Financial cleanse. You might be thinking, what the hell even is that? It sounds simultaneously soothing and dreadful (but hopefully more of the former.)
I’m not a money expert by any means; I’m just a twenty-something who sucks at budgeting, and would like to suck a little less. I’ve tried to pinpoint all the ways that my budgeting skills fall short so that I can start to spend smarter, save more, and cry a little less whenever I look at my bank account balance.
Like most of the other trendy “cleanses” out there, this one also focuses on getting back to basics. Maybe you’ve been like me before, with your spending out of control and debt up to your eyeballs while your bills are collecting dust on the kitchen counter. Hopefully not though, it’s no fun. Even if your situation isn’t quite that dire, who doesn’t want to be a little bit better at budgeting? After this, maybe we will be.
6 Steps to Better Budgeting
1. Identify “Needs” vs. “Wants”
- How can you make the “needs” less expensive? Dollar store shopping, clipping coupons, and paying attention to sales can be a lifesaver here.
- How can you cut back or manage without the “wants”? As much as it hurts my soul to say this, Starbucks is not a “need”. Agonizing caffeine withdrawal aside, saving the $5+ usually spent on a venti iced DoubleShot can only help in the long run.
2. Track Every Penny
- Yep. This part can get tedious and time-consuming, especially if you’re not already in the habit of tracking what you spend. Do it anyway. And try to stay on top of it— I speak from experience when I say that trying to reconcile two weeks worth of crumpled receipts isn’t exactly a blast.
- Having a simple expense log works wonders, or if you’re slightly obsessive like me you can create a page to chart the entire monthly overview of your finances. If you’re into bullet journaling, there are virtually an endless number of budgeting and finance spreads on Pinterest that you can pull inspiration from.
- When you know exactly where all of your money is going, it becomes so much easier to catch bad habits before they get too bad (and avoid the dreaded “oh my god, I spent HOW much on take out this month?!”)
3. Shut Down Impulses
- I’m not even going to pretend like this isn’t THE HARDEST part, especially for those of us who already have less than awesome impulse control to start with. I know that for me, my brain will see something like a pair of shoes or a cute notebook, and instantly it’s like I can’t possibly imagine not having that thing. Never mind that I have seventeen equally cute notebooks at home, or that I’ve survived just fine for twenty-eight years without this one… no. When my brain goes into “have to have it” mode, it won’t rest until that cute notebook is in a shopping bag under my arm, and I’m taking it home to add to my collection of all the other cute, empty notebooks. Then, the guilt sets in. I know this isn’t a typical experience for everyone, and has a lot to do with the manic phases of being bipolar, but I’m willing to bet that almost everyone has bought something that seemed a lot more amazing on the shelf at the store than it did after paying for it and taking it home. Impulse shopping almost always involves something that looks pretty, and seems fun, and that we really want— but isn’t in any way vital to our day to day life. For me, impulse shopping is where my money goes to die.
- Shutting down those impulses is a tricky, and occasionally exhausting, mental battle— but it can be won. If you (like me) tend to fall prey to impulse spending all too often, you need to make an effort to avoid triggers. Use apps like SelfControl (if you have a MacBook) or StayFocusd (an extension for Google Chrome on Windows) to block certain shopping sites on your laptop (Amazon, Etsy, Killstar, Blackcraft Cult.. ahem.. needtotakemyownadvice) for a set amount of time. Also, if you know you’ll be going out somewhere, only take a limited amount of cash with you, and don’t go window shopping (unless you’re just a total masochist).
- Another thing that can help is to set a five minute timer before you’re allowed to buy something, and use that few minutes to ask yourself if you really need it. Why are you buying it? Is it something that you can wait to buy until a later date? There have been times when I’ve been out shopping, seen something I’d really like to buy, but once I started questioning myself about why I wanted it— and if I truly needed it right that minute— I realized that I couldn’t justify spending the money. So I put it back on the shelf and walked away.
- An important thing to remember: almost all mistakes can be fixed. If you do have a bad day and you blow your entire paycheck at the bookstore (definitely not speaking from experience here.. I’ve totally never done that..) don’t sit at home and wallow in the guilt; suck up your shame, march right back to the store, and return what you bought. Is it embarrassing? Yeah. Does it feel good? Pretty much never. But is it necessary? Absolutely.
4. Take it One Day at a Time
- This is simple advice, and exactly what it sounds like: just stay focused on getting through the next twenty-four hours without any unnecessary spending. Then do it again tomorrow. And then again the next day. When you keep blinders on, so to speak, and look at the next few hours rather than the next few weeks, not spending money seems like a much easier goal to accomplish.
5. Find Inexpensive Hobbies to Enjoy
- Bookstores are my own personal downfall when it comes to spending way too much money, and even buying used books can get expensive. You know what’s not expensive, but equally rewarding? The library. Finding free or inexpensive versions of the things you love to do will keep both you and your bank account happy.
- Going to the local park to spend the day, take a walk, or have a picnic is always a great (and free!) way to get outside and unwind.
- If you’re creative, get back into the habit of writing, drawing, knitting, or whatever your craft of choice might be. Pro tip for fellow crafters when it comes to trying to be creative on a budget: use the supplies you already have. If you’re anything like me, you could probably stock your own warehouse with craft supplies from all the expensive trips to Hobby Lobby you’ve taken (hey, not judging!)
6. Embrace Minimalism
- Minimalism and budgeting go hand in hand, it’s like they were made for each other. There are so many areas in your life where you can incorporate a minimalist approach, and save money in the process.
- For starters, go through your closet, attic, basement, kitchen, garage, etc. There are probably a lot of things stashed away that you’d forgotten you even had. Those cute shoes that have been sitting in the box in the back of your closet for the last two years since you wore them that one time? Congrats, it feels almost like you just bought a brand new pair of shoes. That dress that you just loved but was too small for you last summer? Try it on, maybe it fits perfectly now. My point is— before you buy new things, are you even using all the things you have already?
- While you’re going through all your closets and drawers and cabinets, pay attention to the things you know you haven’t worn or used in a while. Sometimes that might just mean you don’t really need or want them, and can get rid of them. Donate things, have a yard sale— de-cluttering your living space makes it a lot easier to de-clutter your mental space. Plus, minimalism can be habit-forming in a good way; after a while, buying things for the sake of having them just doesn’t seem quite as appealing.
- Cut your grocery spending by planning your meals for each week in advance, then shopping from a specific list of necessary ingredients. Keeping things simple is key; the less ingredients you have to shop for, the less you’ll need to spend. Once again, Pinterest is a great resource for finding quick and easy meal ideas.
- Cancel any subscriptions that you don’t need or don’t use frequently. If you have a monthly Spotify subscription, but almost never use it? Save your money each month by cancelling it. Same goes for that monthly gym membership that’s been making you feel guilty for the last six months. Chances are, for any subscription you might have— Netflix, Amazon Kindle books, your local gym— there’s a way to get something similar for free (or at least less expensive).
7. BONUS ADVICE: Don’t be afraid to consider professional help if you feel like you need it.
- It can be hard to admit, to yourself or to anyone else, but if you feel like you need professional help with controlling your spending you should absolutely ask for it. Talk to a counselor, join a support group, or even just post anonymously in an online forum. If you feel like your situation is too big or too beyond repair for you to handle on your own, you don’t have to. I have firsthand experience with the mania and compulsive traits that bipolar can bring, and it’s wrought absolute devastation on my finances more than once. I wish now that I would have stopped and looked for help when I knew I needed it, instead of trying to keep everything hidden beneath the surface of “normal” and “healthy” and “doing okay”. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it.
So now that I’ve outlined this whole financial cleanse thing, you might be thinking “wow, suddenly drinking spinach for thirty days isn’t sounding so bad…” Okay, I hope I haven’t scared you that badly, because between #nospendchallenge and #30daysofspinach I would still totally take the first one.
As always, I’d love to know what you think. Leave a comment below and tell me if you think I’m absolutely crazy for hating spinach, or share your own so-this-one-time-I-sucked-at-budgeting stories so I won’t have to feel so alone!