There’s an upper limit to how much most of us can increase our income within any given time window. There are also endless temptations (and needs) when it comes to spending, however, good personal finance habits can help you make the most of your money and position yourself well for the future.
For most people, monitoring their finances means making savings or preventing overspending. It works on much the same principle as diet advice: the better you track your progress, the more likely you are to resist choices that will adversely affect your financial situation.
The temptation will be to resist looking at your finances, especially if you’re not pleased by what you see. There’s also a widespread social attitude that anything to do with numbers is boring and tedious or is only of interest to a specific subset of people that are destined to become accountants. Older adults will remember the stark tedium of lined balance books. Younger adults may have encountered a bookkeeping program or a Microsoft Excel worksheet in an accounting class during their schooldays.
The good news is that technology has revolutionized personal finance, like so many other areas of life, making it easy, painless, and, some would even say, fun to stay on top of your finances. The best personal finance apps harness automation to help you regularly tuck away small sums into savings and offer gamification features to motivate you to meet your goals and stay on target.
While many banks offer fairly good apps, third-party finance apps can consolidate your accounts from multiple providers to give you up-to-date, at-a-glance insights. Knowing your spending or saving progress can help you make better in-the-moment decisions.
Convenient, continuous easy access to your spending is also a great way to keep an eye on the individual charges. While everyone should keep a close eye on their financial accounts for mistaken or fraudulent charges, vigilance becomes especially important for those living on a budget or targeting ambitious saving goals. Retailers can mix up returns or duplicate charges at the till, banks can misapply fees through coding or human errors, and fraudsters can maliciously target your accounts, draining funds and freezing cards.
Cut unnecessary charges out of your finances by consolidating accounts on to one platform or app, reviewing them regularly, and looking at your spending on a month-by-month basis to build a budget. At the simplest level, you need to set a budget that is less than your take-home monthly pay. Don’t use your gross salary to build your budget—or if you do, don’t forget to add taxes, insurance, and any other work-related fees as budget line items.
Consider categories of spending (such as entertainment, fashion, rent, utilities, etc.) to get a sense of where your money is going and if there are any areas you can easily cut back on. Keep an eye on recurring charges such as monthly subscriptions, which can quickly drain an account if left on autopilot. Also delve into service fees and account charges to confirm they’re accurate, and if they’re necessary.
Errors do happen. You may need to transition to a different account type to avoid fees, or bring them up with the account or card provider if they’re being charged mistakenly. The Barclaycard PPI claim is a case of bank policy costing customers in ways it shouldn’t have. If you ever notice charges you don’t recognize, don’t understand, or simply don’t want to be paying, you can contact the charge issuer (merchant or account provider) directly to ask what that is and if there are any alternatives for the future.
There’s something called the “10 percent” principle that boils down to a simple idea: small changes add up over time. Spending a little over your budget (and/or take-home pay) every month adds up to big debt and huge credit fees. Saving a little all the time adds up to significant retirement savings. Making one small personal finance change, and then another, and always doing just a little bit better can add up to a solid financial future.
Start by figuring out where you stand financially. Even if you’re not ready to follow a budget, or cut back on expenses, or commit to a savings plan, take the step to choose an app or program and get at-a-glance insights into your finances.
Once you’ve got that in place, start keeping an eye on charges, fees, and recurring expenses. Work your way up to cutting back, identifying a budget, or savings goals slowly, focusing on achievable, incremental targets to transform your personal finance and build healthier habits for the future.