Getting into shape isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes dedication and education — and often a commitment to converting bad habits into good ones. The same is true for anyone who wants to get their finances in shape. Of course, the journey to financial fitness can seem daunting, so let’s break it down into steps:
Step 1: Set a realistic goal.
Looking like a supermodel might not be a realistic goal, and neither is achieving all of your financial desires right away. When it comes to money, there are three things most people wish they could accomplish — spending less, saving more and paying off debt. There’s likely room for improvement in all three areas, but ask yourself which is the most pressing to your personal financial situation. That’s a great place to start.
Step 2: Build a routine.
A good workout ethic is built on a commitment to a routine. When you’re getting your finances in order, you need a budget. Make sure you know how much money is coming in and going out. You can use the old fashioned pen and paper or utilize some of the handy apps you can download for free. Refer to your budget often. Keeping your budget and your finances top of mind will help you stick to your routine.
Step 3: Start at a slow pace.
You can take off in a dead sprint, but you’ll likely get tired very quickly. In the same way, slow and steady wins the race with your finances. If you’re trying to save money, start small by making your lunches at home or skipping your morning trip to the coffee shop two or three times a week. Continue to look for areas to save and slowly incorporate them into your budget. You will see the savings add up in the long run!
Step 4: Hit the gym regularly.
We all wish we could start seeing a difference right away, but it’ll take more than one trip to the gym for changes to appear. You also won’t see big changes after one week of sticking to your budget. Write down your financial goals and refer to them often to stay motivated. The more you visualize yourself reaching your goals, the less elusive they’ll seem.
Step 5: Burn off fat.
Fat is the excess weight that’s holding us back, much like debt. Make a plan to pay down your high-interest debt. A good plan of action is called the snowball method: Keep paying all your bills, but be sure to make larger payments on your smallest debt, which is the easiest to pay off quickly. Once you’ve paid off that debt, dedicate as much money as you can to your next-smallest debt. Tackling these smallest debts first allows you to attain modest successes to keep your momentum and motivation going, creating a virtual snowball effect.
Step 6: Plan ahead.
Going to the gym is much easier when you pack your bag the day or night before. In the same way, don’t wait until the last minute to start planning your retirement. Be sure to take advantage of 401(k) plans your employer offers. You may also consider contributing to an IRA or Roth IRA account. If you can, contribute 10 to 15 percent of your salary to your retirement accounts. You can even increase your contributions gradually to help you — and your budget — adjust.
Be patient! Getting financially fit takes time. If you find yourself struggling, get a trainer — or in this case, a financial professional — to help coach you along.
Larry Kallevig is the owner of Haven Financial Group in Burnsville, Minn. For more than 15 years, Larry has been helping his clients create financial plans that ensure dependable and comfortable income in retirement.