When we think about the things we enjoy doing with our time, managing our own money won't necessarily top our respective lists. In fact, Americans are so put off by the idea of dealing with their finances that a third would rather spend time changing diapers, according to Marcus by Goldman Sachs.
Other tasks U.S. adults would rather engage in than focus on money matters include washing dishes (not quite as icky as diaper-changing) and going to the doctor (not always an awful experience, but hardly fun). The takeaway? Americans clearly need some guidance on how to manage their money -- and they also need reassurance that doing so is easier than they might expect. Here are a few simple steps to getting on top of your finances.
1. Create a budget
Without a budget, you'll have a difficult time figuring out where your money goes month after month, and that will make it harder for you to save and avoid landing in debt. Therefore, if you don't have a budget already, carve out a couple of hours to create one. To do so, list your recurring monthly expenses, factor in once-a-year expenses (like annual membership renewals), and compare your total spending to your total take-home pay. If you find that you're spending down your entire paycheck month after month (or, worse yet, spending more than what you earn), then you'll need to revisit your various expense categories and cut back on some of them.
But do yourself a favor and don't just guess at what your spending looks like. Instead, actually go through your bank and credit card statements to get a true sense of what you spend. For example, you might think you typically spend $300 a month on groceries, but if it turns out that number is closer to $400, your entire budget will be thrown off.
2. Establish an emergency fund
Life has a way of throwing unplanned expenses at us. A big part of staying on top of your finances is making sure you have money in the bank to cover emergencies, whether they come in the form of automobile issues, home repairs, or medical bills.
Ideally, you should establish an emergency fund with enough money to pay for three to six months of essential living expenses. If your bank account is nowhere close, cut back on discretionary spending drastically until you get a lot closer. At the same time, consider a taking on a side job to pad your savings quickly. Having that safety net will help you avoid debt when unplanned bills land in your lap.
3. Put your financial goals in writing
The simple act of committing to financial goals could be a step in a very positive direction. If you've yet to map our your most pressing goals, take a little time to make a list of what those objectives entail, and how to get there. For example, if you're seeking to buy a home, you might figure out how much of a down payment you'll need and then aim to set aside a certain amount of money each month to come up with it. If you're hoping to buy a vehicle, same deal. Feel free to list multiple goals, and definitely order them by priority so that you're able to focus your efforts accordingly.
Managing your finances doesn't have to be difficult or time-consuming -- but it has to be done. And the sooner you get into the habit, the less tempted you'll be to engage in less pleasant tasks in an effort to put it off.