unnecessary expenses or, if possible earning more. Implement the revised budget the next month to start living within your means.
One of the easiest things you can do to take control of your finances is to cut your monthly expenses.
While you may not be able to reduce certain fixed expenses, such as rent or a car payment, without drastically altering your lifestyle, you can reduce variable expenses, such as clothing or entertainment, by being flexible and thinking frugally.
You can, for example, reduce electricity consumption to lower your utility costs, choose different providers for your home or life insurance, or buy your food at a discount at bulk stores.
Speaking of cutting monthly bills, there’s likely one bill that you could cut right now and potentially save hundreds of dollars every month: your cable bill. If you need a little help with your finances or just want to reach your financial goals more quickly, consider cutting cable.
You don’t even have to give up TV altogether. “Cutting the cord,” that is, eliminating costly cable services in favor of low-cost streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, allows you to watch the shows you love without spending a ton each month.
If, after reviewing various streaming options, you’re still determined to stick with your cable provider, downgrade to a cable package with fewer channels to save a little money every month.
Looking for an easy way to take control of your variable expenses every month? Curb your habit of eating out. The occasional splurge at a nice restaurant is fine, but the savings can add up if you start cooking at home or bringing bagged lunches to work instead of eating out each day.
Start small by cooking at home at least once a week. The next week, start taking your lunches to work. You may be surprised at just how much you can save. Brown-bagging it can save you $1,300 per year, or more than $50,000 over a 40-year career.1
If the idea of cooking every night is off-putting to you, plan a monthly menu to make it less intimidating. The advantage of planning meals for the entire month is that you can chop foods or cook meals in batches. This approach also makes it easier to shop for groceries and ensures that you waste less food because you will most likely use all the ingredients you buy while they are still fresh.
One alternative is to use a menu-planning service such as eMeals or PlateJoy to take the effort out of shopping and cooking altogether. These services allow you to choose recipes and have a list of the necessary ingredients sent to your local grocery store for fast pick-up. However, these services cost money, so you’ll need to evaluate the cost and determine whether it fits into your budget.
One of the most expensive mistakes that you can make is to carry a lot of debt, especially high-interest credit card debt. If you want to change your financial picture and gain more financial opportunities, pay off your debt as quickly as possible.
Start by listing all of your current debt, be it credit card debt, student loan debt, or a car loan, and figure out the minimum amount you owe to remain current with each one. Simply paying the minimum amount won’t get you out of debt quickly, so evaluate your fixed expenses, and determine how much of your discretionary spending budget you can allocate toward debt repayment.
Try to reduce the interest rate on the debt by asking the issuer for a lower rate, consolidating multiple debts into one, or transferring high-interest debt to a low-interest credit card, such as a balance-transfer card. Then, set up a debt-payment plan, and adopt sound spending habits to pay off the debt as quickly as possible.
If you are struggling to make ends meet each month, you may be relying too much on your credit cards. If you keep using your credit cards as a stop-gap measure to make ends meet, you’ll quickly wind up in debt. That will limit how much money you have each month to pay bills, save for retirement, or work toward another financial goal.
If you really want to take control of your finances, stop using your credit cards. In addition to setting up a budget so that you don’t have to buy things on credit, switch to cash or debit cards to avoid accruing more debt; open a short-term savings account, and draw from it for large expenses; or leave your credit card at home so that you’re never tempted to pull it out of your pocket and swipe it.
Your student loans can saddle you with debt for years if you are not proactive about paying them off. Whether you need to refinance or consolidate them, see whether you qualify for a student loan forgiveness program, or add them to your debt-payment plan. Getting control of your student loans is an excellent step to take right now to improve your finances.
You don’t have to drastically step up your loan-repayment schedule, either; by paying half your student loan amount every two weeks, you will make a full extra payment every year. Some lenders will even reduce your interest rate by around 0.25% when you sign up to make automatic loan payments.2
The American Rescue Plan has made forgiven student loan debt tax-free through the end of 2025.3
Like investing, saving is another passive approach to growing your wealth, albeit more gradually. To take control of your finances right now, open and direct money into interest-bearing savings account on a regular basis (every week, month, or a certain time of year, for example).
This may be money that you save on your grocery budget each month, a tax refund, a set amount that you put aside from each paycheck, or an amount that you’ve allocated in your budget to save each month.
No matter which option you choose, and no matter how little you save, look for ways to increase your savings over time. Small gains will amount to big returns over the long run.
Another way to help you curb your spending and get your finances in order is to go on a spending fast, which is when you stop spending discretionary money for a set period of time.
Often, these are month-long periods of curtailed spending that make exceptions only for essential spending categories, such as food, transportation, and recurring bills.
If you’re willing to live like a minimalist for a brief period of time, commit to this challenge to pad your checking account, change your habits, and evaluate what you need rather than just what you want. The experience may even permanently improve your outlook on money.
A financial plan is essential for taking control of your finances and accomplishing specific goals. In short, a financial plan is a timeline for the big milestones in your life.
It’s similar to a budget, but it covers a longer time horizon of 10, 20, or 30 years down the road, whereas a budget is a short-term plan for the weeks or months ahead. The two work hand in hand, which is why a budget is often a component of a larger financial plan.
These plans can also help you with your finances by prioritizing your goals, as it is often more effective to focus on one or two financial goals at a time. Your financial plan should include events such as buying a home, saving for retirement, and paying for your kids’ college education.
Take the time to set financial goals that you are working toward, such as buying a house or growing your retirement nest egg. If you do not have specific things that you are working toward, you may have difficulty motivating yourself to keep saving or investing each month.
As you set your goals, ensure that they are realistic. For example, don’t set a goal to pay off $40,000 in debt in a single year when your salary is only $30,000. Unrealistic goals that set you up to fail can discourage you from making the right financial moves in the future.
Finally, track your goals over time so that you can see how much you have accomplished. For example, most modern brokerage firms offer tools on their websites that let you monitor your investment portfolio gains and losses over time. These tools can help you stay on track when you are working toward a long-term goal.
There are two main ways to make money: earning it actively by working for it or earning it passively, while you sleep, by saving or investing the money you have in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, or other financial instruments. Given that the long-term average annual return of the stock market is 10%, or 6% or 7% when adjusted for inflation, investing in the stock market is a great way for the average person to build wealth.5
If the idea of investing intimidates you, enroll in a class on investing basics, meet with a financial advisor, or talk to a trusted family member or friend who has experience in the area. While investing comes with risks, investing consistently and spreading your money in the appropriate percentages across diverse asset classes (stocks and bonds, for example) can help you maximize your gains and limit your losses.
If you are great at putting money into savings each month, but quick to dip into it to cover a discrepancy in your budget or buy something on an impulse, take steps to protect your savings from yourself.
Solutions include moving your savings to a certificate of deposit (CD), from a brick-and-mortar bank where the funds are easily accessible, to an online bank where the funds are less liquid, or starting an emergency fund at a separate bank from the one you regularly use.
Retirement will be expensive, so you should ideally start saving for it when you start your first job, especially if a 401(k) plan is offered. Even if you are working on getting out of debt, contribute up to the match offered by your employer—this is free money, after all.
If you are out of debt, work on increasing your savings. How much you should save depends on how old you are when you start. If you’re in your 20s, you can get by with a contribution rate of 10% to 15% of your income, whereas someone starting to save in her 40s should contribute as much as 35% of her pay toward retirement.6 The earlier you start to save, the better for your wallet, both now and in retirement.
Financial issues sometimes stem from insufficient income as opposed to spending issues. If you are sticking to a budget, not spending money on things you don’t need, and still have challenges making ends meet, you may want to look for a higher-paying job or generate more than one source of income. More income tends to provide more financial stability, especially if you are single or in a single-income household.
If you can’t change jobs, look for opportunities to generate income on the side or in addition to your job. Passive income from a rental property is another way to build wealth or find more money to get yourself out of debt.
While it may not seem directly tied to your finances, job security is an important piece of your financial picture, because it dictates how regular your paycheck is.
Ensure that you have the skills you need to stay competitive in the workplace. This may mean taking extra certifications or getting training through your current employer. Or, it may mean heading back to college for a graduate degree that qualifies you for a more stable profession.
You can protect your finances by having the right amount of insurance. Common types of insurance include car insurance, renter’s or homeowner’s insurance, life insurance, and health insurance.
While you may be tempted to skimp on insurance, remember that it protects you from catastrophes that can send your finances spiraling.
In addition to your retirement plans and health insurance, your company may offer additional employee benefits, such as dental insurance, vision insurance, and flexible spending accounts.
Not all of these benefits may be worth the additional money that you pay for them, but some can help with your finances by relieving you of the need to pay out of pocket for essential expenses. Take the time to evaluate your options so that you get the most from your employee benefits.
9 Tips Anyone Can Use to Achieve Financial Success
It’s not too hard to find stories in the media about seemingly ordinary people finding great financial success. You hear about what seems like an ordinary guy or gal who worked in what seemed like an ordinary career path and somehow they’ve got $1 million in the bank. How did they do it?
Unfortunately, many of those stories have additional details that you don’t read about in the headlines. Often, you’ll find that those people practiced a level of frugality that seems like complete misery to you. They live in a very tiny home or they eat a very strange diet or they never leave the house or they homestead for all of their food needs. Sometimes you’ll find that although their job title is ordinary, they’ve actually earned a ton of money through either a higher-than-average salary or some other financial benefit (like receiving an inheritance of some kind).
At that point, the walls come crashing down. Rather than giving the idea that anyone can do this, they again reinforce the idea that financial success is something that only occurs in exceptional circumstances.
It’s actually quite possible to achieve financial success without extreme frugality and without a lot of wealth already in the bank and without a huge salary.
Since the start of our professional lives, my wife and I have never earned more than about 25 percent above the average American salary with the exception of one year where I almost worked myself into a mental breakdown (never again…). We don’t make a ton of money.
At the same time, we’re not extremely frugal. I try different things for experiments in my writing, but in our day to day lives, I don’t consider us to be insanely frugal in any way. We eat normal meals, have normal hobbies and have normal lives.
Yet, over the past decade, Sarah and I have paid off two car loans that measured in the five figures, then eventually replaced those cars and paid for them in full. We paid off our student loans, which was in the five figures for each of us. We also paid off a ton of credit card debt, also measuring in the five figures. We bought a four bedroom home and then paid off the entire thing in about four years. Right now, we have no debts — not even a mortgage — and are saving for actually retiring early.
How is that even possible? It’s possible thanks to using a handful of very smart strategies along the way. The rest of this article is a basic blueprint for what we did.
Focus your frugal efforts on things you don’t care about (or barely care about)
People have this false impression that frugality is all about deprivation. When people think about being frugal, about cutting back on their spending, the first things that their mind flashes to are the expenses in their lives that they really care about.
Think about it yourself. When I suggest cutting back on your spending, what do you think about? It’s incredibly likely that most of your immediate thoughts come down to things that you get a lot of personal pleasure out of (with a few of your worst spending mistakes sprinkled in there for good measure).
That’s a completely backwards approach to frugality. That’s an approach that’s virtually guaranteed to be miserable and guaranteed to fail. You’re simply not going to succeed in terms of cutting your spending if your image of cutting your spending is taking away the things you most enjoy in life.
The truth is that the actual success of frugality comes from cutting away things you barely notice and then not spending that money you save but instead using it for something financially positive. It comes from doing things like air sealing your home so that you’re not wasting warm air during the winter months. It comes from things like buying store-brand hand soap and store-brand laundry soap. It comes from things like making a grocery list before you go to the grocery store. It comes from negotiating for a better insurance package. It comes from moving closer to work so you don’t have to drive each day.
It doesn’t come from eliminating a stop at a coffee shop if you truly love that perfect morning coffee. It doesn’t come from completely abandoning your favorite hobby. It doesn’t come from sitting at home by yourself while your friends have fun. Those are unrealistic visions rooted in a fear of change, a change that has nothing to do with an effective approach to frugality that will actually earn dividends.
Use this approach when you look through big lists of money-saving tips. Don’t do the ones that sound like they’d make your life substantially less enjoyable. Instead, focus on the ones that seem like they’d feel almost effortless and the ones that, when you think about it for a second, you realize that it wouldn’t be much of a change. Focus on ones that involve doing one big thing up front and then having it permanently reduce a bill. That’s effective frugality. That’s the kind that will last. And, honestly, it’s pretty fun, because you realize you’re making a low-impact change to your life that will have better long-term results.
Learn how to cook well enough so that it’s more convenient to eat at home
Food is such an enormous drain on the budgets of so many families simply because of the huge cost difference between restaurant food and meals prepared at home. The difference between the two is astronomical, and when you keep repeating that cost difference several times a week, it really adds up.
Believe it or not, the average American family eats out more today than they eat at home, even with that huge price difference. Why? There’s this perception that eating out is simply way more convenient than preparing food and eating at home.
In my experience, that perception is borne out of a lack of comfort that many people have in the kitchen. Cooking a decent meal seems intimidating. Even cooking a simple meal can seem intimidating. When you’re intimidated, your mind amplifies the challenge of the work involved, and when your mind starts to amplify the work involved, it makes eating out seem so much easier that it makes up for the cost difference.
How do you beat that perception? You beat it by actually getting experienced in the kitchen, and you do that by actually making yourself cook lots of meals at home.
Every time you cook a meal at home that you would have otherwise consumed at a restaurant (or takeout or delivery), you’re going to save a little money, but more importantly, you’re going to become a little more skilled in the kitchen.
Something like poaching eggs and making coffee, which might have seemed like an enormous chore in the morning, becomes something you can whip out while getting ready for the day. Something like beef stew might have seemed like a huge challenge, but soon you begin to realize that you can just chop up the ingredients the night before in about ten minutes, dump them all in a slow cooker in the morning, and come home to finished beef stew after work.
As that transition occurs, the intimidation factor of cooking at home will become lower and lower. It won’t seem overwhelming to come home and make even a fairly complicated meal. And, believe it or not, it will actually seem easier to just go home and make something simple like a pot of pasta and sauce than it will to go out to a restaurant.
Doing this transforms eating out (a relatively expensive endeavor) from a crutch that you have to rely on to get through the week to an occasional treat that you use to enjoy an unusual meal.
Don’t waste food
I’m often stunned at how much food many households simply waste. They’ll buy something at the store, let it sit in the fridge or on the counter until it goes bad and then toss it. They’ll buy a food item, stick it in the pantry and then when they discover it again they judge it to have “gone bad” and just toss it. They’ll pack up leftovers from a meal, stick them in the fridge and discover them several days later with a thick coating of mold.
All of that is wasteful.
Here’s a new approach. At the start of each day, look in the fridge and see if there are any leftovers you can eat today instead of prepping a meal. Doing that turns one of your meals into a freebie and guarantees you won’t be tossing food in the trash. At the start of each week, when you’re planning meals (something we’ll get back to in a minute), look in your pantry and freezer and use that stuff as the basis for your meal plans. That way, you really don’t have to buy all that much at the grocery store. If you’re looking for a snack, look at what’s in the fresh food areas of your home–are there fresh fruits in the fruit bowl? Are there fresh veggies in the crisper?
Those steps alone take care of a lot of the food waste that a family undergoes. Remember, whenever you toss food in the trash, you’re literally throwing away money. That food cost something to get it into your home and now you’re just tossing it. Try to avoid doing that.
Scale back treats until they become treats again
Humans are routine-oriented creatures. We often fall into daily routines and weekly routines that we just repeat over and over again. Usually, we do them without thinking or feeling — they’re just the norm.
Every time you spend money as part of that daily routine or that weekly routine, you should be questioning whether or not it’s worth it. Are you really getting real value from that expense?
What you might notice if you ask that question seriously is that there are many things in people’s daily routines that aren’t really necessities at all. They’re basically treats. Think of a morning cup of coffee from Starbucks instead of from the coffee pot at work. Think of a regular stop at a store that caters to your hobby.
When you repeat such a thing often enough, it ceases to be a treat. It becomes routine. When something becomes routine, not only does it become a required expense in your life, it also loses a lot of the pleasure. It ceases to be a treat and just becomes “normal.”
One of the best “frugality secrets” out there is that life is actually much more enjoyable if you make your normal routine as inexpensive as possible and then spice it with treats with enough intervals in between so that they really feel like treats.
So take your daily stop at Starbucks and spread it out to become a weekly thing or even an every-other-week thing. Instead, get your morning coffee from the shared pot at work.
Here’s the weird part: you’ll actually start to find that drinking it once every week or two reinstitutes it as a treat. It will make the cup much more of a pleasure than before, when it had become a dull routine.
Make your routine bare-bones, then add treats sparingly so that they’re actual treats instead of just a boring routine. You’ll spend a lot less money and the treats will actually bring you more joy and pleasure than before.
Be organized in your thinking and planning every time you would spend money
This one’s simple: Whenever you are thinking of spending money, give it some advance thought and plan for it a little bit.
When you go to the grocery store, make a meal plan first and make a grocery list from that plan. That way, when you do go to the store, you have a list to follow.
When you go to the bookstore, give it some advance thought and decide on what exactly you’re looking for as precisely as you can. That way, when you go there, you’re not just wandering around.
Don’t put yourself in situations where you would spend money without thinking about it in advance, and that means far enough in advance that you’re not caught up in the moment of the purchase. Think about your grocery list at home and write it down rather than thinking about what you’ll buy on your way into the store.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever be spontaneous with your money. It just means that, if you’re going to be in a position to be spontaneous, you’ve already put some reasonable boundaries on it so that you’re not wrecking your finances by doing so.
For example, if I’m going out with friends on an unplanned evening, I’ll think about that evening in advance and take only enough cash to handle a reasonable evening out on the town rather than a credit card which can open the door to a huge amount of impulsive spending, far beyond what I can reasonably afford. If I take $40, that means I’ve thought about it in advance and I know that I can feel completely fine spending that $40 however I please and still know that everything in my life is still right on track.
Intentionally move your hobby time away from accumulating and towards doing instead
When you’re passionate about a particular hobby, it’s easy to fall into the trap of accumulating stuff related to that hobby rather than actually doing things within that hobby.
For example, if you’re an avid book lover, you can often find yourself building up a huge book collection rather than actually, say, reading books.
This is a reflexive trap that many people fall into as their lives become busy. They begin to get a sense that they don’t have time for hobbies that they once loved, so to fight off that perception, they buy items instead as a substitute for that hobby time.
Here’s a much better approach: schedule blocks of time to actually practice your hobbies. Put them in your calendar first, before other appointments, and actually keep that time sacred.
Give yourself time to read if reading is your passion. Give yourself time to play board games if tabletop gaming is your passion.
That way, when you’re tempted to make a purchase, instead you can look at that block of time and think about the activities you’re actually going to do instead of the things you’re just accumulating.
You’ll find that when you do this, your desire to accumulate stuff actually melts away. For example, that time you might have spent thinking about all of the books you wish you had time to read instead becomes time you spend thinking about that book you’re going to read this weekend. Actually owning that book becomes secondary, and that makes things like stopping at the library much more appealing because the library is focused around using rather than accumulating.
Always question every purchase
The last few entries are actually just specific instances of this overall strategy, which really sums up what a frugal mindset really is. You just question every single purchase.
That doesn’t mean that you cease spending money. It just means that when you’re about to spend money, you ask yourself critically whether this purchase really makes sense, and after you’ve made a purchase, you again reflect on that purchase critically and see whether it really made sense looking back on it.
A financially responsible mindset takes those situations and constantly runs them through their head. When you’re driving or sitting at the doctor’s office or whenever idle thoughts are running through your head, you just parse through a few recent buying decisions or some buying decisions that might be coming up. Do they make sense? Is there a better way to do it? Can I just borrow that item? Can I buy the store brand instead?
What you find is that you start to whittle away a lot of your expenses. You start to see unnecessary expenses as being unnecessary.
At the same time, what you find is that you’re not cutting away at the things that are really important to you. If you spend time considering a purchase, it really becomes clear after a bit which purchases really bring value into your life (and you don’t cut them) and which purchases do not.
That’s the purpose of such reflection. It cuts your spending down to the stuff that really matters.
Treat your career as an opportunity, not an obstacle
Many people look at their career as drudgery. It’s something that life forces them to do and they hate every minute of it. They try to avoid actually doing much work and try to get by doing the minimum needed to keep their job.
That’s the wrong perspective, and it’s one that needs to be thoroughly replaced if you want to see lasting financial success.
Instead, see your job as an opportunity. Don’t live to work, work to live. The time you spend at work is time invested so that you can do the things you want in the other areas of your life. The time and energy you invest there is returned to you in terms of financial security and the ability to do all kinds of things in life.
Not only that, it’s an opportunity to open up even more freedom.
Look, if you’re going to be at work for eight hours anyway, why not use that time intentionally to maximize every possible dollar you can earn from your job? You can do that by simply taking on the difficult tasks. Look for situations to challenge yourself at work. Look for opportunities to get free education. Look for things that can bolster your resume and produce a great work review.
If those things aren’t appreciated in your workplace in terms of better pay, so what? They make for great resume material and you can always look for a job elsewhere when your resume starts to look really good. You may even find opportunities for independent work, like taking on a gig as a freelancer in your spare time or setting up a small business.
Just look at those hours you’re investing in your career as, at worst, an exchange for the things you have in life and, ideally, as an opportunity to improve your income and make your path to financial success move along that much faster.
Treat these changes as your new normal
All of those changes seem doable on their own, but for most people, they’re different than the habits and routines that they currently have. These things represent a behavioral shift, a different way of approaching day-to-day life.
The thing is, it requires a permanent shift to these kinds of behaviors in order to make them work. These aren’t things that you try on when you think of them. These need to become statements that describe normal life for you — to do things differently than this needs to become the “strange” or unusual pattern.
Without that change in your sense of normal behavior, these changes won’t stick. They won’t become permanent alterations in your behavior and without that permanent change, they won’t bring about the financial results that you desire.
It’s like the old adage goes: The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results. If you don’t change something — and by change, I mean change it permanently and establish it as the new normal in your life — then you’re going to keep getting the same results in life. There’s no way around it.
For some people, adopting a lot of changes at once is the best approach. For those people, making all of these changes in one swoop is what they need to do. For others, gradual change works best and they should focus on adopting new changes one at a time and letting them settle.
Remember, the key is to be on guard with these life changes until they truly become normal and the old way of doing things becomes strange. It isn’t until you wake up one morning and realize that your sense of normal now includes those things that financial success will really start pouring into your life with little apparent effort.
How to Set Goals for 2021
The new year is right around the corner, and you know what that means . . . time to give 2020 the boot for good. And after you tell it “don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” get ready to welcome 2021 with open arms.
People love the whole “fresh start” that a new year brings. That’s no secret. But this year—more than ever—we’re all ready to embrace the fresh, new year with hope of what could be. And a huge part of that is goal setting.
We know you’re probably thinking: Goal setting? Ha! My goals went out the window in 2020. I was just trying to survive, and now you want me to think about goals? Yeah, right.
Whoa there, Negative Nancy. We get it. We really do. But having goals in life is essential—especially when things look chaotic. So this year, take some time to really think about those goals. And remember, just having good intentions alone changes nothing. Nada. Zilch. You can make resolutions all you want—but a resolution without a plan is just plain old wishful thinking. It’s time to rethink how you see goal setting.
5 Essential Guidelines for Your Goals
What do you want to achieve? Get down to the nitty-gritty. Just saying you want to lose weight won’t cut it. Instead try, “I’d like to drop 20 pounds and be able to do at least 20 sit-ups in a row without passing out.” Watch for any roadblocks that could keep you from reaching your goal, and make a plan to get around them.
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Questions to ask yourself: Who does my goal involve? What am I trying to accomplish here? When and why do I want to make this goal happen?
Make Goals Measurable
If you know your ultimate goal is to pay off $24,000 of debt in the next year, that means you have to pay $2,000 a month to reach that goal (or about $460 a week). Break your goal into bite-sized chunks. Give yourself daily, weekly and monthly steps. Focus on those. When you accomplish one, tackle the next one.
Questions to ask yourself: How long will it take to reach my goal? How do I know when I’ve reached my goal?
Give Goals a Time Limit
Set a time limit—because you need a finish line. Take that goal of yours, create a plan, and break it all the way down to daily activities. Then, give yourself a deadline. Hint: Planners like the Christy Wright 2021 Goal Planner are perfect for this. They’ll help you manage your schedule, grow as a person, and crush your goals—no matter what they are.
For example, you might say, “I want to lose 20 pounds by December 31.” To lose 20 pounds, calculate things like how many times you need to work out each week and how many calories you need to eat in a day. Then do what you can to hit that goal by your target date.
Questions to ask yourself: Do I have a deadline for reaching my goal? When will I hit this goal? How many times will I achieve this goal?
Goals Need to Be Yours
Let’s be honest—trying to accomplish someone else’s goals for your life never works out. Sure, your mom may want you to take classes and switch careers. But it won’t happen unless it’s your desire too. Why? Because striving to win isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s tough. And you won’t have the drive to stick with it if you’re working toward a goal you’re not even passionate about.
Just because your spouse wants you to get out of debt doesn’t mean you will either. You have to want it too. The goals you set have to be your goals. When push comes to shove, you’re the one who has to fight to make them a reality. So, get in there and start swinging!
Questions to ask yourself: Is this my goal? Or is it someone else’s desire for me?
Put It in Writing
Something special happens when you write down specific goals. Get them down on paper along with all the steps it’ll take for you to get there. Our Goal Tracker Worksheet is a handy tool for this. Seeing your goals in black and white will help you hold yourself accountable and track your progress along the way.
Questions to ask yourself: Do I know the steps to reach my goal? Have I laid out a blueprint for how to get there?
Seven Areas of Life for Smart Goals
We recommend you set goals for these seven meaningful areas of life:
- Spiritual Goals: Pick up a new devotional, start a daily journal, or plug in to a group at your church.
- Fitness Goals: Hit the gym more often, take the stairs, and remember to eat your veggies.
- Educational Goals: Go back to finish your degree, get your MBA, or read a good book every month.
- Family Goals: Plan one-on-one dates with your kids, have a standing date night with your spouse, or make it a point to call your mom and dad on Sunday nights.
- Career Goals: Work toward a promotion or raise, learn something new about your line of work, or polish up and send out resumés if you’re looking for a new career path.
- Social Goals: Look for new ways to connect with others. Say yes when someone invites you out to lunch—or, for some of us, say no more often.
- Financial Goals: Start saving for retirement, get out of debt, or use a monthly zero-based budget.
When it comes to that last one on the list—your money goals—you might not even know where to start. That’s why we made a super simple assessment that will tell you exactly where you’re at and what your next steps should be. Take our free three-minute assessment and get started knocking out your money goals when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s (or today, that’s fine too).
Don’t get discouraged if you get off track. Life happens. Remember 2020 and all the “surprises” it had? We all hit speed bumps and roadblocks along the way—pandemic or not. And honestly, that’s okay! That’s real life. As long as you stay focused on the end goal and keep taking small steps toward getting there, you’ll be on your way to big life-change.
Now go take 2021 by storm!