If you’re anything like me, the new year has you thinking of areas of your life you’d like to improve in 2016. If one of those things is your finances, I’m happy to help you get headed in the right direction. We often don’t have the opportunity to discuss money in an open and healthy way, and I know talking about it can make people uncomfortable. If that’s you, I get it. We’ve all had financial ups and downs in our past, but what matters most isn’t where you’re coming from but where you’re heading.
For me, discussing money has a different effect: It makes me feel empowered and in control. I’ve worked in the personal finance field since 2009 and am currently studying to become a Certified Financial Planner. I like to think of Suze Orman as my best friend—she just doesn’t know it yet.
My goal is to help you kick off the year feeling confident and ready to take action in your financial life. So here are 5 steps to be a financial badass in 2016:
1. Know that you’re awesome. Take a second to reflect on the different areas of your life where you’re already a rock star. Perhaps you kick ass at crow pose, are great at long-distance friendships, or make killer guacamole. Give yourself credit for the things you do well and know that you can build on this amazingness in your financial life. Sure, money can be complicated, but it’s not impossible. Remember that you’re awesome and you have what it takes to rock your finances.
2. Look over your income and expenses. No need to obsess here. Take a glance at your last three months of income to see what you take home each month. If you’re self-employed or your income really varies each month, look at the past six months. Now review your basic expenses from that same time period. Think needs, not wants (examples: rent, food, insurance, student loans, etc.). It’s good to review a few months, since both income and expenses vary and this will given you a good ball park. Calculate your average monthly expenses and take-home pay, then subtract your expenses from your take-home. If anything is left over, that’s how much you have left for other goals each month. If you come up even or negative, don’t panic. That’s a sign to consider starting a side hustle or lowering your expenses (even one monthly bill, like Hulu or Netflix, makes a difference!).
3. Boost your emergency savings. It’s best to have six to eight months worth of expenses in an emergency fund. If you’re just getting started, don’t freak out. Make it your top priority to have $1,000 set aside for emergencies and build from there. Everybody has unexpected expenses pop up. With an emergency cushion you’ll feel way better when—not if—something surprises you in 2016. If you have a steady employer, you can save by having your employer directly deposit part of your paycheck into your emergency savings account. If you’re self-employed or have more variable income, consider using a tool like Digit that helps you save automatically. Either way, having auto savings set up takes the hard part out of the equation and you’ll feel badass watching your accounts automatically grow over time.
4. Divvy up your money. Having money earmarked for different purposes is one of the best things you can do to achieve your financial goals. Instead of having all your money in one checking or savings account, consider having a few accounts for different purposes and nicknaming them in your online banking. Personally, I have checking accounts for bills and spending money and savings accounts for retirement and travel. If you have a single account now, try opening a separate account for a specific purpose and see how it goes. I’m willing to bet you’ll feel great knowing your financial needs and goals each have a specific place in your life (and bank).
5. Celebrate. As you work toward your financial goals, recognize your success. This should be fun and doesn’t have to be expensive. Think of a benchmark that feels right: Perhaps for every $1,000 you save in your emergency fund you buy an album on iTunes. Or for every six months you pay your student loans you treat yourself to a relaxing facial. Whatever you want, just make sure it feels rewarding. This will keep you motivated and committed to your financial life.
I can tell you’re already a financial badass in the making, since you just read an entire article about money. Now get after your financial goals for 2016. You’ve got this!