1. Know where you want to be
Few people sit down and decide that they’d rather just make ends meet, thank you very much. That doesn’t mean aspiring to be a millionaire is the only way, but it stands to reason that having a money goal can take you places! So: what do you want your money to do for you?
While future wants are likely to pop up first – the salary or kind of lifestyle you’d like, for starters – don’t forget the stuff you can tackle right now:
- What would you save for, and how much will you need?
- Do you want your cash to work harder than you do?
- What’s your attitude to money management, and how does it sit with the messages you get from friends, family and influencers?
A compelling money goal is a route map, not a destination – but it’s a great way to start.
2. Use your data
At its simplest, we’re talking a simple, pen-and-paper budget:
- How much money do you bring in every month, and from what sources?
- What are your essential costs? What else does your money go?
- Do you spend more than you earn, or have you got a little left over?
- Could you earn more and/or spend a little less …?
If you want more detail, carry a notebook with you and log all your spending. There are countless smartphone and banking apps that can do the crunching for you but, either way, the key is to review the data. See exactly where your income goes, and whether your money habits help or hinder your goals.
3. Prioritise payments
Whether it’s utility bills or credit card debt, you’ll likely always have a stack of payments to deal with every month:
- Order payments by due date, and set calendar reminders or phone alerts if you have to. Make it a goal never to miss due dates if you want to avoid unnecessary extra charges!
- If you owe money, you might want to sort payments by interest and penalty charges to reduce your most expensive debts first. Get advice if you’re struggling to repay – and especially before taking out loans to pay existing debt or to make ends meet.
- Aim to dial back unnecessary commitments – i.e., don’t have multiple subscriptions to similar services if one will do. Figure out your must-haves, name your price, then stick to your guns!
4. Save before spending
Saving may not sound thrilling in itself, but money set aside protects you against unexpected costs, lets you avoid expensive debt, and means you can have more of the things you want. That’s pretty powerful stuff!
- Treat it as an essential cost: allocate some of your monthly income towards a savings pot.
- Even small change saved regularly soon builds up, so start small if you have to.
- The longer you save, the more you’ll benefit. So be patient!
- Don’t forget the easy wins: never buy full-price if you can ask for discount, or use voucher and coupon sites and cashback apps. Then slide the rewards towards your savings.
5. Work interest rates in your favour
When you save money, interest is your best friend: it means your money makes money, just by sitting in the bank. When picking savings products, the higher the interest rate, the more you’ll earn for no extra effort.
When you borrow money, you’re the savings product – and interest rates gobble up your cash instead. When comparing ways to borrow, look for the lowest interest rate (and fees or penalty charges) to pay less overall.
6. Learn to say no
Debt can be a valid means of achieving life goals, from getting an education to buying a home. But it’s only worth it if it gets you a good deal, i.e., the total cost after interest, fees and penalties is reflective of what it pays for, it adds value to your income or wealth, and you can afford the repayments.
Sometimes there are cheaper ways to get what you want, typically by saving up in advance. Getting into debt – or running down your ready cash – for non-essentials is rarely worth the hassle. Can you afford to pay upfront? Will it enrich your life or get you closer to your money goals? Can you buy it cheaper, or sell it when you’re done with it? It’s the answer’s no, learn to go without. It’s your cash – be choosy about where it goes!
7. Stay curious
Chances are that the less money you have, the less you enjoy spending it, keeping tabs on it, or whipping it into shape – yet you’re missing the easiest ways to improve your deal. It doesn’t really matter how much you have; the crucial part is staying involved.
- Start with a budget and some money goals, and review them every month.
- Track and review your spending – be honest about what works and what’s holding you back. Change your money habits if you have to.
- Knowledge is power! Think you’ll never invest? Find out how it works anyway. Read around. Ask for help. Share what you learn. Stay curious.
TL;DR: You don’t have to do everything on this page to be better with money – but it helps! Pick and choose the bits that work for you, but remember that earning more will never be enough if money just runs through your fingers. Like any journey, the path to financial security, works better when things connect.
Guest post by Ruth Bushi, an editor at Save the Student – the UK’s largest student money advice site, and packed with money know-how, savings tips and simple ways to be better off!