Money, money, money

As debates rage on Capitol Hill over the best way to address our looming fiscal cliff (or slope, depending on your side–though don’t get too smug. Either way, the trajectory is DOWN), it seems like an appropriate time to write a quick post on personal finances.

I think it was Plato who said, “The polis is the soul of man writ large.” Financial trouble of this magnitude at the macro level should indicate some pretty serious problems at the micro level. How many of us are living beyond our means, or piling up credit card debt and planning to “take care of it” later? Especially for us ladies, how often do we give in to the impulse buy? Among all young adults, how much do we spend each week on eating out, drinks with friends, or entertainment? It’s fine to get after the government for waste, inefficiency, borrowing, and any other bad money habits. Those of us who were born after 1980 should be especially concerned at Congress’ continued fallback option of “kicking the can down the road.” Still, especially for those of us who support limited government, we better be sure we’re governing ourselves wisely.

All that said, it’s time for a confession: I don’t have a great personal strategy for managing finances. Those of you who were hoping to read a how-to, I’m sorry–you’re looking at the wrong post. I know what I make each month and I do a pretty good job of never spending beyond that, I have a savings account and a 401K, but I don’t have a step-by-step plan, and my various attempts at creating one over the past few years have gone nowhere. I’m pretty convinced that both Mint.com and Quicken have it in for me, in fact.

So this post is meant to open up a discussion on good methods and tools, and I want to hear back from you on how, if you’re willing to share. What are your money management tricks and tips, my fellow single young adults? What do you see as absolutely essential to being a good steward of your money now, and how do you prepare for the future? For those of you who may be climbing out of debt now, what are some of your tips to paying down debt while getting by from day to day and building up savings? Do you have a particular resource or tool you’ve found helpful?

In my experience, most budgeting articles, especially those written for young people (usually, sigh, young women) turn out to be catalogues of what NOT to do, closing with very unhelpful links back to the writer’s book, available for purchase on Amazon. In short, I’ve never really gotten down to business and made a real budget because everyone wants to take my money in order to tell me how not to spend it.

Still, as Congress continues to squabble over the nation’s current mess, and with Christmas shopping season now upon us, it’s becoming more and more apparent  that there really is no time like the present. So please: Chime in!

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2 thoughts on “Money, money, money

  1. If you really, really want to save and spend within your means (and pay off debt!) the very best and ideal solution is to go 100% cash only. Take $20 out of a stash at home (or the bank) each day and never spend beyond that. You can save your left-overs in a jar for the weekend (or a going-out with friends). If you want to make a bigger purchase (say a dress or something), make yourself wait 24 hours. Go shopping, but don’t take any cash (or anything else), and write down what you want and what it costs. Then go home and before you get the cash for what you desire, write down a list of AT LEAST 3 pros and 3 cons on making the purchase. If you still think it’s worth it, take out the cash and go all the way back to the store to buy it.

    You won’t believe how well this works for the vast majority of people.

    • I take my monthly income, subtract out unchanging expenses (rent, cell, insurance, loans, %desired savings), then take out a weekly cash budget. I’ve found that sometimes I’m left with money for the next week, so I take out less.

      I don’t know much about step by step long term savings, if that’s what you’re asking. I’ve heard good things about IRA roth accounts and that you should have 6-12 month living expenses in an accessible savings account. I know retirees that laddered CD accounts successfully, but the interest on those types still aren’t that good right now.

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