As the cooler months of autumn roll in and you’re looking to revamp your fall wardrobe, you might be checking your bank account and freaking out, or completely avoiding it because you know you dropped a lot of $$$ this summer. Whether you splurged on a tropical summer vacation, new summer wardrobe or expensive outings with friends, you’re definitely not the only one who might be finding themselves in a tight spot. Take this as a sign to think back to the financial goals you set for yourself at the beginning of the year. Having a #RealMoneyTalk with yourself about where you are at in achieving those goals and what you actually need to do to get your finances back in order, is the first step in helping your wallet recover. Once you’ve decided to reprioritize those financial goals and get back on track, try these tips to help you make progress toward those goals and improve your overall financial situation for the future.
Get Your Debt Under Control ASAP
If you made any big purchases this summer on a pricey vacay (because we all know flights, hotels, food, and activities add up quickly!) or splurged on a summer home refresh with your credit card, you could be paying that debt back now with interest. If you have a higher interest rate on your credit card especially, paying off your debt sooner than later is a must; you’ll find yourself owing a lot more if you delay paying it off or are only making minimum payments each month.
Try to focus on your credit cards with the most debt and make a strategic plan to aggressively pay off the debt you racked up in a certain amount of time. Find friends or family to hold you accountable to your plan, and keep yourself motivated by celebrating the milestones you check off along the way as you pay off 25%, 50% and then 75% of the total amount you owe.
If you’re worried about continuing to spend on your credit card and adding to your debt, consider using cash for smaller purchases. It’s usually harder to overspend because you’re physically handing over the bills. Using cash might also make you think twice about some purchases!
Raise Your Credit Score
Keeping your balance low by paying more than the minimum amount and handling bills consistently not only helps you make a real dent in reducing your debt but also improves your credit score. Another important factor in what determines your credit score is ensuring that you are consistently paying your bills on time. A strategic way to avoid falling behind on any payments is to set up automatic bill payments within your bank account, so you don’t have to perpetually stress about dates or set up manual reminders.
How often you’re using your credit cards or credit card utilization could also impact your credit score. It’s recommended that you keep your credit usage at 20% or below (of course, the goal is to eventually keep it at 0%), which might mean budgeting more efficiently or spreading out your balance if you have multiple credit cards.
Track Your Spending and Start Budgeting
Even though summer is over, you may find yourself leaning toward other ways to spend money or shop. And I’m not saying stop all discretionary spending! But it is a good idea to first take a hard look at your finances and determine how much you can spend each month without going into more debt and then figure out how much of that spending can be budgeted towards treating yourself. Use tools like Mint to view your spending breakdown by category and by month as well as create budgets you can stick to. Figure out what your average spend typically is for each category (not just from the summer) including rent, groceries, clothes, etc. and see where you might be able to cut back next month. This doesn’t mean you can’t allocate some money toward treating yourself to small things along the way. You just have to make sure you can afford it by budgeting for it so you’re not stressing later. But remember, when putting together your budget, don’t discount the importance of saving a portion of your paychecks to establish an emergency fund (if you don’t already have one). Future You will thank Present You for planning ahead!
Money can often be stressful to think about or confront but it’s always a good idea to establish your goals. #RealMoneyTalk, the journey to financial freedom isn’t always linear and sometimes we take two steps back. But as long as you make an effort to take a step forward, you can still progress toward achieving financial freedom.