The new year is a perfect time to take a look back at the progress you made in your financial life last year and kick it up a notch for this year. So many New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside by St. Patrick’s Day (eating less ice cream and calling old friends always makes my list – and by April there’s ice cream in the freezer & old buddies still get the occasional “like” on Facebook but not the catch-up phone call). There are some resolutions though, that are not only good for you but sustainable. And maybe a bit more realistic than my ice cream resolution too. Here’s one of those examples.
When the splurges add up
I recall talking with an acquaintance this time last year and she was having some financial difficulty. She and her husband had just bought a new car because their old one had over 250,000 miles on it. They paid about $4,000 more than they had budgeted after they fell in love with one particular car.
They had also renovated a bathroom, and the costs ran higher than expected. Finally, they went “a little overboard” (her words) on Christmas shopping (using credit cards). In isolation, none of these issues would have been an issue. The combination of all 3 things made them feel very constrained — almost overwhelmed — once the dust settled and they looked at the monthly expenses after their winter spending spree.
A difference in principles
She made a New Year’s Resolution to get her spending under control and, for the first time in her life, to understand where her money went — she wanted to see her financial “big picture.” Until that point, her guiding principle had always been, “I have a good job and make enough money to spend what I want to spend and I’m not extravagant, so it’s not a problem.” Her husband was more fiscally conservative and this difference was starting to put stress on their marriage.
Figuring out the big picture
After some conversation with both of them, we sat down together with the goal of organizing their financial life. We used this financial organizer in order to help them see the big picture – what they own vs. what they owe.
They had never put everything on one page before, so this was enlightening for them and probably not in a good way. They thought they were much further ahead than they actually were. We also used a combination of this expense tracker and Mint.com to help them get a firm understanding of where their money was going each month.
Setting a team goal
Upon having this “aha moment,” they made a promise to each other, and a New Year’s resolution, to work as a team this year. Their goals were to:
- reduce their debt
- maintain spending discipline
- update their financial worksheets on the 1st weekend of each month
Teamwork makes the dream work
I saw them in the grocery store recently and asked how their resolution from last year is going. They smiled! Putting it on paper and choosing a sustainable “resolution” made it so they could stick to the plan and even create some healthy new money habits. Now they hold their monthly “financial meeting” at a local breakfast hot-spot, and it’s become a no-kids breakfast date that they look forward to. I have never seen them look happier.
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