Amy Miller, AFC®
August is home to National Financial Awareness Day (August 14, 2023) and is a time to review finances, make plans, and take steps toward a healthy financial future.
This month we’re looking at how to become more financially aware. Last week we discussed understanding pay and how to read a Leave and Earning Statement (LES). This week, we’re focusing on expenses and spending and providing tips on how to track where your money is going. We’ll also provide some tips on how to gain control of your finances and make smart financial decisions.
Outline Known Expenses
Start by listing all known expenses and categorizing all fixed and variable expenses. Fixed expenses include mortgage payments, rent, auto loans, and insurance payments. Variable expenses are items that can change from month to month, like utilities and food costs, and should be based on a 3-month average.
The best way to outline these expenses is by reviewing your checking, savings, and credit card statements. Compile the information and list due dates, amounts due, and methods of payment.
While reviewing the statements, take note of any fees being charged, auto transfers, debts, and any interest being charged.
Often, people have no idea where their money is going and how their daily purchases add up and affect their overall finances. Getting a handle on spending is imperative to gaining control of your finances and working toward a healthy financial future.
There are many ways to track spending – notebooks, logs, spreadsheets, envelopes, etc. Digital tracker apps that can be downloaded on a mobile device and linked to personal financial accounts can be helpful. There are several tracker apps currently on the market – check out our previous blog on the best tracker apps for 2023.
Many think that to be successful at controlling spending, one must pinch pennies and sacrifice things that bring enjoyment or are valued. Fortunately, that’s not entirely true. The key is to spend mindfully. Spending mindfully means taking the time to consider purchases before making them. It means spending on important things and cutting back on things that aren’t important.
Ask these questions to be more mindful and thoughtful with spending:
- Why do I want to buy this?
- What value will this bring to my life?
- Can I afford this without going into debt?
- Is this something I really need or is this purchase related to stress, boredom, or other emotions?
Answering these questions honestly and making purchases based on your values and goals can greatly affect your financial outlook and confidence.
A few other tips and ways that can help you spend more mindfully and intentionally:
- Set a spending budget for each of your expense categories.
- Avoid impulse buys by giving yourself a “waiting” period before making large purchases. Take a day, a week, or even a month to think it over. Consider all costs involved before committing.
- Identify your shopping triggers. Knowing your triggers can help you question why you are shopping and whether the item is needed.
- Shop with a list. They help to keep you focused on only the things you need.
- Review reoccurring charges like streaming services and gym memberships.
Getting a handle on your expenses and spending is another step toward being financially aware and on the road to a healthy financial future. Here are a few helpful resources:
For those wanting additional assistance and guidance, free financial Counseling is available through the Military and Family Readiness and Support Centers found on military installations and through Military OneSource.