If you're struggling to save or pay down debt, you might think it's because you're no good with money. But the truth is, plenty of the good habits you practice in other areas of your daily life can also help you build an emergency fund, pay down your credit card debt, and stick to a monthly budget. You just need to apply the good habits that you already have to money management.
Here is a look at the five good money management habits that you might be surprised to learn you already have.
1. The Household Schedule
You know that you should build an emergency fund of savings, stashing away enough dollars to cover at least six months of daily living expenses. That way, if you lose your job or if your furnace suddenly goes on the fritz, you won't have to turn to your credit cards to survive. But you just can't seem to find enough money at the end of every month to build that emergency fund.
Here's the trick, though: If you already manage to schedule all of your household activities — everything from getting your children to their sporting events on time to mapping out exactly which of your teens needs access to a car at which hour of the day — you should also be able to create a household budget. You already have a knack for scheduling. Instead of scheduling the activities of your family members, schedule where the money you spend each month is going.
Creating a budget might even be easier than juggling your family's activities. Write down how much money comes into your household each month. Then write down fixed expenses such as mortgage and car loan payments. Add monthly payments that fluctuate, such as utilities, groceries, and entertainment. Once you have this charted, you'll know exactly how much money you should have leftover each month. Then you'll know how many dollars you can earmark for building your emergency fund.
2. The Willpower
Creating a budget is a good first step. Sticking to it is key. You might not think you have the willpower to do so, but if you can force yourself to go to the gym or take a run five times a week, why can't you force yourself to only spend the $400 you've allotted to eating out and entertainment in your monthly household budget?
The discipline it takes to stick to an exercise program or healthy diet is the same discipline you need to only spend what you plan to each month. If you can do one, you can do the other. You just need to apply the same focus to staying financially healthy as you do to remaining physically healthy.
Do you track the calories you consume each day, whether with an old-fashioned pen and notebook or with the help of an app on your smartphone? Then you should be able to do the same with your dollars.
One secret to creating and sticking to a realistic household budget is to create a spending book. In this book — which can be as simple as a notebook or as high-tech as an app — you write down every dollar you spend, at least for a month. This will give you an idea of where you are spending your money, which helps you create a household budget that is realistic. This will provide you with the motivation you need to tweak your spending patterns.
4. Skipping the Doughnuts
Your coworkers love their sweets. Every morning, one of them brings in a box of doughnuts or a tray of chocolate chip cookies. But you're good – usually. You pass right by those doughnuts and pop open that container of low-fat yogurt.
Now, apply that same discipline to your finances. Sure, putting that super-deluxe flat screen TV on your credit card would provide a jolt of immediate gratification. But you'll regret it later when you open your credit card statement. Instead, pass on the easy pleasure and buy that TV only when you've saved enough to pay for it in cash.
5. Dumping the Clutter
You have the neatest house on the block. You spend every weekend toting a trunk full of unused toys, clothes, and tools to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army. You hate clutter and love the airy basements, living rooms, and kitchens that you get when you don't have a home filled with too much stuff.
Your finances can have clutter, too. It's called credit card debt. Credit card debt is one of the worst forms of debt you can have because it comes with such high interest rates. If you don't pay it off each month, it will steadily grow — just like all those ignored children's toys that seem to multiply in your home's playroom.
It's time to declutter your finances. Pay a little bit more each month to pay down the principal balances on your credit cards. Consider it to be the financial equivalent of donating those unread books cluttering your bookshelves.
This article first appeared at Wise Bread.