Conventional wisdom was that if you stuck to your New Year’s resolution for 21 days, it would become ingrained. However, University College London research into habit formation has shown that it takes around three times that to make physical changes stick.
So what about exercising our financial habits? These behaviours influence the perception we have of money and how we spend it. We can spend $1,600 over the course of a year on a daily caffeine fix. But such is the habit of grabbing a coffee on the way to work that we may no longer view it as a luxury, or even expenditure. We can come to see it as a necessity because it has become a part of our daily routine. But as Benjamin Franklin cautioned: “Beware of little expenses, a small leak will sink a big ship.”
So in a bid to help you build some financial muscle and keep your ship afloat, Juno has brought you eight tips to kick-start your journey to financial fitness, all year round.
#1 Know your ins and outs: Build a clear picture of your own financial story. Rather than being restrictive, a good budget can be a firm and exciting first step towards financial freedom and independence. Be honest with yourself about what’s going in to your bank account each month and what’s going out. Knowing where you are financially, even if you’re not in the ideal space yet, is healthy. Spend a month tracking where your money goes and get a clearer picture of your outgoings.
Many online tools are available to help you record the detail of how you spend your money, including the sorted.org.nz money planner. Or you could use tracking tools provided by your bank that link automatically to your online bank account. More sophisticated still is personal finance software, such as Pocketsmith, which enables you to build a comprehensive picture of your financial health.
#2 Always pay your bills on time and in full: If you pay bills after the due date, or don’t pay in full, you are likely to incur late payment fees. If it’s your credit card bill, you will also pay interest on the outstanding amount. Being aware of how much is owing, and when bills are due, is key to good financial health – and peace of mind!
Make good use of the calendar you received at Christmas, or set up alerts on your smartphone, to remind yourself in advance of when each bill is due. Better still, set up automatic payments. Ensure your budget leaves you with enough money in your account to cover all your outgoings. Think of this as a stress-free approach to managing the essentials each month.
Schedule in a time each year to review all your bills and make sure you’re getting the best deal from each provider. Always aim for maximum bang for your hard-earned buck.
#3 Cook up a storm at home: Planning ahead can help feed your bank account when it comes to eating. Think about meal choices ahead of time and visit the supermarket once a week (making the most of bargains while you’re there). Or get your groceries delivered to your door to avoid any unplanned impulse buying.
The many digital tools out there can help you plan meals and build shopping lists. As the weeks go by, refine your list. If you throw any food away, you don’t need it next time. Think nutritious, delicious, home-cooked meals and packed lunches.
Enjoy the satisfaction of making a meal and savouring it with your family. Grabbing a takeaway may seem quick and cheap, but if we do it most days we set ourselves back in the long term. Spend less on eating out and reap the rewards – you’ll soon notice the effects on your sense of well-being as well as your bank balance!
#4 Break down your regular purchases into ‘needs’ and ‘wants’: Be aware of what you ‘need’ to survive
and what you ‘want’ to have and be honest with yourself about the difference. We need food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and the ability to get from A to B. Things we would like to have, but are not critical to our overall survival or well-being, are in the ‘want’ basket. However, the line is often blurred between the two. Write a list of the essentials in your life, the things you need, and pop it into your wallet or smartphone and carry it with you. Make a note too of your financial goals.
Having a strategy in place when we are faced with potential new purchases is important when managing our money. Before you buy anything that is not on your list, take time to consider if it aligns with your financial plan. Do you really ‘need’ that new skirt/jacket/bag? Will buying it stop you achieving your goal of paying off your credit card in three months? This approach can be fairly sobering, but the impact on your financial health each month could be momentous.
#5 Wait for the sales: Whether it’s choosing good deals in your weekly shop at the supermarket or planning bigger-ticket purchases, sales can save you a small fortune! Let’s face it, there are enough of them!
Rarely is there a good reason to buy anything at full price. Avoid impulse buying and plan ahead, taking advantage of sales throughout the year.
Subscribing to stores is a great way to keep on top of new deals, with the added bonus of join-up discounts. Sign up during key holiday periods, such as Christmas, and you can usually use your discount on top of sale prices after Christmas.
Join your favourite stores’ loyalty schemes, where bonus deals not available to the wider public are offered throughout the year.
Seek out ways to get the most from your dollar. Join discount online communities like nzsale.co.nz and onceit.co.nz. Buy summer or winter gear for the following year in the end-of-season sales. Or you can always collect coupons and vouchers for your favourite stores.
#6 Do your homework: shop around and plan ahead: The best tactic for saving money is to do your homework. If you’re considering buying anything, the internet is your best friend. Shop around to compare prices. Wonderful price comparison tools like pricespy.co.nz allow you to track prices across a number of suppliers and set up alerts when prices fall. You can save a great deal on all sorts of brands and products.
Or consider buying abroad and shipping into New Zealand using New Zealand Post’s YouShop. Again, plenty of online tools are available to calculate exchange rates, shipping costs and tax. The extra homework can be worth it.
#7 Pay off manageable chunks of debt first – and celebrate your achievements: Make a point of paying off smallest debts first, especially with credit cards. This is known as the debt-snowball method, where smaller debts diminish while ensuring minimum payments are always made on larger debts. When you successfully pay off your smallest debt, put the same amount towards your next, larger debt and keep the momentum going.
Small wins are part of the journey and these can happen all the time. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile explains: “Our research showed that, of all the events that have the power to excite people and engage them… the single most important is making progress – even if that progress is a small win. That’s the progress principle. And, because people are more creatively productive when they are excited and engaged, small wins are a very big deal.”
#8 Set aside 10 per cent of your salary (we promise you won’t miss it!): Immediately stick away a portion of everything you earn after repaying debts and contributing to retirement funds. Set up an automatic payment the day after your salary goes into your current account and move 10 per cent – or more if you can afford it – to savings. The money will add up over the course of the year and go towards investments, retirement funds or planned, guilt-free spending like holidays. You really won’t miss it!
First published 7 December, 2017
The editorial below reflects the views of the editorial contributor only and content may be out of date. This article is sourced from a previous JUNO issue. JUNO’s content comes from sources that it considers accurate, but we do not guarantee that the content is accurate. Charts are visually indicative only. JUNO does not contain financial advice as defined by the Financial Advisers Act 2008. Consult a suitably qualified financial adviser before making investment decisions.