Working your money muscle

Money muscle

(Oooh – check out those money muscles!)

Ugh. Money muscle. Sounds really gross – sorry ’bout that. It’s the best analogy I can think of.

At the beginning of this year life was proving majorly stressful. We had to move out of where we were staying really suddenly with no notice, and relocate to somewhere that was absolutely tiny (we’re talking two rooms and a bathroom basically) with all of our stuff and no parking. With a toddler. And a dog.

It was chaos.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so completely stressed out in my life. I generally resist change and love a settled routine. It felt like there was nothing I could cling to that grounded me – like I was in a free fall spiral. Weirdest feeling. Not pleasant. Like if one more thing went wrong, I would crack. So I joined a gym.

I am generally a gym’s dream member. I regularly sign up, pay my monthly fee on time every month, and then never ever go. And sadly it has proved thus this time as well. But for a few weeks/months I did use it and I really really needed it. Mostly I’d just go and do 30 minutes of yoga on a mat in the corner. It was the only place I felt I could escape and regain some control.

So yeah. Now I’m focused on my money goal (eliminate my debt), that monthly fee really hurts me. It’s like a kick in the teeth each time. But it’s hard to regret my decision to sign up – it was a complete lifeline at the time and allowed me to cope.

Anyway – that was a whole rambling intro to what I actually wanted to say and that is, that dealing with your personal finances takes commitment. A bit like the gym. The more you work at it, the easier it gets. It becomes a habit and then you can think about it less.

The other side to this is that it can also be really easy to fall off the wagon. To become complacent.

I’m thinking about this today because it’s nearly payday 💰💰💰 (tomorrow – yay!) and I find that my steely resolve to control my money really weakens towards the end of the month.

I start off at the beginning of the month with a brand new monthly spreadsheet, and I begin by tracking my spending meticulously. But by this point of the month I’m slipping a bit. It’s like I think that this bit doesn’t count – like I’ve done so well up until now and, hey, if I’m only a little into my overdraft then that’s pretty good and it’ll all be wiped away shortly anyway when my pay cheque comes in. Cha-ching!

Bad, bad money brain. It’s the same bit of me that flakes in the face of committing to exercise. If you allow yourself to start saying it doesn’t matter – that you’ll have today off but get back on it tomorrow – then before you know it, it’s all fallen apart.

So I guess I’m saying – don’t be like me. Commit to keeping track of your progress and know that if you do start making excuses, you’re only hurting yourself. But it’s easy to get back on the wagon.

Oh – and don’t sign up for a gym membership unless you will use it. Or you really really need it.

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Spreadsheets are sexy

Spreadsheets

(O.M.G. – look at that sexy spreadsheet! Phwoar.)

Ok, I’m lying. Spreadsheets are not sexy – except perhaps to a really niche audience. I do not recommend bigging up your Excel skills by way of a chat up line. Not gonna work.

But spreadsheets are, nevertheless, a vital part of the money mission. To push this analogy to its limits, they are the Spanx of the money world. You need a decent robust spreadsheet underpinning everything and keeping it all together so that you can swan through life looking all sexy and money savvy. Ergo, spreadsheets are sexy.

Step one for me wrestling back control over my finances was to set myself up with a spreadsheet. Now I’m no Excel master. I’ve wrestled with many a table and graph in my time, and rarely do I win. But I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way and on a good day I can plug in a simple formula. This is helpful – it speeds things up. But it’s not vital. A calculator will do the trick too.

Basically the idea is to track your money. Some people call it a budget but actually I think that’s the next step up on the ladder. If you don’t know where the hell your money is going then there’s little point in setting unrealistic limits on what you spend. You’re just gonna blow straight through your budget without even thinking and then give up. Sadly I speak from much experience.

So step one is to track your spending. For a long time I told myself that this was pointless – I can see where the money is going from my bank statement. So why do I need to do the job of the bank and log it all separately myself? Waste-a-time.

Nope. This is your bad money brain talking. Truth is, it is nearly impossible to keep track of all your spending via your bank statement. Particularly if you are hiding from that statement at various points in the month (i.e a week before pay day, right?). Plus a statement doesn’t categorise spending so how are you gonna know just how much your coffee habit (or – because we’re millennials – avocado habit) is actually costing you a month? You might have a guesstimate in mind but chances are it’s wrong.

So: You need a spreadsheet.

There’s a ton of suggestions and pro-formas online for tracking spending which can get you started. I initially started out with one from the ‘Frugal Living’ forum on Money Saving Expert.com, but that was really aimed at setting an annual budget and didn’t really allow me to see where the cash was going each month. So I changed it and made it my own.

I set up a number of categories in columns along the top (which will be entirely personal to you) and put the days of the month down the side. Then I plugged in each item I bought. Yes – each time I bought a packet of crisps or a toy for my kid (or an avocado 🥑🥑🥑) on it went to the spreadsheet.

Now your spreadsheet has to work for you. Mine doesn’t happen to include household spending because my partner and I sort that separately, but it captures all my personal spending, which is the bit that was out of control. Obviously yours can include anything and everything you need.

And then you keep a running total of how much you’re spending in each category along the bottom. And voila – you promptly die of shock at JUST HOW BLOODY EXPENSIVE LIFE IS and that is the best realisation you will come to. Ever.

Because it is not possible to spend mindlessly when you know you have to remember how much a thing cost, in order to plug it into a spreadsheet later. And you become very aware of just how much you’ve already spent in that category this month and, who the hell knew that it all added up to so much anyway?? Jeez!

So, yeah. Spreadsheets. Track your money. Don’t worry too much about budgets just yet. It sounds a bit tedious and it is, but it also becomes mildly addictive. You start to see how you might actually get control of this situation one day and that feels great.

Just don’t expect it to be a great conversation piece at parties, that’s all.