This is our last post of the decade, and boy—how the 2010s have flown by! How have your financial habits been going?
Unfortunately, we know they’ve probably had their ups and downs. We’ve worked with thousands of people facing down millions of dollars in IRS tax debt, and we’ve helped thousands of people reduce, eliminate, or start their way down a path to financial freedom and an end to tax debt.
Whether or not you’re experiencing tax debt, we know you’re probably thinking about finances around this time of year. The New Year is the most popular time of year for setting financial goals and resolutions, and with a new decade merely days away, it seems like the usual focus has been cranked up a few notches!
Take a moment and ask yourself this question: Which financial goals do you want to accomplish in 2020? What about in the 2020s?
Perhaps you want to save up and buy a house or dig your way out of IRS debt, student loan debt, or credit card debt. Or perhaps you’d just like to travel more, so you want to start setting aside the funds!Whatever your goal for 2020, you need a habit to reach it.
Our brains love habits, but unfortunately, most of us simply set too many goals for January 1!
We say, “I want to be healthier, so I’m going to go to the gym every morning at 6am and only eat vegetables.” Those are admirable goals, but they’re really difficult to sustain. Soon enough, we miss one workout or cave and grab a burger, and eventually we give up altogether. That’s one big reason why about 80% of resolutions fail.
One key to reaching your big goals and cementing big habits is to set smaller habits you can build upon over time. Starting your day with a morning walk around the block and a glass of water will be healthy, but it will also be more attainable and sustainable. Once your morning habits are cemented, you can add to them.
Similarly, simple habits can make a big difference in reaching your financial goals! That’s why we’re offering up 5 of them. They may not seem big at first, but like nearly everything involving your finances—they add up over time!
If you’ve ever set a financial goal before, you’ve probably considered “eliminating wasteful spending.” You pledge to stop buying fast food, eliminate your online shopping, and cut out your morning trip to Starbucks.
While you’ll benefit greatly from any of these, it’s good to start in one place and focus on building your willpower from there. If you need some caffeine, will the coffee pot in the break room at your office do? If so, try allowing yourself a trip to Starbucks only on Fridays. It’ll save you an extra $20, and your Friday trip will serve as a little reward for a week’s hard work.
Between online shopping and auto payments, it’s easy to get detached from your money. So even though you’d like to cut back on your typical spending habits, it’s challenging to actually keep track of those habits on a day-to-day basis.
One way to reduce your spending is to reconnect with your spending. Try visiting the bank and withdrawing a predetermined amount of money on payday, then paying for any of your usual purchases (e.g. – groceries, movie tickets, gasoline) with cash. Over time, you’ll get a better visual sense for how your spending lines up—or doesn’t—with your budget. And if you run out of cash early, the inconvenience of a second trip to the bank will serve as a reminder to try to fall within your budget!
We talk about organization a lot around here, but it’s for good reason. Missed tax deadlines, unfiled tax returns, and many small tax debts often start when taxpayers with good intentions simply run out of time or lose necessary tax documents.
You can easily start changing your negative tax habits into positive ones with a tax file. We’re not advocating for a super detailed organizational system (though if that’s your style, more power to you!). We’re merely suggesting you keep one or two file folders where you can place your receipts, tax documents, and anything else you may need during Tax Season. Update it on the same day each week; you’ll save time when it’s time to file, and you’ll easily be able to document any tax deductions you want to claim.
Many financial goals can be reached with some variation of “spend less and save more.” However, the lofty habits designed to get you there can be more challenging, things like “Save 20% of every paycheck.”
For a smaller habit that allows you to practice saving on a smaller budget, look no further than a piggy bank (or a change jar). At the end of each day, make a habit of placing any change you’ve accrued into the jar along with a dollar bill (or a five, if your budget permits!). Yes, this is a small amount. But it will allow you to reconnect with your savings goals each and every day, and just like your habits, that money will add up over time.
Generally speaking, the better a goal is for us in the long term, the less rewarding it is in the short term. If we eat healthier for a week, we may feel better when we wake up in the mornings, but if we have a cheeseburger, we feel good instantly—even if we feel crummy later.
So how do we give ourselves a reward to reinforce our positive financial habits? Simple: By celebrating! We’re serious. When you skip that Starbucks trip in the morning or place that dollar in your savings jar, give your brain a good feeling to attach to it. Do a little dance or give yourself a pep talk in the mirror, whatever makes you genuinely feel happy! This positive reinforcement will help you stay excited about your new habits long after Jan. 1st has passed.
Good financial habits roll themselves into big financial goals if we keep at them. Unfortunately, most people aim so high that they make sustaining their new habits that much more difficult for themselves. Your journey to your financial goals starts with a single step, then another, then another. By building the right financial habits in 2020, you can go just about anywhere.
Happy New Year!
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