When I was growing up, my parents were pretty frank about money. Specifically that we didn’t have much of it. Every once in a while they’d tell my sister and me that it was a bad month and we’d really have to be careful.
“No dinners out, no movie rentals. Don’t ask for anything,” my mother would warn. Her fear was contagious. She’d grown up ketchup-sandwich poor and was determined never to feel that desperation again. As adults, she and her brothers would laugh themselves breathless recounting how their dad would drink almost all the money away and come home with chicken feed for his chickens but no groceries for his kids. He was sure the chickens would give them eggs tomorrow, which was somehow better than a chicken dinner today.
When mom told us we needed to be careful, she wasn’t laughing. My stomach would twist and I’d immediately picture us living out of our Camry. Somehow our situation would right itself – maybe we made it to the next payday or things weren’t as dire as I’d imagined. The all-clear usually came in the form of dinner at Red Lobster. Things couldn’t be too bad if there were Cheddar Bay Biscuits. But the anxiety lingered.
No matter what overt or covert signals you receive about money in your childhood, whether you hear your parents argue about it, see your family living large or never get any financial lessons whatsoever, you’re developing a money mindset you may not fully be aware of yet. It was years before I realized how I’d internalized my parents’ angst about money. They taught me to worry about money but not how to budget it. Oh, and I equated dinners out with a sense of relief that things were going to be ok after all. Surely that explains my love of Thai takeout.
Your money mindset is only one part of the equation, though. Your habits make the real difference in how you manage your finances. Here are five super simple money habits you can start with your first paycheck.
1. Find a budgeting tool and use it.
You can track your spending and saving with a pen and paper – I did that for years and it works great. But if you like a more high-tech solution, there are some really cool online budgeting tools from your bank or from sites like Mint.com or BudgetSimple.com that help you track your money down to the penny and see all your transactions in one place. You can get alerts when you’ve gone over budget, set savings goals and get handy charts to see clear overview of where your money is going. Those alerts are killer. Now when I buy one chai latte too many, my phone vibrates in protest. Or is that my conscience?
2. Make saving automatic
When I got my first career-related job, I was paid $19,000, which felt like all the money in the world. (Spoiler alert: It was not.) I started a little savings fund and a 401k. Yea me! But there have couple of time since then that I’ve gotten a raise and thought, “I’ll enjoy this for a few months, then start saving part of it.” Yeah, that never happened. Within three months, I’d actually find myself thinking, “Gah, I need a raise.” Long story short, start saving money before you get used to having it. In fact, automatically transfer your savings into a separate account each month before you have a chance to think about it. Even if you’re only saving $10, it’s a good habit to get into.
3. Schedule a weekly money check-in date
Budgeting tools and automatic savings transfers are so handy that you might be tempted to let your finances run on autopilot. Nope. Schedule a set time each week to sit down and review your statements for any errors, go over your budget, see what’s working, what’s not and make adjustments where necessary. If you make time for manicures or movie nights, you can make time for this.
4. Adopt a growth mindset
So this might sound a little advanced if your only income is an allowance or babysitting money. But ultimately you don’t just want to save your money, you want to grow it. And you can start super small. Acorns is an app that invests your spare change, by automatically rounding up the cost of all your purchases to the nearest dollar, withdrawing that amount and investing it. I use this myself, and it’s actually fun to watch all those nickels and dimes add up. If you’re actually getting a regular paycheck, it’s time to think about 401ks, IRAs, brokerage accounts and other investments. A 401k is a savings plan you get through your job that lets you invest money before taxes are taken out. Your employer might even match a certain percentage of your contribution. If your company doesn’t offer a 401k, you’d need an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) or if you’re self-employed, you might choose a SEP-IRA (Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account.). Brokerage accounts are taxable, non-retirement accounts that might be a good option if you’ve maxed out your retirement contributions. Talk to someone at your bank or another financial advisor to help you choose.
5. State your mission
What are you saving for? What’s your plan to get there? Write it down. Now tell someone. As with a workout plan or diet, accountability can help you reach your goals. You might even inspire someone else to follow suit. Plus, it helps demystify the subject of money. It’s perfectly ok to say manicures aren’t in my budget this week, let’s go for a bike ride instead.
From Auntie Venom’s Audio Files:
Want to share your savings goal? One of mine is a trip to Paris with my niece Emmi. How about your money habits? Are you a saver or a spender? Tell me everything.
Not intended as investment or financial advice. Be sure to consult a professional financial advisor for advice specific to your financial situation.