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The #1 Thing I Did For My Finances

The #1 Thing I Did For My Finances

This 30-second habit changed my budget…

Last year, I made it a goal to start building a savings account, but month after month, I ended up spending my entire paycheck. So, looking for ways to save money, I started reading my bank and credit card statements.

Until that point, I had glanced at my account for only two reasons: it was payday or I needed to see how much disposable income I had left over after bills. Otherwise, I steered clear. If I avoided the not-so-good details, it wasn’t really happening, right?

Turns out, this habit is surprisingly common. According to a 2017 study, the National Bureau of Economic Research notes people pay more attention to their financial accounts when they anticipate seeing something positive. This practice is referred to as the “ostrich effect,” since investors often avoid negative information in the same way that ostriches put their heads in the sand.

Reader, I could no longer afford to be the ostrich.

So, I sat down and went through months of online statements. I looked closely at my purchases — item by item — to understand my day-to-day spending habits. Looking for places to cut costs, I noticed impulse buys and recurring digital charges. The small purchases I didn’t think twice about (Korean sheet masks bought online at 11 p.m., Lyft rides home from friends’ apartments) no longer felt so small when added together. I also realized I had enough streaming subscriptions only a media empire could justify, ringing in at a whopping SEVEN (Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, Showtime, Starz, Spotify, Audible). Three of these I hadn’t used in months, and two I had intended to cancel after my free trial. I was spending over $100 a month to witness Keri Russell’s hair in The Americans.

All these purchases added up to more than double what I had accounted for when I set my monthly budgets. I was setting myself up to fail. Most surprising, though, was the annual amount I spent on things that I forgotten about or didn’t need. For example, cutting back on digital services alone could save me up to $1,000 dollars a year. Confronting my statements made me take full responsibility for my finances — both the highs and the lows.

These days, I check my account every morning, and it takes less than a minute. It was crucial to know where I stood before moving forward with more ambitious money goals. (And now when I buy a Korean sheet mask, I *appreciate* it.)

There are also apps to help manage your bank account. The New York Times recommends Trim to find recurring subscriptions; my friends rave about Mint for tracking bills and monitoring fees; and I’m excited to try Digit, which discreetly takes money from your checking account and puts it into savings AND sends daily texts about your bank account balance.

What about you? What’s the best thing you’ve done for your finances? Any tips for sticking to a budget? Any apps you recommend?

P.S. The $2 lunch I swear by, and do you talk to your friends about money?

(Photo of Mary Tyler Moore.)

  1. Alex says...

    My husband and I have been using YNAB (You need a budget) for about 5 years now, it has literally saved our marriage and pulled our heads out of the sand. Allocating our dollars before spending them and thus making things that mattered to us a priority has lifted a huge weight off our shoulders as well as helped us save money and always be prepared for the unexpected.
    I promise i’m not getting paid by YNAB, I honestly love this app and this company and can’t recommend them enough.
    Please post more about finances!

    • Kelsey Dexter says...

      I use YNAB as well, and it has been a total game changer for me. I finally have control over my finances. Many would be reluctant to pay for this service when there are other free apps available, but none have the resources that YNAB provides (I’ve tried most). It has my most enthusiastic recommendation.

    • We have been using YNAB since 2012 and love it as well. We were actually doing the exact same budget, but all in excel spreadsheets and it was a nightmare to navigate. So once they came out with this, we bought it right away. I’m not thrilled with their new system of paying monthly, but the program itself is amazing, and I also always recommend it.

    • Anne says...

      Another vote for YNAB here–it is genius and has helped me take control of our finances!

  2. Caroline says...

    In my case old skool is the new skool. I started paying in cash- missing out on all of those credit card ‘points’ also meant saving up a lot more money.
    I gave myself a monthly budget, including the anticipated payments (cell phone, Netfilx, etc), and calculated how much ‘spending money’ I could afford. I withdraw that spending money once a month and can actually SEE how much money I have/don’t have until the 30th/31st. You can divide that into 4 weekly installments. Totally changed my spending habits and reduced my latte intakes.

  3. I may sound like an uber-nerd, but a few years ago, when things were very bad financially (read – the financial crash of 2008 and a wage decrease of 35% as a result), my partner and I started making an annual budget on a big spreadsheet. On the 2nd of January, we estimate our entire income and costs (based on the previous year and what we know about the upcoming year). We set fixed monthly amounts aside for upcoming bills (like car and health insurance) so they never really hit us hard. We make conscious choices about what we need and want to do with our money, as well as what we don’t see worthwhile spending it on. As a result, even in times of hardship, we were able to budget a holiday, a birthday trip, the purchase of some nice clothes and a few other things we really wanted to do. It made us feel less frustrated with the turn life had taken, more in control and we felt much better about ourselves. The first time doing this took serious effort and we culled a lot of things to make better choices for ourselves (all the takeaway coffees add up to a serious amount on an annual basis – enough for a city trip for the two of us – which is what we decided to do instead). We still keep it up even though things are nowhere near as hard anymore. We just found it good practice, got into the habit of it and feel like we get so much more out of our money while consciously enjoying it. We often get the remark from other people how we get to do all these nice and fun things and trips and that they wouldn’t have the money for it. It’s simply a matter of choices and priorities, once you acknowledge you are in control of your finances.

  4. Cynthia says...

    Please have more posts about money. It’s a subject we tend to sweep under the rug.

  5. Maywyn says...

    Great post!
    Monthly budget…add a Long term budget to help prevent budget blow outs when that once a year bill is due.

  6. Alice says...

    I have a budget in place, regularly check my statements, and subscriptions, but re-visited my finances this week after reading this and feel so much lighter. Everything needs a spring clean and update every now and then. Thanks for the prompt!

    More finance posts please COJ, loving them, and the open and honest comments about money and finances that come as a result of it :)

  7. At the beginning of this year, I joined Stash and got a Chime debit/savings account. Stash allows me to build an investment portfolio slowly (and it’s extremely unlikely for me to pull out that money because I want it to grow) and Chime rounds up every purchase you make and puts the change in savings. Between both I’ve saved $200 this year- not much in scale but great for my entry level par-time job right now!

  8. L says...

    I have always viewed saving money as a game. After college, I lived in NYC and made little money but always contributed everything possible to my 401(k). I also charged everything so I could see in the statements where my money was going. I kept a post-it on my credit card and set a limit that I would t let myself go over. This made me think about every single purchase. I remember having 75cents in my checking at one point (not advisable) but I knew it was worth saving for the long run. In a strange way, I find saving a lot of fun. It also makes the things you purchase (like a trip to Australia) that much more special.

  9. Nicole says...

    Based on an article I recently read (NY Times?) I’m currently reading “This is the Year I Put My Financial Life in Order” and “Invested” (by Danielle & Phil Town – a father daughter team who also run a podcast). I did not learn about money growing up (but my brothers did), and I have to read and read and listen to know more. The book that helped me understand the value of a dollar is “The Millionaire Next Door,” and the woman who taught me that women should care about money too is Suzy Orman. THANK YOU for running articles like this one. Talking about money is empowering.

  10. Jeannie Rodriguez says...

    My husband and I use mint.com and love it.

    Another thing we do that works really well for us is to combine all of our earnings into one account and we use that account to pay for the mortgage, utilities, groceries, gas, etc… also from that account comes a set amount every week into each of our own personal accounts. That’s the money I use to buy gifts for him and friends, my clothes, my make-up, etc… it’s my fun money and this system works really well for us!

    Also, my husband started a company to help people with their budgets… I think, in general, money is something that people should talk about more (so thank you for your post!). His company is Dr. Budgets <3

    • Kathleen says...

      We do this too– we each keep a small set amount from our paycheques and the rest goes into a joint account for bills, household purchases, entertainment etc. It allows us to each feel in control of how we spend our fun money (he tends to save up for bigger purchases while I am more likely to spend it as it comes in).
      I find it fascinating how couples decide to budget and share money, especially early on when you are just trying to find your footing as a family unit.
      I am also an old fashioned pen and paper ledger kind of girl. I keep a written account of everything we spend and have my old books dating back probably at least 7 or 8 years. I actually really enjoy balancing everything out and it’s fun to look back and see progress or changes in spending habits!

    • Natalie Avery says...

      This is what we do too! We started about a year ago and while there hasn’t magically appeared enough money to go on a vacation, we have seriously cut down our credit card debt to almost nothing, since we had been using a card before for regular expenses, hoping the points accrued would be worth it. We used Mint for a little while, but now we use Simple (a bank with a a really great app) and I love how it lets you divide your account into goals and safe-to-spend (whatever’s left over).

      At first, I balked at the idea of separate accounts, but it really helps us see where we’re spending money. We have all our regular expenses in a joint account where both our paychecks go and all the bills are budgeted so we can set money aside for Christmas, birthdays, insurance, groceries, student loan bills, etc. Then we each have our own account where we get our monthly discretionary fund (and I get the kids’ as well so I can budget for their clothes). This way, each of us can save or spend and prioritize our own wants so we aren’t saying “didn’t you JUST spend $X on that?? Do you really need a new one?”

    • Maggie says...

      I love this idea of have a mutual account for the big life expenses and then having separate accounts for fun money. I’m single and very careful with every cent of my income. I worry about someday sharing money with someone. This seems like the best middle of the road way of doing things.

  11. Audrey says...

    I unsubscribed from the email lists of quite a few retailers. It has helped me a ton in not buying stuff I don’t really need. I think I was getting multiple emails PER DAY about the various promotions happening at one of the GAP brands…it was ridiculous!

    Before I had kids, my husband and I would withdraw cash from the bank around the first of each month, and that cash was our food money for the month. This was typically the only cash we ever had on hand, so it was easy enough to keep some in my wallet and only spend on food related items. Physically seeing the stash of cash dwindle throughout the month was HUGE. Halfway through the month I could check how much money was left and gauge how we were doing and whether or not we needed to eat some more frugal meals for the rest of the month etc. It also makes you think twice about spending money on coffee or snacks or lunches that you could make at home for a fraction of the cost.

  12. Zara says...

    Two things:

    1. I spent the money to meet with a good financial advisor who helped me get my savings/investment plan on track. For so long my money focus was really simple: get rid of debt. Now I am now debt-free and making a good salary, so finances have become more nuanced. I needed a pro (who, btw, came recommended by someone I trust) to get me on a more strategic track.

    2. I revamped my ethics/philosophy related to consumption. My rules are: no animal cruelty, North American companies preferred, and businesses with a track record of environmental/social responsibility required. Fast fashion, bye. Drug store cosmetics, bye. Big box stores, bye. Yes, it can be more expensive (although, not for cosmetics and personal care items – that’s a myth perpetrated by Big Drugstore). Yes, it takes more time to do the research rather than buying on-the-fly. But once you find companies and products that you love, it’s easy peasy (shout out to Well.ca for you Canadians out there). The financial upshot: I buy way less of everything, and simultaneously miss nothing. I feel great about how I spend my money and never experience buyers’ remorse since impulse buys are a thing of the past. Money talks – we should support companies that are worthy.

    • Michelle says...

      I’m trying to get better about supporting companies that are sustainable. It’s a laudable goal. But sometimes, when I just feel like browsing, I go to a Goodwill or local thrift store. Buffalo Exchange in the US is a good one. I think that wearing second hand clothes of any brand is pretty sustainable!

    • katie says...

      Love these points, Zara. Your second one about ethics is especially resonating with me today.

    • Zara says...

      I am not sure if I’m replying properly on here, but Michelle, I TOTALLY agree. I actually daydream about opening an online secondhand shop featuring quality pieces for capsule wardrobes.

      Katie, thanks :)

  13. MJ says...

    Unfollowing fashion/lifestyle blogs on social media has helped me to spend less. I don’t see the content when I’m scrolling through FB or Instagram, so I’m not tempted by endless posts about sales and deals and cute outfits. If I want to see what is on blog I go to the website and read.
    As far as budgeting, we just started using mint. My husband like it, but I’m still a bit of an ostrich still. There are a lot of good tips here and I plan on getting my head out of the sand!

    • Caucus says...

      That’s funny because this site is a definite enabler for spending…

  14. Megan says...

    I read a lot of Money Diaries on Refinery29 and that inspired me to do one on my own. I track my daily spending in a Google doc that I have on my phone (crucial for when I actually have cash and don’t get a receipt). The first page of my document is like a typical Money Diary setup – I list my actual paycheck amount/frequency of them per month and then list out all my current monthly and yeary expenses. I track everything that I buy and at the end of each week I total up my amount and break everything into these categories: Food & Drink, Home & Health, Clothes & Beauty, Entertainment, Transportation, Bills, and Miscellaneous. It’s a little much but this method works to keep me much more mindful about what little things I’m spending my money on. It also helps so much when actually trying to make a realistic budget for yourself.

  15. Ooops! I commented before but forgot to add the craziest/best thing I’ve ever tried – not buying stuff! Inspired by Ann Patchett’s op-Ed at the end of last year (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/15/opinion/sunday/shopping-consumerism.html) – I haven’t bought anything this year. Not only do I have more money, I can’t get over how much time *not shopping* has freed up. It’s only April but, I’ve already caught myself wondering if I could do a (slightly modified) version of this indefinitely…

    • Myra says...

      Yeeesssssssss this! So much.
      I am not buying any new clothes for one year and the space it has created mentally is astonishing. I also am increasinly disturbed by the fashion giants filled to the brim with clothes, with something like 6 ‘ seasons’ a year. Once this year is done I doubt I can ever buy unethical unsustainable fashion ever again.
      I wasn’t throwing about money before but it has still made such an impact. I have also consciously decided to only buy things I need and if I really need something to try to buy it second hand first.
      We live in an age of consumerism where is something is broken you do not fix it, you simply throw it out and buy something new. This has such a big impact on us, our children, people who work under appalling conditions and last but not least the environment.

      I hope ethical and sustainable fashion is something you can get behind on cup of jo.

    • Susan says...

      I’m doing this too! That article really inspired me. I have a few exceptions… I had a baby last year, I finally lost the weight, and none of my bras fit. So I need new bras. But that is a legit need, and not just an impulse want. And no new “decorative” or styling purchases for the house. Babies change and grow so fast that I’m constantly buying new things for him. Like he just started crawling and baby proofing is expensive! And oof, diapers. But there is a great parent list serve in my neighborhood, so I make a real effort to buy things for him second hand. Abstaining from shopping for me has meant that I have enough money to buy the things he needs without blowing my budget. Its freeing to just say, I’m not buying new clothes. I haven’t missed it all.

  16. AC says...

    I have a daily calendar (spiral bound – old school!). On each month’s page I list that month’s expenses, including rent, utilities, etc. I also list income and goals (put $500 into savings, don’t buy wine, etc). And then for each day I pencil in how much I spent on what. It’s based on this Japanese technique, and it’s been helping me realize exactly how much money I spend day to day. I also try to only spend cash and give myself a weekly allowance.

    https://monininja.com/kakeibo-art-saving/

  17. katie says...

    I value experiences over things. Last year I decided to get honest with myself about that and started comparing my expenses to the costs of traveling. When I realized what I was spending on coffee equaled the cost of a plane ticket to visit either of my parents (we’re all on the west coast), I started making coffee at home. I even bought a milk frothing wand for, like, $18, so I could make my drip coffee ‘fancy’, on occasion. I also cut my streaming subscriptions when I realized doing so would fund half the cost of a plane ticket to visit my sister in Ghana. I recommend you figure out what matters to you, drill down what it’ll cost you to the penny, then make changes in your spending habits that’ll enable you to afford the things or experiences that add value to your life.

    • Tara says...

      I started making coffee too…. it a frother! Oooh! Just ordered. And in the end, will save me money

  18. Melissa says...

    Just want to give a heads-up about Digit– I loved it at first, but it ramped up the amount it was removing from my account pretty quickly. When I was going through a thin time, it was taking out more than I could afford to spare, and I found out you can’t ask Digit to save less aggressively! Eventually I ended my Digit account and just automated a small transfer from my checking account to my savings every few days to keep the “sneaky” feeling of saving $ with more control.

    • AC says...

      I use Digit currently, and have done so for the past couple of years. I am pretty sure you can ask it to “save less” to a certain extent and to even pause saving for a specified number of days. I use it to save for specific things and it works out for me, for the most part. It does require more management than I’d like tho! And the $2.99 fee is kind of a kick in the gut.

  19. Started doing this this morning.

    Scary. But good.

    (“Scary, but good” …the official Webster’s Dictionary Definition of being an adult?)

    • S says...

      Haha so true Julia!
      What about “Wonderful, but hard”

      As in “what’s it like to finally own a house?”
      “Wonderful but then the downstairs flooded and we are dealing with the insurance company and putting off other work we wanted to get done.”

      So wonderful…. but hard.

  20. everydollar.com

    This has been a GODSEND for me and my husband. We are telling our money where to go at the beginning of the month rather than see where it went at the end. So good for budgeting and paying things off. It’s created by Dave Ramsey’s company and he is not shy about giving you financial kick in the ass.

  21. Christy says...

    Need suggestions from you COJ gurus:

    What is the best way to create separate accounts to save up for certain items? Right now we have joint checking account, but I would love to have a separate account where I can see us accumulating funds towards a renovation, or vacation, etc. FWIW, our checking account is through Chase and I’d prefer to keep it there. Thanks!

    • I think you’d want to do it through savings accounts, so at least you’re getting a little bit of interest. Capital 360 Savings makes this super easy. I have about 10 different savings accounts that all have names (like “Property Taxes”; “House Repairs Just in Case”; “Charitable Giving”), and it only took a couple minutes to set them each up once I’d made the first one. I set up my checking account to auto-finance each of those accounts each month (either based on how much I’d need for, say property taxes at the end of the year, or maybe $50/mo for charitable giving). That’s worked for me for a few years!

    • I do pretty much the same as Joanna says – we have our main joint checking account and then recently opened a savings account at the same institution to hold funds for property taxes. I set up the checking account to transfer money to the savings account every month so I don’t have to think about it, and when it comes time to pay the taxes our checking isn’t taking a big hit.

    • Colleen says...

      I do exactly what Joanna does. The Capital One savings accounts have been our primary source of savings for 7 years+ now.

      I have my main accounts in Chase, then each month on a certain day (e.g., the third) Capital One 360 auto-withdraws money into various savings accounts I have set up (e.g., “Joint Savings,” “Property Taxes,” “2019 Hawaii Vacation,” etc). My husband does his banking with Citi, so I had him set up auto-withdraws from his account directly into the various Capital One accounts as well. In the event we need the money, we can have Capital One transfer the money to either Chase or Citi within 2 business days or pay a credit card directly from the Capital One account.

    • Natalie Avery says...

      Try Simple! It has a great app so you can set up categories (“goals”) and either put it aside in a big lump every month, or set a certain $ amount you’d like to save by whatever date, and it’ll automatically pull out that amount each day until you’ve reached your goal. My husband and I were using BoA for a long time, but we switched over to Simple last year with a joint account and personal ones. It’s been super helpful! It’s taken away a lot of guilt from all the over-spending we used to do as ostriches, haha, while we still feel like we can (slowly) save for what we want and need.

  22. m says...

    If you put everything on a card, you can check your year end summary through your bank. I discovered this when I was doing my taxes last year. It lists EVERYTHING you spent, and nicely sums up your expenses in different categories. The category I need to definitely change is the restaurant one. Spending thousands a year eating out is sobering and not ok.

  23. Lucia says...

    The comments are so helpful. Might try all these apps everyone’s using.

    A good platform for budgeting is also: http://www.ourfreakingbudget.com. It’s witty and useful, in case anyone wants to give it a read. They haven’t updated since last year, but I still find it resourceful. Helps you get on a plan to pay off student loans (which seem endless), etc etc.

  24. Emily says...

    1. Automate – hide a portion of your paycheck in a different bank account (plus, many bank accounts will give you a bonus for opening)
    2. Acorns – I can’t say enough good things about this! I joined last July with the round-up feature. There is already $885 in the account and I DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE IT WAS GONE since it just rounds up the purchases you’re already making and invests them based on a simple questionnaire. Get $5 by using this link: https://acorns.com/invite/A5RTM6

  25. Ali G says...

    The easiest thing for me when I was starting out was a simple Excel spreadsheet. I just divided my annual salary into 12 months (minus 401(k), taxes, etc. – so net salary), deducted all my fixed costs (rent, utilities, commute, etc.). Then I decided how much I wanted to “live” on (going out, shopping). The rest turned into an automatic transfer to my savings account on the first of the month. I never saw it, so I couldn’t spend it.
    As my salary grew, I upped the numbers for both “living” and savings.

    • katie says...

      Right on! Brilliantly clear cut. Nice.

  26. Cynthia says...

    You need to examine bank statements and credit card statements to make sure you are not a victim of fraudelent activity. I have to balance my checking account to the penny, because it’s the way my mom taught me. Keeping track of expenses lets you see where you can cut corners. I view things in terms of disposable purchases and investment purchases. For instance, food is a disposable purchase. So it makes sense to get the most for your dollar. Pot roast has the same nutritional value as filet mignon, but at a lower price. A pair of leather boots or a quality leather handbag is an investment purchase, because you will have it for years. Likewise, an antique end table will last forever and become a family heirloom. Too many people throw money away on unnecessary things and then complain about being broke. It’s also important to have a rainy day fund for unexpected expenses, such as an appliance that dies unexpectedly. Examine all your regular monthly bills. We recently switched cell phone carriers because we found a better deal elsewhere, thanks to our daughters. Before you renew internet, call and ask for a better deal. Remind them you’ve been a long time customer. It helps. Shops sales. I rarely pay full price for anything unless I have been looking for a long time and what I need or want never goes on sale. I could write a book on budgeting and saving.

  27. Just thank you. No one talks about money or how to save it, which is a ridiculous thing our society has somehow cultivated by glorifying STUFF! Going to look at your bank account and spending records only feels icky for a second. It’s not just smart, it’s essential!

  28. Erica says...

    My husband I text each other our daily expenses – every day. It all gets entered into an old school Excel spreadsheet where it is totaled by category. It is tedious (and thankfully my husband manages most of it) but it has helped us tremendously. We have an annual budget and we know every $1 that comes in and out.

    • CL says...

      Yup. Amen to this. I get a lot of weird looks telling people I know where every penny goes, but I truly do!

  29. Martini says...

    Coming up on our 50th anniversary.
    We had no budget and have never been in debt.
    We lived by the old adage “Needs and Wants”.
    We certainly have more than what we need and somehow the “wants” take care of themselves just fine.

    “Needs and Wants”. Try it out for a while. I think you’ll be amazed by it.

    • Cynthia says...

      Yes, needs and wants. Take care of the needs first, and worry about the wants later.

    • Ana says...

      :)))) I really enjoy your philosophy.

  30. Monica says...

    A lot of Norwegian banks now offer a savings account directly connected to your VISA/Debit card. You set it up so every time you swipe your card (or optionally – pay a bill) you automatically transfer a small amount of money to your savings account. I save about 2$ every time i swipe my card and 6$ every time I pay a bill. This doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up over the years. After 4 years I now have over 3000$ of “bonus money” saved up! Not a huge difference on the day-to-day spendings, but at least you’re forced to save a little bit every day, and you’re “punished” (or rewarded – whichever way you choose to look at it :)) for impulsive purchases.

    • Ana says...

      Wow! What a great idea!!

  31. Sarah says...

    Love these tips. They are very helpful and I hope to incorporate some of them into my life. My struggle is (and I didn’t read all the comments so maybe someone else wrote about this too) is figuring out a good budget while being a freelancer. Some months we make a lot of money, some very little at all… We tend to err on the side of caution and probably spend less than we could and have a lot in savings just in case we have a year where we make less. It’s hard not knowing though what our yearly income will be… I find myself asking often, can I spend this now? What if I need to save it for later? (when one month doesn’t bring in as much income) I wonder if anyone may have tips for this…

    • Lindsay says...

      I haven’t worked as a freelancer, but a few online sources I found recommended Pear Budget. They have a paid version, and a free version. It’s a simple Excel spreadsheet, and the way they set it up helps you set aside money for certain things. I am in the (very) early days of this, and I like it so far. Good luck! https://pearbudget.com/spreadsheet/

  32. Camille says...

    I use YNAB. It’s a life saver, the helpdesk is fantastic and OMG, they actually succeed half of the time to make it seem more fun to budget. It’s a miracle.

    • Meghan says...

      YNAB is the shiz. Never before have my husband and I been able to budget together and succeed. I tell everyone about it!

    • Meg says...

      Another vote for YNAB! I can’t describe how freeing and anxiety-reducing it is to not worry about money, and YNAB does a fantastic job of this. Seriously, on day one I was breathing a sigh of relief. I didn’t all of a sudden become wealthier, but you can SEE what your money is doing, and what it really shouldn’t be doing. YNAB also encourages a fun, “eh so you overspent, you can deal with it!” approach. I recently reached out to their help desk and they recorded me a personalized how-to video using a read-only version of my own account. Spectacular. And you can try it out free for 34 days! (No, I don’t work for YNAB.) LOVE IT.

    • Alex says...

      YNAB has saved us too! I talk about this app to everyone. So glad to see other YNAB fans!

    • Shelly says...

      YNAB! It has really changed my thinking about money: give every dollar a job. Then those dollars don’t get “accidentally” spent. :) I did all the budgeting the first year with this program, then once they updated the app, my husband started entering his purchases on his phone and actually thinks its fun. So worth the little money it costs.
      https://www.youneedabudget.com

  33. Abbe says...

    Ooof, this article feels especially relevant to me as I look at starting grad school in the fall (and contemplate the mountain of debt it’s going to leave me with). Prior to this I was working full time, and tracked all of my spending in a spreadsheet which broke down monthly and yearly spending. It was definitely a game changer having to write down every single expense.

    I am loving these finance posts! I feel like finance is often not a topic that’s addressed in so called “women’s” websites, but it is so so so important and empowering. CoJ team, I’d love to see a future finance post about discussing finances with a significant other — I’m a few years out from doing this, but it’s on the horizon and I’d love tips on how to frame that discussion!

  34. Sylvia says...

    I use the app Personal Capital and I check it everyday. It’s great for budget tracking purposes and to make sure I’m on track with my financial goals.

    • Shawna says...

      Yes, Sylvia! Personal Capital is wonderful! I love this app so much — I check it daily and love that it combines my bank account, retirement accounts, mortgage, student loans, etc. I know exactly where I’m sitting financially every day. I also love that it can give you info about how much you are paying in fees for your retirement account. Overall really great app!

    • Rachel says...

      Another vote for Personal Capital!

      Also, I would say the best thing I’ve done for my finances is take advantage of employer match on 401k. It’s part of your compensation (if your company offers it), so if you don’t take advantage, you’re leaving your own money on the table. It comes out pre-tax, so you don’t notice it. The first seven years of my career I worked for a non-profit and earned very (very) little, but still managed to save a ton.

      The second best thing – kind of in line with 401k, is to invest EARLY. 401k, Roth’s, index funds, etc. The general rule of thumb is that your money in the stock market doubles every seven years, so $100 dollars invested today is $3200 by retirement (assuming 35 years til retirement). I find it helpful to do that math with impulse buys. Like, I want that $100 dress, but do i want it $3200-bad?

  35. Shannon says...

    Three things keep us on track. First I pay myself first by putting savings away before I spend my paycheck. Second, my husband and I allocate shared spending (mortgage, etc.) based on a percentage of our individual incomes and still keep some fun money separate for ourselves. Finally, once we could afford it, we sat down with an independent financial planner and she went through *everything* to make sure we were optimizing our saving, spending, etc. Money and time we’ll spent.

  36. I cannot say enough how much You Need A Budget (YNAB) has transformed my relationship to personal finance and budgeting. I check my accounts and budget daily – and actually enjoy it! Since starting up with YNAB last year, my earning, spending and saving has been radically transformed. I paid for a year of YNAB in a heartbeat after my free month (despite cutting most other subscriptions and being super-strict and minimalist in what I sign up for, paid or free). Plus, they have tons of free, live, interactive webinars! I was doing at least one a week for a while and learned so much!

  37. Melissa says...

    Another quick money saving tip- unsubscribe from all store emails. If you aren’t getting emails about their sales, there’s no temptation to even look “because there’s a sale” or make unnecessary purchases.

  38. M says...

    This is not going to be a popular one, but I gave up make up a few years ago, partly because I wanted to sleep in more and partly because I quite frankly couldn’t afford it! I really can’t rationalize spending $60 per month for products to paint my face on every day anymore, and seeing the cost of some of the products advertised on blogs and websites just reaffirms this…and the icing on the cake- my skin has never felt better :)

    • Mira says...

      I love this! And I’m inspired to try it.

    • EMILY says...

      I have given up wearing make-up to work which has been really fun because I only wear make-up when I really WANT to get fancied up or feel a little special–it’s less of an obligation to look a certain way for certain people and more of a treat I give myself on the weekends or a night out. Plus, I don’t have to replace things nearly as often!

  39. recently I found the CashBase app mentioned in the comments on a post on cup of jo. it’s so easy, i was trying to work in spreadsheets before, which cash payments never seemed to make it to the spreadsheet.
    i also read recently to chat with your partner once a month on budget. i manage the budget for myself and my (less than one year) husband who is currently in grad school aka i’m covering expenses. i’m making it a goal to write out our budget and chat about it NEXT MONTH! (i’ve been putting it off.)

  40. caitlin says...

    Yes! Saving is hard, finances are hard, and for some reason I feel it is often brushed over and not discussed, especially for women. After going through a rough patch where I overdrew my account a few too many times, I started to really look for budget help. Two big things really helped me out:

    1. “Weekly Flexible Spending” — I went to a talk about finances from LearnVest, and while it was partially geared towards using their app, it was also really informative. The budgeting method the speaker talked through is called “One-Number Strategy” and basically works like this:
    Your Monthly Pay – (Fixed Costs (bills) + Goals + Long-Term Expenses (i.e. vehicle registration)) = Your Flexible Spending Amount.

    I divide that by week and use that amount as my weekly budget. Keeping it flexible just works for me — sometimes I want to go to that amazing impromptu meal with a good friend. I’ll eat ramen the rest of the week because the experience is worth it. But also super rigid “$50 a month for eating out” just doesn’t fly well for me. (I love food, can you tell?)

    There’s more here: https://www.learnvest.com/knowledge-center/how-to-budget-with-the-one-number-strategy

    (PS I don’t work for LearnVest. I just found this valuable.).

    2. Simple –I use the bank Simple, which lets you create “Goals” in your bank account, which are kinda like separate accounts. My money is partitioned so that I only see my weekly budget as my available balance. All other money is assigned to something and thus off-limits. It’s been a huge help, sometimes even helping me budget for things like buying new underwear.

    Simple’s Goals features can automatically save money overtime, similar to how Digit works. Just takes a few dollars every week from my flex budget to help me save for that trip to Japan.

    Simple also helps me out because it shows an alert after every transaction. It helps drive home that oh, I just spent that much money. The magic card didn’t just give me that latte, I actually have $6 less in my account.

    It’s not a perfect system– I’m still working on contributing to my retirement again. But I feel more in control of my money and spending, like My Money and Me have a good healthy relationship. Some flaws, sure, but we are working on it. And really, isn’t that how every meaningful relationship should be? Open and honest?

  41. Jeanne says...

    My husband and I are Quicken users. Easy to track all of our finances from spending to investments, and categorizing everything, it’s nice to be able to examine what we’re spending on any type of item. We also use the Capital One Venture credit card for almost every purchase, and the points add up quickly and can be used for any travel expense. We love it! Free money.

  42. T says...

    The best thing my husband and I have done for our finances after we combined them was to start using YNAB. We’re 4.5 months in now and we both agree that it has been a life changer! I always used spreadsheets before and he used Mint (without budgeting), so he found my spreadsheets really precarious and honestly, they’re just not as flexible as YNAB is. With YNAB, I no longer get stressed out about small charges I forgot about and didn’t add a category for yet. We both add transactions while we’re on the go with the iOS updates and then on the 1st of the month, we sit down and do a budget for that month. We are homeowners, so I always felt like our spending wasn’t very regular or monthly, so YNAB’s goals feature really helps smooth that out! It makes it feel like no month has to be the same (because they’re not!) and makes it easy to cover overspending from some other category. I would also say that sticking to a precise budget isn’t the most important thing. What matters more is staying on top of your spending and keeping your spending aligned with your values.

    If you’re a student, then you can get a year’s free trial of YNAB and if not, you can usually find a three month trial (“ynab camp patton” should turn it up).

    The best thing that we did for our finances before combining them was to max out our retirement accounts early. Our 60 year old selves will really thank our 20-something year old selves!

    • SB says...

      I’m another YNAB user, although newer – I’m still having some trouble with getting it set up to make sense, but the main thing is that I do love is knowing writ total how much I’ve spent in a certain category. I’m a bit impromptu restaurant person and it’s helped me cut back on #treatyoself nights. YNAB also provides a lot of tutorials to help get you set up, which I’ve found useful (to a point!)

    • I second YNAB! My husband and I started using it three years ago when we got engaged (and he started grad school). It has been a literal game changer. We actually know what we spend money on, and we can set and reach goals together. Even with him in school full-time, we’ve managed to save money. I can’t reccomend YNAB enough!

  43. I totally agree with this! I did this a few months ago, and I already notice a difference in my spending habits.
    Here’s another thing that I do whenever I budget– I write down all of the bills that I need to pay (rent, food, gas, car payment, insurance, phone, internet…), but instead of adding up the exact amount of each bill to the penny, I round up the dollar amounts. So if a bill is consistently $212, I’ll write down that it’s $225. Or if it’s something that changes frequently like a credit card bill, I’ll add $100 to the average of my payments. That way, I come up with a number that I should be putting in savings every month once I add everything up, but I also give myself a little buffer with each bill that would then be spending money for clothes or going out.

    • Robin says...

      Great tip and so easy to follow!! The buffer is life (or at least cocktails)!

  44. Amara Bray says...

    My husband is about ready to launch an app called Talking budget. You can voice enter expenses and see a running total. Super simple to use. Watch for it in about a month!

    • Mary says...

      That’s a great idea!

  45. Kate says...

    Cupcakesandcashmere.com had a great post recently. Basically, they recommend adding up all the things you must spend on each month and then whatever is left is your “budget”. That way you aren’t tied to a strict amount per month on shoes or eating out or whatever. As someone who has always hated the “b” word this made budgeting seem approachable to me. I have been using the app WallyLite to track my spending since reading her post. Easy and so far so good!

  46. Lynsey says...

    You go girl!

  47. Alex says...

    My husband and I share accounts and we’ve liked “Fudget” which allows us to set up budget categories and sync between our phones so we’re always on the same page. As anyone will tell you, it is key to marriage to be on the same page financially.

  48. Anonymous says...

    Growing up, I had to handle all my own expenses. I moved out as a young teenager and put myself through school. I am becoming more aware of my back of spending since having children. I tend to hoard money. I am better at spending on the children but have a difficult time spending on myself. My husband keeps me in check. He notices that my shoes are wearing through or that I have had the same coat for fifteen years. Anyone else struggle with this? Any tips?

    • Ana says...

      Oh, I totally do that! It can be hard to loosen the purse strings, even when you know you can, so don’t beat yourself up too much: better too thifty than the reverse. That said, in the spirit of ‘paying myself first’, I’ve been trying a ‘reverse budget.’ Every quarter, I set aside an affordable amount and frame it as an investment in something I value (I value appropriate professional dress to the tune of $50/month, for example, or I value $25/month worth of having a comfortable and welcoming home). Then when I get to the end of that quarter, I look back and if I haven’t spent the money I’ve earmarked, I have to justify it to myself. Why did I *not* buy those work shoes I specifically budgeted for? Why are my bathtowels *still* threadbare? Did I really find a better use for that money? Have I decided that I don’t value those things after all? Or am I just letting myself be limited by unnecessary anxiety about money and/or getting overwhelmed by too may choices?

    • Wendy says...

      Thank you for this Ana

    • I have a really hard time spending money on myself. I always say “yes I’d like this but what if the kids need something, or something breaks. I could put that money into savings.”
      I started Ordering from stitch fix once a season, now I love almost everything they send.

      My husband is a spender and I’m a saver. There’s often conflict there because I feel I go without so one one else has to.

    • My family struggled growing up, so when my husband and I got married and joined finances, I had a hard time adjusting. He spent money when he wanted something, and I didn’t. I started resenting him, even though I knew we had enough.

      It wasn’t until I made personal spending a line item in our monthly budget that I felt the freedom to spend on myself. He still has to remind me sometimes to buy something I need, but I’ve gotten muuuuch better. And I mostly don’t feel guilty about it either. I count that as a win!

    • Lisa says...

      I also use Jenn’s practice of creating line items in my budget for things I need. Rather than limit my spending, it gives me permission. My husband and I each have our own clothing line item, and we can choose to spend it on a bunch of inexpensive things or a few really nice things. I have a grooming line item which covers my husband’s razors, but also a quarterly haircut for me. And if I don’t use it, the money just builds so eventually I’ll have to come to terms with it.

  49. Bethaney says...

    Also a tried and true YNAB’r here! I love it and check it almost every day. It keeps me from overspending.

  50. Caroline says...

    The one thing I did that made a GIGANTIC difference was add up all my monthly costs and divide by 2, that way I have a number for each paycheck that I can’t spend. For some reason it was so much easier to think in increments of a two week budget vs a whole month.

  51. Dana says...

    For both my husband and I, eating out is our biggest impulse buy/little bits here and there that add up to a lot. So we decided to have a weekly cash allowance for eating out and other extracurricular activities or items. This way we can physically see our money dwindling and actually have to plan- “oh im having lunch with the girls on saturday, i better set cash aside for that.” Ive also been wanting to up my wardrobe with well-made (read, expensive) items. So i eat at home more and forgo treats in order to put cash aside for a shopping spree. Its made a big impact on our budget. And helped to waste less food at home. And eat healthier… so many wins!

  52. D says...

    My very first boss when I was starting out and made zero money told me to put the minimum into my 401(k) and then up it whenever I got a raise by the same amount. You don’t even notice it. Also, $1 into a Roth is worth $4 in a 401(k), so do that too if you can. Over years that can really, really, add up. I also check my balance daily, and am now working on cutting out lazy expenses and rebuilding a big emergency fund after a lot was used for an emergency a couple of years ago.

    • M says...

      Can you clarify the “$1 into a Roth is worth $4 in a 401(k)”? I have never heard this before and it doesn’t really make sense to me

    • Ali G says...

      @M
      I think what D is saying, is if your company offers a 401(k), then they match your contribution up to a certain point. A regular Roth IRA is only your contributions. So D is saying to put at least the min that your employer will match in the 401(k) because it’s free money they are giving you – don’t pass that up!
      Just be aware of the difference between regular and Roth. A regular 401(k) is pre-tax, so you don’t pay tax on that money now, but will when you withdraw. A Roth is post-tax, so you pay tax on that money now, but you won’t when you withdraw it in retirement – so its good to have a combo of both!

    • D says...

      Yes, Ali–thanks for clarifying! (Clearly I need more coffee). M–because the Roth contributions are already taxed when it goes in, every cent you make from it is tax-free upon withdrawal, so it goes further than the equivalent amount in a 401k that is taxed upon withdrawal. So you want both, but want the Roth to be aggressive, and if you can’t fully fund both, do the minimum in the 401k to get the match (as Ali said, free $$), then put as much as possible into the Roth. Hope that makes more sense.

  53. Jessica G. says...

    We use Mint to track our finances. But we also have several bank accounts to help with budgeting – one for house expenses, one for car expenses/repairs, one for vacation, and then our general fund. We also have retirement and a general savings account. But for cutting out day to day spending, we went cash only for a while and it really makes you think about what you really want rather than just spending constantly, because when the money is gone, it’s gone.

    • We do this too, and it’s so helpful. I calculate bills and monthly spending, and the rest goes into savings. We park our savings in several online accounts – taxes, retirement, emergency, travel, house/car. So helpful, and we can adjust how much goes in each pot depending on upcoming expenses. I love this method and recommend it. We keep a tied checking account so we can easily transfer money when necessary.

  54. Hani says...

    Like the word ‘diet’, the word ‘budget’ always throws me into an anxious frame of mind, gets me fixated on scarcity and clawing for a way out.
    A few years ago, I happily rejected dieting for mental and physical health reasons, embraced HAES&intuitive eating— and then had a major epiphany; my diet mindset and my budget mindset operated almost identically.
    What I notice is that when I relax and trust myself, my money managing is really quite normal and appropriate. I’m honestly pretty responsible! I save well, I give generously, pay my bills on time and just generally don’t stress. It’s never ‘perfect’, but it’s functional and I get to live my life.
    When I start to micromanage and obsess, my spending habits get so fraught and the stress just sucks me under.
    I notice that I’ll spend more recklessly(a.k.a binge) when I anticipate a time of future scarcity or restriction. I’ll lose sleep at night feeling guilt over spending money for a coffee I could have made cheaper at home, etc.
    Guilt! Over 2.99$!

    I appreciate no-think tech tricks to keep my money going where I want it to&my mental health appreciates it too.(love Stash, capitalone360, etc)

    Constantly checking bank statements is just not for me.

  55. Kelsey Oran says...

    we’re big Mint fans in our household — we budget for movies with friends, coffee visits and the adult things like water and electricity.

  56. Sadie says...

    Weird question, but does anyone know of a money app like Mint that can link accounts in different countries? I live in the UK , but most of my assets are still in the US. I loved Mint when I lived in America, but it’s not very useful to me now that half our household income and all of our expenses are in pounds sterling.

    • amanda june says...

      We started using MoneyWiz a couple months ago. You can pay a one-time fee for the app (4.99) or pay for a monthly subscription service if you want it to automatically upload and sync all your online account data. We just did the one-time fee since we have to input most of our spending data manually anyway (I live in China), but so far it’s a really good app and very user-friendly as far as switching around between different currencies.

    • Sadie says...

      Thanks to you both! I’ll check those out!

  57. kelly says...

    Passive savings!!
    I used to do the multiple “envelope” system (just different savings accounts), which worked for me in a particular period in my life. When I had less money PLUS an old car that needed regular work, a goal to save for a down payment on a new car, a tuition bill to pay every three months, etc., then separating money every paycheck was helpful. (I had all of this automated.) Suddenly, after buying that new car, finishing the degree, getting a raise, etc., the “envelopes” weren’t really useful. While I was saving money, I realized that I would be better off consolidating it.

    NOW, I just use direct deposit to divvy up my paycheck. With only a tiny dip in my take-home pay, I’m now saving about 40% of my income. 20% goes into emergency cash savings, 20% into an index fund. When I hit my emergency cash goal (in one more year), I’ll shift everything to invest in my retirement fund.

    It works because I don’t ‘see’ any of that money. It doesn’t even go into my checking account, so I can’t possibly spend it. It’s great!!

    • Em says...

      Good idea. I like the way you’re divvying it up.

  58. Kara says...

    I struggle a lot with impulsive spending when I’m not at my best, and the single most effective thing I’ve done lately to combat that is to keep a physical, hand-written list of all the things I’ve felt compelled to buy that aren’t necessities like groceries or toilet paper. Every random sweater nearly identical to all my other sweaters, every houseplant, every midweek bottle of wine goes in the Want Journal. It scratches the same itch in my brain because it’s kind of like ordering it from myself. Then at the end of the pay cycle, I see how much money I have left, and I get to shop the list. In that moment, I find that I don’t care about most of them anymore. (A relief, because it’s a list of things I definitely would have bought if I didn’t have this system in place.) I basically cured myself of careless debt accrual in about a month. I think it being a paper list is important, because there is a weight to writing each thing down. Many times I’ve gone to get the journal and stopped, because I realized the thing wasn’t list worthy. Another part of it is that I never want to spend all of what’s left on List stuff. I’ve saved a lot this way. I highly recommend it. It has changed my life.

    • Kara says...

      Oh, I should clarify that this is a part of a much larger system my husband and I have where bill-paying money and long-term savings go into a separate bank (yep, not a separate account, an entirely different bank) from where the discretionary household spending money is. I have legal access to all our accounts (duh) but I don’t carry any debit or credit cards linked to that other bank. It’s a thick wall, but very useful. There’s no shame in knowing how to set yourself up for success.

    • Tai says...

      That’s an awesome idea! I made some purchases today that I regret….I’m going to start this idea right now! Thanks Kara!

    • Esss says...

      Love this! My version is to pin beautiful things on pinterest instead of clicking buy on the website. If I come back months later and still want it, and it’s still available, then I think about actually buying it.

    • Annie says...

      Wow, I’m going to try this! I’m doing well with paying attention to my account, cancelling subscriptions, etc. and controlling my spending *except* for the “little” rewards like buying that sweater or those sheets or those shoes. Because I work hard, right? ;) I love this idea of a list to stop the impulse buying, but then rewarding yourself later if you still want it, when the money’s in hand. Thank you!

    • Ashley says...

      I love the idea of writing it down. It makes it a mindful choice vs. an impulse. Stealing!

    • Justine says...

      Kara both of these are really great ideas. Love these tips.

    • Em says...

      I did this last year. But instead of writing it down, I drew the actual item. Sometimes it was just a quick line drawing and other times a detailed drawing. I gave it up though because I found it I didn’t draw it, I actually just forgot about it. Win win. My drawing skills have definitely improved.

    • María says...

      Great idea for me. Thanks

    • Mary says...

      Great tips, Kara. I’ve done the separate-bank savings account thing, too. Whenever I go in to the bank to make a deposit, they ask me if I want a debit card. No!! The whole point is to make the money nearly impossible to get to.

    • Jennifer says...

      I do this, but I use my Amazon wish list thing for everything. If I think I want it, I just add it to the wish list and then close that tab. I’m always amazed, while scrolling through my list, of the things that I thought I had to have right then. It’s saved me $$$ in silly, impulsive, “isn’t that cute” purchases.

    • Tara says...

      An even lazier version of what you do Kara—-I take a pic of the item (screenshot from computer or in the store…) and have an album in my photos in my phone for “Wish Pics”. Then at the end of the month I see if there is anything that still grabs at me.. funny enough, usually not! But if it does I will grab it.

  59. Christy says...

    Great topic!—a very necessary one for all of us in the age of social media and ultra-consumerism. My husband and I have been married for 22 years and have had a budget all this time. We started our budget written on a yellow legal pad when we were first married; we listed rent, electric, phone, groceries, eating out etc.. obviously rent, utilities, insurance were set amounts but we allocated $ for the month to groceries, eating out, clothes etc. once we reached the limit for eating out, no more going out even if it’s only the middle of the month. Every cent each of us spent got entered into the budget on the appropriate line. At the end of the month, we added up everything we spent and subtracted from income. We are now family of four with two teenagers and still do this, enter every cent either of us spends; now it’s more of a log to keep track of money rather than allocating $ as we earn considerably more from 20 years ago. And we still have all the monthly yellow legal pad pages for the last 20 years; interesting to look at our spending patterns over the years.

    • Kara says...

      That is so cool!

  60. I check my statements every few days and I get alerts sent for any purchase over $50. Most banks/credit cards will allow you to do this easily and it’s the best way to hold yourself accountable for unnecessary charges. My husband keeps a text file on his desktop of recurring charges, so he knows what he can ditch if he’s not using it. I just find this kind of housekeeping keeps you from overspending and from wasteful or unnecessary purchases. All that small change can really add up!

    Eva

  61. Ashley says...

    I tried using Mint but didn’t really find it conducive to paying attention to what I was spending, because it automatically populated. So I made my own budget tracking google sheet and every 4 days I enter in every single purchase that I’ve made. This is easy because I rarely use cash. It’s definitely made me realize where my money is going, and in an extremely personalized manner. It took some time to set up, but now that I have it going I just duplicate the sheet each month.

  62. Erin says...

    Game changer: Withdraw CASH at the start of the month and use that for ALL your purchases.
    For things that can’t be paid with cash (uber, subscriptions, online purchases) we take that cash out of our wallets and put it in a folder. Next month we just take that much less from our account, paying the bill from our chequing account.
    Seriously, having to count out over a hundred dollars of twenties at a group dinner, handing the grocery cashier money every night, it REALLY opens your eyes to how much your spending and the REAL value of these items to you. We chose to keep our debit cards at home so there is no temptation to tap into them. It makes the end of the month a bit like a game. Its so simple, and really really effective.

    • Anna says...

      I did this a few years ago for a trip and it was surprisingly satisfying! I took out as much cash as I figured I could spare, divided by the number of meals I needed to buy, and there was my per-meal budget. Easy to adjust as needed- eg breakfast is usually cheaper than dinner. It was less stressful than piling up a bunch of charges and it felt good to have a plan.

    • Em says...

      You bring up such a good point- the physicality of holding the money and giving it to someone in return for goods or services surprisingly makes you notice it more. I often wonder if I should go back to a cash system but earning points and cash back with credit cards seems like a nice bonus for money I’m spending anyway. Gahh, I’m torn.

  63. Betsie says...

    Ladies. I have been preaching the gospel of Simple for the last four years: https://www.simple.com/

    It’s an online-only bank account that lets you categorize your money into goals, and allocate your spending to those goals (a bit like Mint and YNAB, but it’s actually IN your checking account. Their mobile app and online interface is amazing and actually makes me want to look at my balance everyday.

    • caitlin says...

      Yes! I used YNAB before Simple, but honestly having to enter in everything manually got very old. And then Mint was too hands-off.

      Simple is a nice in between! It shows me when I spend, and you like you said, the interface is so nice, I actually want to look at it.

  64. Rebekah says...

    The one surprising thing I did was create a google slides presentation with our 10 year financial plan. It had our family mission statement, simple budget, future plans, and financial goals – nothing fancy. I was a stay-at-home mom at the time, and it was helpful for me to see that one day I would go back to work and add to our income. I didn’t need to worry about all of our future expenses right at that moment. I set an ambitious goal to split my future income between private school for the kids and paying off the house in 10 years. We added a goal to increase in generosity every year, too. One year later, I’m back to work, and I’ve been shocked at how the things in our plan are happening. I suppose it was like creating a financial vision board. :)

  65. SKB says...

    The Everydollar app has changed the game for me! It is essentially the Dave Ramsey envelope system, but digitally. Sorting my money into my “envelopes” each month has actually become something I look forward to and enjoy!

    • Me too! And I love the “zero sum monthly budget” where every dollar earned is earmarked for saving, spending or giving.

  66. YNAB has worked really well for us. You have to pay to subscribe, but my husband and I can both update our budget and keep track of our spending on our phones. It has made a difference for us.

  67. Anna says...

    My husband and I have been using a pretty strict budget system put in place by our Financial Advisor for two years now. It has made a world of difference!

    Basically, our paychecks go to our Ameriprise account which serves as our main savings. This account then pays set amounts into 7 accounts (different amounts per account): Living (groceries/restaurants, Target, Amazon, etc.), Bills, Gifts (Christmas, birthdays, etc), Kids Clothes/Activities, Travel, Home Improvement and Car. We also each have a personal account where we get a weekly allowance for whatever we want to spend it on! Me: Anthropologie; Him: golf.

    So yes, I have like 5 debit cards in my wallet, but when we need to update our patio furniture, we have an account for that. And when we need to get new tires, we have an account for that. The key is that we are putting money aside for known future needs/wants so that groceries or Target trips don’t impact our ability to pay for those things when we need them.

    The painful yet necessary part is the set budget in our Living Account really limits the amount that can be spent on discretionary items (have I mentioned trips to Target yet??).

    And our entire paychecks don’t get paid into these accounts. We are accruing a decent emergency savings fund and are also contributing to our kids’ college 529 accounts, maxing 401k contributions, etc.

    The system is the most important part. I cannot be trusted to manage this on my own so having all of these accounts that forces me to comply is critical to actually saving and not overextending myself.

  68. Love this! I also took the “if I don’t see it, it’s not a problem” approach until the end of last year, when I did a similar exercise of looking through statements. I whittled down my monthly expenses by downgrading my cable service, doing my own laundry (instead of sending it out all the time), and doing my best to avoid cabs/Uber/Lyft!
    I use Digit and it’s great for shot term savings goals, like travel or a big budget clothing item, but the BEST tool I’ve used to save is the Dream Account at Barclays bank. It’s all online, and I transfer a portion of each paycheck straight into the account. They have a much better interest rate than traditional savings accounts, and they award you savings bonuses for each month you don’t withdraw any money. It’s a great “NO TOUCH” savings account to save up for big future goals, like a down payment.

  69. Amy says...

    I love saving money, but lately have been pretty terrible at it. Honestly, I feel like the more I’m on instagram seeing everyone’s new purchases or follow my favorite jewelry stores, the more I was to make small purchases on items.

    The other time I spend too much money is when I eat fast food. It’s unhealthy AND adds up fast, which is reason enough for me to stop. But when you work in an office all day, being outside with the car windows rolled down over lunch just seems SO REFRESHING.

    My goal is to start making lunches that don’t need to be heated up so I can still eat outside without spending the money.

    • Agree! I eat lunch in my car daily–under a shady tree. I bring a salad or a half sandwich with veggies. You can break the fast food habit!

    • sam says...

      I agree with this. I’ve been having a very hard time lately with paying down debts/ getting to the point where I can save, because scrolling through instagram or reading my favorite blogs (hey!) pushes me to the point of always wanting more. I am trying to cut back but every time I scroll I see something that I fall in love with. I’ve been trying to figure out how to balance without completely cutting back on blogs/social. This entails changing my mindset completely. ha. It would be nice to see more blogs/influencers focused on financial health from time to time.

      Re: food, I also bring my lunch and have been trying to bring my coffee, which saves a ton. I live in NYC so those seamless + coffee bills really add up!

  70. Best thing I ever did for my finances – switch to online banking!
    Now I can check my balances and pay bills anywhere, and also deposit checks immediately. I find I pay bills faster and have an easier time monitoring the inflow/outflow of money (but mostly outflow!).

  71. Andrea K says...

    I’ve been keeping track of my finances in an Excel spread sheet (nothing fancy) for the past 10 years since graduating college. Just the simple act of listing everything I make and spend keeps me in check, I am so much more aware by seeing it all listed out. It’s such a motivator to always be positive every month, to never spend more than I make (of course there are some exceptions when I spend a little more on a trip or something extravagant, but I just work harder to spend less the following month). I look at my bank statement every morning which, like you said, takes less than a minute. I also have 20% of my paycheck automatically put into my savings account and 10% towards my 401k so I never even see it or miss it.

    • OMG! Me too. But for nearly 16 years…I’m old. I have a separate Google document for all the major household and medical expenses. It’s a quick way to check to see when I paid for something big.

  72. Maia says...

    I submitted a Money Diary http://www.refinery29.com/money-diary after reading them for about a year and now I’m on a bit of a personal finance jag. I learned about the index card method on Freakonomics podcast recently, so I’m trying that now. Will report back in a year.

  73. Becca says...

    Stash Wealth! Their target audience is those people who are High Earning Not Rich Yet (H.E.N.R.Ys). Every month after my husband and I paid bills I thought to myself – I don’t understand! We both make six figure! How am I afraid to buy a new bra? WHERE IS OUR MONEY?? We did the Stash Plan which is an intense exercise in what you make, what you spend, what you want, and what you can actually afford. They offered great advice and customized timelines for “wish” items and we ultimately become investing clients too. I actually feel well off and comfortable now, even though my lifestyle hasn’t changed radically. Go! And tell them Becca from DC sent you ;-)

  74. Mary says...

    The app daily budget has fundamentally transformed how I handle my finances and save. It’s tedious to use (note- you have to manually input ALL of your purchases), but it has given me such a handle on my expenses and how much money I actually have, and makes me think about each and every thing that I purchase no matter how small. Combined with Mint, I’ve been able save for the long-term, repay loans to my parents, and also save for large trips and expenses. I could not recommend enough.

  75. Check out SaverLife.org. If you save $20 a month, they reward you with $10. It’s the opposite of the ostrich effect.

    (full disclosure: I work for the nonprofit who provides SaverLife for free)

  76. Mary says...

    I like to say “save” comes before “spend” in the dictionary. If a person can stash away even just a bit to savings (even it’s $2 or $5) upon receiving a paycheck before spending, he/she would be shocked at how easy it could be to make it a habit!

  77. Valerie says...

    Hi CoJ team,
    maybe you could do an international series on finance as well (similar to the Motherhood Around the World series)?
    I live in Germany and our approach to saving is so different – for example we have good public retirement options, so we don‘t need to save that much, have lower (or no) student loans. I imagine there are even more differences if you start to look outside Western cultures?!
    Just an idea :)

    • Ana. says...

      Good idea! I’m very interesares on reading about financies from a female perspective. I’m from Spain and our money culture is so diferent.

    • I live in Israel (as an ex-pat) and here, you have to put down 35% (!) for a home. I could buy a house in cash in the States for the amount I have saved up and still can’t afford a down payment. An average home in a city (not on the outskirts) is at least $455,000. I don’t want to even discuss the average salary.

    • jess says...

      It’s the opposite in South Africa. We have to pay for our own medical aid, retirement, etc. But we are notoriously bad a saving money so our culture is also very different.

    • Alice says...

      Brilliant idea! A series on this would be amazing!
      We lived in China where there’s very little in the way of government support and the majority of people on the street are not well off but are incredibly savvy with their money by looking to save pennies in every purchase, and not being wasteful (especially with food). I think their modern history and the income of the average citizen has a lot to do with it.
      In the U.K., it’s completely different! Since moving back we’ve noticed had a hard time adjusting to spending, budgeting approach, and costs – it’s not nearly as simple as we’d predicted. We are both self employed and that adds a headache (tax self assessments, oh how I loathe you!). Social media and marketing based on want/need/desire being the same thing is a big problem here, it seems.
      But the NHS and government support for people with children is amazing here, and I appreciate it so much coming from somewhere with none of that. In China your family’s wealth is literally your savings, your pension, your emergency fund – everything. And your money goes into the pot too.

    • K says...

      This is a fantastic idea! I’d love to read posts in this series.

  78. Lyn says...

    I swear by You Need a Budget.

    My husband and I were always scrambling at the beginning of the month as mortgage, insurance, daycare, preschool, etc., all came out of our account.

    Three months after starting YNAB, I almost NEVER look at our bank account anymore. I know exactly what’s going on and I know we have enough money because I set a realistic budget.

    It’s really been magic. But the best kind of magic – something we made happen ourselves.

    • Karen says...

      Yes yes! Me too. YNAB has been a game changer. 16 months in, and I have cancelled out all debt plus built a nest egg and a healthy dialogue re:money with my husband. There’s nothing *magic* about it, but their educational approach helped me address long-time bad habits and develop new, better ones that have actually stuck.

    • Madeleine says...

      I will second the wonderous, selfempowering power of YNAB!!

    • Julie says...

      I tried to use YNAB but just couldn’t get my head around it as it seems totally opposite to how my budget system already worked and it kinda of felt like starting completely from scratch, and I got lost with the months in advance… I guess after a couple of months it evens out and makes more sense, maybe I should try it again

    • Esvee says...

      I couldn’t get my head around YNAB either and I really wish I could! I had been using Mint. I really have no idea how YNAB is supposed to work… I mean you’re not actually supposed to input each and every cent you spend? Or are you? Just don’t get it at all I guess!

  79. Ellie says...

    I actually look at my accounts every few days because I put everything on a credit card and want to make sure I’m spending in line with the cash balance I expect to have by end of month (my paycheck varies).

    BUT I did one thing about 4 years ago that totally changed the game for me and it took less than 15 minutes one time: I opened a second checking account AT A SEPARATE BANK that I call my freedom account. My paycheck automatically puts a deposit in savings, then a $125 per paycheck deposit in freedom, and then the balance goes in regular checking. That’s $3,250 in freedom each year! What is a freedom account you ask? It’s for regular, but non-monthly expenses (haircuts, plane tickets home, doctor co-pays, a contact lens order, birthday/wedding gifts, etc). If you have an annual payment for insurance, you can break that up into a per paycheck amount so you’re squirreling away money for that. A $100 contacts order or $400 plane ticket or $700 annual insurance bill can really throw you for a loop in any given month, but by putting a small amount in regularly, the balance grows without you realizing it and when you need $400 for a plane ticket the cash is waiting for you. Why put it at another bank you ask? Because it’s WAY too easy to transfer between accounts at one bank and you’ll see the balance anytime you log in to look at your regular checking. For me, this is huge because I’ll go long stretches without looking at my freedom balance and then it’s magically there when I need it. Try this! It seriously is the best financial thing I’ve ever done.

  80. Katherine says...

    This has been a good reminder to be more mindful of my spending. I’m feeling extra guilty right now because of how much I’ve been spending on eating out, but I’m just entering my second trimester and eating the past few months has been difficult and a huge change of pace for me. Normally I cook our meals for the whole week, using a specific grocery budget and rarely wasted food. But, with pregnancy came sudden cravings and severe aversions to certain foods and smells, none of which were predictable – it changed daily! So I’m trying to be gentle and forgiving with myself for spending so much money on take out, but it’s been the only reliable way I can get myself nourished so I’m trying not to feel so badly about it. One good trade off has been my trips to Target (and subsequent impulse buys) have been greatly reduced because I’ve felt so sick and been stuck in bed.

    • We’re experiencing the exact same thing right now! Hoping I can be back to meal planning and cooking now that I’m deeper into the second trimester, to be healthier on our budget and my body.

    • Yes – be forgiving on yourself! I was in the exact same bought two years ago at this time :-).

      I spent the 3 months before my daughter’s birth (after the nausea FINALLY subsided) and made lots of freezer meals (we have a chest freezer which really helped this process). Amazingly, the meals kept us going for 3-4 months post birth. If you’re able to do this I’d highly recommend it!

  81. Kathryn says...

    I started using the ledger that comes with checks. I just keep it in my wallet, and when I use my debit card I write it down. I realized that half the time I left the store I couldn’t even remember how much I spent, because I would glance at the total and then run out. Writing it down makes you pause, and keeping a running balance makes you more in tune with what you have. It is a pain, but it works.

  82. Knn says...

    I recommend Trim! My friend started Trim a few years ago and I’ve been a user since the beginning (even worked for them for a little while for extra cash). They will cancel unwanted reoccurring subscriptions for you, advocate on your behalf for a lower bill (or to get rid of an overdraft fee), and overall, are useful for me for account updates and monthly reminders to pay bills via FB Messenger.

  83. Claire says...

    Excellent post and some great ideas in the comments, as usual. In our household we worked hard for a number of years to pay off debt, and one thing that made a big difference was working with our credit union. Although many experts advise against a debt consolidation loan, what the CU was able to offer us was a game changer. The loan came with simple interest rather than compound interest, so more of our money went to actually paying down the principle, and because the interest didn’t accrue so quickly we made much faster progress. In many ways we’ve found that our credit union saves us money, and is a much better financial partner than a commercial bank.

  84. jacki says...

    Totally guilty of the ostrich effect despite having every account monitoring tool in the world. I had the worst time saving money until I got Digit.. Two years in and I have a thriving rainy day fund, use it to save for large monthly bills, and have been able to take more vacations! And Clarity is a good one for tracking spending.

  85. jeannie says...

    I experienced the same thing a while ago when I realized I was spending $60/ month on coffee on my way to class!

  86. Stacy says...

    I’d love to hear more about people budgeting for *giving* too. Not sure if giving/philanthropy is only popular among my friend groups or in my geographic area, but it’s something I hope the majority of people are budgeting for!

    • Lyn says...

      Hi Stacy, We use You Need a Budget to track spending and set goals. We have a goal for charitable giving, and we add to it each month, or when we have extra money. It’s a nice way to think of it – it’s easier to put aside a bit each month rather than thinking of making a big donation all at once. When the amount has added up, off it goes to a nonprofit.

    • Andrea says...

      I tithe, which means trying to put 10% of my income to three sources: monthly support for my parish (helping pay for the parish expenses and the help we provide to the needy in my neighborhood–food pantry, soup kitchen, immigration help, homeless shelter, etc.), financial support to my family (most of my family is less well off and need periodic help), and then a charity I choose each month. It was helpful a few years ago to recognize that my family support was charity and to bucket it there. I also like being able to think about where I will make smaller donations each month. This helps me to be responsive to what the needs I see in any given time period.

    • M says...

      My parents save for charity donations through an auto deduct to a savings account with every paycheck. Then every December they sit down with some wine and decide which charities to focus on for that year.

    • Rebekah says...

      Fantastic point, Stacy. I work in the world of fundraising and many donors are beginning to utilize donor advised funds (DAFs) as a way to increase their giving. This does require an initial investment into an account, then you make grants to charities from that account. It’s a really interesting concept gaining a lot of traction.

    • I have automatic deductions taken straight from my checking account each month from three different charities. Two of them are $5 a month and one is $10. It’s not much, but at the end of the year, it does add up.

    • Leah says...

      My philosophy toward money is that I’m incredibly fortunate to have more than I need to cover my basic needs, and it’s my responsibility to assist those who can’t. I wholeheartedly agree with this observation by Warren Buffet:
      “I’ve had it so good in this world, you know. The odds were fifty-to-one against me being born in the United States in 1930. I won the lottery the day I emerged from the womb by being in the United States instead of in some other country where my chances would have been way different.”

      I’ve lived in Haiti, Kenya, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic, and I’ve visited many other developing countries. As I like to say- if you’re spraying water on your lawn instead of walking a few miles to collect water, you can consider yourself wealthy. How that plays out in our budget is that the first 10% of our salaries goes to our missions-driven church and a couple of philanthropic organizations that we support. And then we commit random acts of kindness throughout the year as the opportunities present themselves. I call those my “impulse purchases.” :)

  87. Abby Butler says...

    Capital One offers a savings account that you can subdivide into categories. This is how we save for long term goals (retirement) and short term goals (fun trips, etc!) and keep track of it all.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Thank you for the great tip, Abby! Looking into this now! xx

    • Hani says...

      I’m a huge fan of capitalone 360. They have a good rate for savings (.75% more than my brick&mortar bank) and you can set up automatic drafts into whatever savings accounts you want. Last year we set up a small weekly auto-draft into a travel savings account, never missing the money, and now we have almost enough for our trip to Switzerland!

  88. My brother created a great budget sheet that I live by. I’m able to track all of my expenses, fixed and flexible and it’s truly saved my finances. He offers financial budgeting so if you’re interested, please let me know!

  89. Elizabeth says...

    You can also set a lot of accounts up to send you a daily balance email. I did that a few years ago and it changed everything. Now I know around 10:15am every day I’ll get a little ping with my balance and I know exactly where I’m at!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      awesome tip, elizabeth! thank you!!!

  90. Alex says...

    At 36 I am finally feeling in a good place financially. I am so happy to be debt free for the first time in my life having paid off my student loans at the end of 2017 and now our car loan just this month. I feel so much lighter – like anything is possible.
    Here’s my motto for finances that seems to be working well for both short and long term.
    1. Figure out your monthly household budget for necessities: rent, bills, food.
    2. Save whatever you have leftover each month until you have 4x that in a regular ol’ savings account you can access immediately for emergencies (job loss, clients don’t pay on time, unforeseen medical bills, etc).
    Once your “Oh Shit” account is good:
    3. Whatever is left over each month (after your necessity budget) do the 30-30-40 rule. 30% goes to long term savings/retirement that we can’t touch in a mix of Roth IRA, IRA, and a 529 Plan for our daughter. 30% goes to midterm/big ticket savings(think new car, house down payment, dream vacation) which we invest in things like stocks that we can cash out relatively quickly if we want to make a purchase. 40% goes to doing whatever the F we want RIGHT NOW because you never know what is going to happen and what’s the point of squirreling everything away if you’re not enjoying your damn life. Both my husband and I own small businesses so some months our “after-the-bills-are-paid” money is ZERO, but some months its like “LETS GO DRIVE A FERRARI AND EAT LOBSTERS EVERY NIGHT!!”
    I am happy to see this blog addressing finances. It’s something we don’t talk about openly enough! Well done.

    • Soppu says...

      Thanks, this is rather helpful for me!

    • M says...

      I really wouldn’t feel comfortable putting a house downpayment into stocks. You just never know what’s going to happen! I have a lot of money in stocks, but our house downpayment is in Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund. The fund literally doesn’t go down so it’s a good place to stash shorter-term cash.

    • Caitlyn says...

      Thanks, Alex, this is really helpful as my husband and I are both small business owners too.

  91. Donna says...

    Worry Free Money is the best personal finance book I’ve read in a while. Written by a Canadian but the basic principles will still apply to all readers.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      excited to check it out, donna! thank you!!!

  92. ANON says...

    Best thing I did for my finances was to get out of student loan default. It had plagued my every moment for years–awake and asleep–but I was too paralyzed with fear to confront it.

    I finally was forced to confront it and got out of default by working with the collections agency on 9 months of $800 payments each. I then moved heaven and earth to make my loan payments PLUS each month (all money that wasn’t used elsewhere was thrown at the loans). I am on target to be completely free of my $72K loans by June 2018, just shy of 4 years of targeted payments. So painful, yet so necessary.

    I am going to Paris in the fall to celebrate.

  93. Stephanie says...

    Are you guys familiar with Rachel Cruze? She has lots of awesome content (books, articles, videos and a new online show) on how to manage money, but she’s also super down to earth and actually loves to spend money, so she’s relatable! It would be so cool to see y’all get an interview with her!

  94. Abesha1 says...

    Second paragraph: “disposable ” income.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Thank you!!!

  95. Emma says...

    My husband and I used to be so good about going to the grocery store just once a week. But somehow we got away from that and I couldn’t believe how much it was hurting our food budget. Every time I go to the store I pick up a few extra things I wasn’t planning on getting and by only going once a week that means only three extra items versus 9 if I go three times a week! We’re back at only going once a week and it’s a game changer for us!

    • This is so true.

  96. judy says...

    the Billfold ( https://www.thebillfold.com/ ) is a fun and educational financial blog with the same supportive commenters as Cup of Jo. The articles cover a wide realm of finances. and really fun to read. And what’s really funny is everyone thinks they spend too much money on food. Everyone!

  97. Jennifer says...

    I started Digit in January and am AMAZED at how much it has saved for me. Highly recommend.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s awesome to hear, jennifer!

  98. I love Mint, it really helps me give an overview of my finances.

    However, the biggest aid into saving money is this: I have automatically monthly transfers set-up for the day after my paycheck on the 15th. One of my savings account is at a credit union and it’s the only account I have there. Two advantages: out-of-sight and hard to get money from (for example, I have to make transfers online instead of being able to use a debit card). This is where I have three months of income saved up for emergencies and honestly I never think about sending it.

    My other trick: I have daily emails set up from my bank which lets me know my balance, and my credit cards send me weekly emails with my balances and spending habits.

    Can you tell I’m a little Type A?

  99. Gabrielle says...

    I co-own a small consulting business and we’re not structured to receive regular monthly paychecks but rather compensated on a per project basis. This means I don’t know exactly how much income I will receive in any given month. Stressful, I know, but it’s worked well so far. To those who use Mint and YNAB or other similar apps: are they conducive to folks who don’t have a regular payday?

    • Emma says...

      My partner’s sister, who is one of the most financially-savvy people I know, swears by YNAB and is a freelance graphic designer (her income also varies by project). I looked into it and YNAB seems better than Mint, which I tried for a bit, but I didn’t want to pay for it–since one of the biggest ways I save money is through not subscribing to anything if I can help it.

    • sonja says...

      we have a small business that also gets paid irregularly (large and small contracts). I picked YNAB because it works so great with that kind of income – we’ve been using it for over 3 years! :)

    • Kerry says...

      I’m a dedicated YNAB user; have been for about 5 years. I’ve used it working full time, part time (known paychecks) and freelancing (estimated/unknown paychecks). Prior to YNAB I used Mint. The easiest way to describe the differences between the two are: Mint uses spending from the past and generates trends; so you are looking back to plan for the future. YNAB you use the money you have now to plan for the future–though over time you have the ability to look at trends and make adjustments. For me, that look towards the future was a game-changer in terms of managing my finances. The yearly fee has more than payed for itself (for me). Highly recommended!

    • Em says...

      Thanks for chiming in for the irregular paycheck crowd. Every time I read or hear something about budgeting, it all starts the same way: take your known quantity and divide it in these subcategories by these percentages. And I’m dumbfounded like “ummm… *known* quantity”? Hahah

  100. Alex says...

    My bank offers most of the online services that I’ve seen discussed here, and I feel safer dealing with them than downloading apps. One way I budget is that I don’t let my phone have any money.
    Also, I spreadsheet my monthly expenses to make sure I’m agreeing with my bank about how much money I have. And an Amazon credit card for small purchases (books, etc.) has actually SAVED me money.

  101. Andrea says...

    Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University changed my financial life. My husband and I took the course (it’s a multiple week evening course, so even that was a commitment) at a time when we had to scrape together the $100 course fee. In the years since then, we’ve paid off almost all of our debt and have saved a substantial emergency fund. The program is broken down into 7 baby steps, which makes it seem so much more manageable. When we started the program, we were both making tiny amounts of money and it really shaped what we did with our dollars. The program has some religious undertones, but my husband isn’t particularly religious and he’s practically Dave Ramsey’s biggest fan now, so it really isn’t overwhelming.

    • Sia says...

      I echo this one! A few years ago, I partnered with an amazing man…with a crippling amount of student loan debt, debt that he had essentially resigned to never paying off (until he met me!). With FPU and now religiously using the app YNAB, we’re out of debt, completely in control of our finances, and saving for long-term housing and have gone on a few vacations that we’ve paid *cash* for. FPU is especially good at facilitating those hard yet important conversations. YNAB/monthly budgeting helps me remember that we can afford x or y–because we’ve budgeted for it.

    • Liz says...

      Ditto! I swear by the app his team made, EveryDollar, too. When you’re on that system your budget and however you track your budget are the only items you manage daily.

  102. Caitlin says...

    A friend recommended the book “Get A Financial Life,” which I found extremely helpful, especially for understanding different options for savings and investments (which I was honestly totally overwhelmed by before reading!). It is a book I still reference regularly when making financial decisions!

    Also, as my and my husband’s earnings have increased, we prioritize savings before making any other changes to our budget. That has allowed us to set aside a significant amount of money without feeling like we are significantly cutting back in our lifestyle.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that book! it was so helpful to get a lay of the land, when it comes to financial health, investing, what various terms mean, etc.

  103. MK says...

    We recently have gotten a firmer grip on our finances and are abiding by a budget, and I’m surprised it doesn’t feel as empowering and freeing as I thought it would. (Freeing meaning, I won’t feel bad about spending this money as long as it’s been budgeted.)
    Mostly I’m just sad about my meager salary and when I look at things like how much we will have set aside for a down payment on a house by the end of the year, I’m like- woah, that is not much.
    What gives here? Does budgeting actually feel GOOD to anyone? Do the wins come later on and then I’ll feel awesome?

    • Kate says...

      I totally agree, MK — I don’t feel like I have a lot to trim, so that is frustrating. I try to look at it as exerting some control and choice over my finances. Also, if you’re within range of a down payment, that’s really fantastic!

    • Anne says...

      Budgeting does feel good to me, but the wins came a little later on. Seeing my accounts grow over time, like on a six-month scale, is a really awesome feeling. And then when I have a big one-time expense, like a car repair, and I don’t have to stress because I already have money set aside for it, that’s also really awesome.

      Sometimes budgeting can suck, but it’s also a window into reality. I know this is way easier said than done, but if your salary isn’t supporting your goals, maybe it’s time for a brainstorm about revising your goals, or looking into a side hustle, or figuring out if there’s a different career or role you could work towards. Sorry, I know that’s tough love

    • Julie says...

      I hear you! There are a lot of commenters here singing the praises of YNAB (You Need a Budget), and while I’m not sure budgeting will ever feel “good” to me, that book did expand how I think of money. The biggest light bulb was advice to put money toward what will have the heaviest EMOTIONAL impact (whether that’s debt pay-off at all costs or saving up for family vacations) — not something I had seen in any other financial tools. I don’t use the app or website, which you can purchase and other commenters are talking about. The value of it to me was the mental change. Good luck!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s a really compelling point, julie. thanks for sharing.

    • I think it’s important to realize that you can be doing everything right, all the stuff financial experts recommend, and still feel like you’re not getting anywhere. Wages have not increased properly in proportion to cost in ages! Housing should be about 30%, but most of us are paying a way higher percentage. This makes it much harder to devote money to savings and trying to get ahead.

    • Leanne says...

      To be honest, the #1 thing I’ve done for my finances is invest.

      We budget and watch our spendings and generally live within (even below!) our means, but if we hadn’t had nice returns on some of our investments, we’d be in a totally different financial spot. I now think of budgeting and saving as our “defense”, and investing as our “offense”.

      In my experience, budgeting doesn’t feel good. It feels kind of lame and tedious. Even watching your savings grow feels a little, err, slow. We budgeted and saved for years before we were in a position to see any returns on our investments.

      But finally seeing those savings start to work for you? That feels REALLY good. ;) So keep at it!

  104. Kirsten says...

    YNAB never worked for me–I set up my own excel spreadsheet where I write down every expense/income we have and feed that into a budget I’ve written up with negotiable and non-negotiable expenses. But doing this work every week has been phenomenal for our family finances. Two things have been most helpful:
    1. Making sure my husband and I do pretty much all of our spending on one credit card that we pay off each month–MUCH easier to track.
    2. Set up auto-savings! We’ve set up money that goes out on payday to different savings accounts and IRAs and we’ve really been able to build that up. Can’t spend that cash on masks if it isn’t in your account!

  105. Carrie says...

    With something like 95% of my elective spending happening via Amazon, probably the best thing I could do for my finances would be to cancel my prime….but I can’t get myself to do it!

    • Sarah says...

      I cut prime out of my life last year. It was SO hard (I have two small kids), but worth it. You can do it!

    • Sharyn says...

      Ha! So true.

    • MJay says...

      me too!

    • Hope says...

      I split Prime with a friend (she just forwards me my order confirmation emails). $45 is way more manageable for me!

    • Sarah says...

      Ha! Same here. I can’t bring myself to pull the plug on my Prime account either, but reading this thread inspired me to download a website-blocking app (Focus) that blocks Amazon for 23 hours a day! Now if I want to buy something on Amazon I have to do it between 4:00-5:00pm (and hopefully during the wait, I’ll realize I don’t need it after all). I also deleted the Amazon app from my phone and set up my iPhone preferences to block Amazon.com. We’ll see if it works!

  106. Anna says...

    I follow the balanced money formula – 50% needs, 30% wants and 20% savings. I have separate accounts for each category. The 20% savings is deducted automatically from my pay each month and I play with the exact divide between needs and wants each month. The 30% wants includes items like travel so I’m not dipping into the savings category for that. I just could not handle the idea of tracking every coffee I purchase and with this formula all I have to do is look at my bank accounts to see whether I can afford a splurge lipstick or not. It’s so empowering.

  107. Colleen says...

    Download your grocery store’s app where you can ‘clip’ coupons. Always keep your receipt until the transaction is posted. Know when your CC billing cycle closes, so you can payoff purchases before interest is billed. Consolidate student loans (wish I would’ve done it sooner- it really isn’t difficult). Don’t buy anything full-priced if it can wait, it’ll be marked down by at least 20% within two months. Skip a night of drinks and go on a walk instead, a good friend will understand the importance of trying to save. I don’t like budgeting apps, but I LOVE looking at my excel sheet…especially when I see money rolling over from the month before :)

  108. Kara says...

    YNAB! Total game changer. It does the work for you—you’ll never be combing through past bank statements because you’re accounting for every purchase in real time. I’m 34 and finally feel like I have a handle on our family finances.

    • Sydnie says...

      I also love YNAB!! It’s awesome!!

  109. Sarah says...

    The best thing I did for my finances is switch to a cash-based budget. Every payday, I get to withdraw a nice big wad of cash and then sort it neatly into envelopes. It’s a ritual I’ve come to really enjoy. My husband and I struggled to stick to a budget for years, and now we’re doing really well.

  110. I set myself a monthly budget for some of my joy items, like beauty. Knowing I have x to spend a month keeps me in check and also allows me to make guilt free purchases. xAllie

  111. My dad got me a credit card when I was 18 and told me he would cut it up if I didn’t pay the balance every month. He also taught me to balance my checkbook when I got my first waitressing job. I kept up those habits – I’m 43 now – and have never lived paycheck to paycheck even when I was earning peanuts in my 20s. I hope to teach my kids those same skills – to live within their means and keep track of the money they DO have.

    My husband and I don’t have a budget, but we do track our expenses on paper and find that really helps us to be deliberate about what we’re using our money for.

  112. I’ve been using Mint for a few years now and it’s been helpful to have a dashboard where all of my financial information is available to see at a glance. It forces me to be honest with myself about where my money is going. Turns out I was spending a lot on clothing and none if it was all that great. I’m using this month to take a break from any non-essential spending (especially clothing/makeup/etc.) to be more considerate of my purchases.
    One of the best things I’ve done for myself is to automate savings. I have different accounts through CapitalOne 360 for things like emergency, travel, and “oh crap” (parking ticket, cracked cell phone, that sort of thing). I’m unfortunately going to owe money to Uncle Sam this year (I didn’t do my withholdings correctly when I changed jobs) and while it’s a serious bummer to pay out of pocket, at least I have some money set aside to do it.
    One very important thing is do whatever you can to start investing in retirement. I know, you’re young, it seems so far off, and you don’t have much money–but what you do have is time. Compounding interest takes the little bit of money you have and turns it into a lot more! I use the Acorns app (rounds up purchases and invests for me). If you’re intimidated by investing, and I know I am, there are lots of automated things like Acorns or Wealthfront. $5 a week is enough to make a real difference long term.

  113. Love this!!! Loving hearing about the apps, both ones you post about and ones readers have posted in the comments. Talking about finances is so important, it always makes my day when a financial planning post comes up! <3

  114. I can’t stop raving about the app You Need a Budget. I like it so much better than Mint. It makes me feel so in control when it comes to money and helps my husband and I communicate about money. They have a simple framework: Budget money as it comes in, live your life, adjust your budget. Their emails are amazing and the energy of the company as a whole is so empowering. It’s a little overwhelming at first to set up, but they have amazing workshops and videos online and once you get it, you’ll be hooked!

    • Alycia says...

      YNAB is the BEST! I agree it can be overwhelming in the beginning, but once you start, it’s almost like a game. It changed my life for the better.

    • Anne says...

      YNABYNABYNABYNABYNAB!!!

      It’s so much more flexible and realistic than Mint. You definitely have to commit to the system, but I feel so in control of my finances now. I’m happy to pay the monthly fee because I know it saves me hundreds of dollars worth of stress!

    • sarah says...

      I second this – You said this so much better than i could have… YNAB is the best budgeting tool i have ever used, and the only one i have ever actually stuck with. it takes me a minute or two each day and we actually have a budget that works! i love it!

    • EJK says...

      YES. Another vote for YNAB. No other app compares — Mint sucks in comparison! It never worked for me, but after just two months of YNAB I have totally changed my spending habits for the better. Now I know where all my money is going, and I’m choosing to invest in things I care about, rather than random, forgettable purchases that I can avoid. You need something that connects your long-term spending and saving goals with day-to-day purchases. (Wirecutter recommends it as the best budgeting app too.) I have totally changed my spending habits after just two months of using it.

  115. Kate says...

    YNAB FOR LIFE

  116. K says...

    When I was in college I quickly learned that I needed (or wanted) unlimited texting. I had to convince my dad that the switch made sense budget-wise. So, I took our phone bill and highlighted areas of question. We took it to Verizon and I grilled the service rep on what some of the charges meant. It turns out my grandparents, who were on the family plan and barely knew how to use the phone, had unknowingly downloaded apps that had a monthly fee and we had a family fax number – I know, a what? Anyway, I walked out with unlimited texting and a LOWER monthly bill.

    • I love this story.

  117. Caitlin Kunzle says...

    When I started making REAL money (ie: I could afford more than ramen noodles) I set up a reoccurring automatic transfer from my checking account to my savings account on payday. I started low with $50-100 and every time I got a raise, I upped the transfer amount. Over time, its really helped my savings account grow without even thinking about it!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      LOVE that tip, caitlin.

  118. Becca says...

    YES! was coming to post about YNAB. I was raised to be very anxious about money and not given tools to understand how to handle it responsibly, and YNAB has transformed my relationship with money. It has also:

    – helped me pay off my student loans in under 2 years
    – helped me save for things big and small in advance (there is nothing better than paying for everything for a vacation and knowing it came out of a special fund for just that purchase – same for haircuts, home decor, new clothes, upgrading my cell phone, paying my dog’s vet bills, you name it)
    – made money totally stress-free, even while my husband and I don’t bring in a ton of cash in an expensive city. It even showed me that we can afford to live here with kids, if we choose to in a few years!

    I’m a true believer.

  119. The biggest change I made in my finances was separating my bank accounts for three distinct purposes: savings, billing, and spending. Every payday, I calculate the bills I need to pay between now and the next payday, and leave exactly that amount in the billing account, and divide whatever is leftover into savings and spending. It has made a HUGE difference in how I keep track of my finances, I’m never worried about whether I’ve accidentally overspent and won’t have enough money in the account to cover a pending bill. I also use an old-fashioned day planner to keep track of my billing and pay schedule, and to anticipate my needs several weeks/months in advance. I can’t say I have it completely figured out, but ever since I started doing this, my financial life has done a 180. It also helped me figure out what subscriptions I can afford and what I can’t. Netflix? Yes. Stitchfix? No. I’m not scared of looking at my accounts as often.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Such an awesome tip, Bethany! Thank you for sharing this!!!

    • eliza says...

      this is a great tip!!! thanks

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s so smart!

    • Shannon says...

      I do something similar and it’s a total game changer! No more worrying about a large bill causing an overdraft or my groceries taking a bite out of my car payment!

  120. Katie says...

    A few years ago when saving for a house I combed through like 3 months of statements to see trends and establish a budget. I still track it on a spreadsheet out of habit and it’s nice to know where we stand each month of whats going out vs coming in…it really helps me keep a handle on our “entertainment” expenses which can easily add up. I also meal plan which really helps with keeping everything in check.

  121. Meg says...

    I love Digit!

  122. C says...

    My husband and I decided to try a year of no shopping after reading the Ann Patchett article about it. We are doing quarters and reevaluating every three months so it feels less daunting. We have exceptions—vacation expenses, stuff for the baby— but it’s made me realize how much I was buying impulsively and how little I actually need and how a desire for something fades pretty quickly when I don’t give in to the impulse to buy it right away. It’s been such an informative experiment and I really think it’s changed my habits for the long run. I consider my purchases more fully and take stock of what I already have and how much I really want something vs how much I just want it right now.

    • melissa says...

      I was also moved by Ann Patchett’s piece and have been working on being more mindful when it comes to purchases. It’s a work in progress but feels like a game changer when it comes to spending.

  123. I’ve tried Mint, and I’ve tried YNAB, but, honestly, the best thing that’s worked for me is a good, old-fashioned spreadsheet. I’m very visual, so having everything spelled out in front of me was a life-changer, as silly and common sense as that sounds.

    I have all of my expenses (mortgage, insurance, student loan payments, etc.) listed on the right side, and then each month is broken down into columns of my paychecks and my husband’s paychecks in the order they arrive. I input all the expense amounts into the columns based on their due date, then total each column at the bottom and subtract that from the overall paycheck amount to show what’s left (if any).

    Besides that, direct deposit for my savings account was another turning point for my finances, and committing to paying off our student loans ASAP was another. To me, debt means fewer choices in life, and I want more choices.

    Also, more finance posts, please! This is great :)

    • Yeah, my husband and I recently decided we weren’t going to do Mint or YNAB, but just do everything on paper :) For me, this is partly bc we have kids and I want to save the screens for the things that can only be done on screens. Also partly bc it seems like everyday another hacking or breech of personal information comes across the news, so paper is looking much safer right now!

  124. This is a really great idea!! I’m one of those people who NEVER checks my bank account.. oops..

    Kim

  125. E. says...

    Another enthusiastic vote for YNAB. I’ve been using it with my husband for 5+ years and it makes such a difference in how we look at money. For me, it removes a lot of the emotional weight of spending–I don’t feel bad or guilty about spending because I planned for it in the same way I plan for savings goals.

    And, the app is really easy to adjust on the fly: Oops, I spent too much on groceries this month, looks like I’ve got to cover my overspending with my restaurant budget category. Done. Move right along.

  126. Jen says...

    I wish someone would have told me this when I was in my 20s.
    – Set a financial goal.
    – Max out your 401K. Best advice my boss gave me when I was 22.
    – Track your spending for 3 months. You will learn about your spending habits.
    – Set up a separate savings account and set an auto-deposit every month. If you don’t see it, you won’t spend it.
    – If your income keeps growing, do not change your lifestyle/spending habits. This has been key for me in saving up for a down payment for my first home.
    – And learn about compounding interest. In fact, search for a compounding interest calculator. Play around with it. The earlier you save, the more money it’ll make it in the long run.

  127. Amy says...

    I am 34 (I rent, live with with a significant other, loads of student debt), and I find this conversation so helpful. Over time I’ve gotten better about budgeting, but honestly, I could be doing so much better. Every now and then I need a reset, too, because I let my spending go a little wild.

    Thanks for the post.

  128. Sarah says...

    So many great tips here! Food is a big expense for me too. I had a surprise pregnancy in the middle of my engagement. At this point, I had raked up credit card debt too. When I developed high blood pressure, my doctor told me to eliminate restaurant food. Cooking at home was the best advice for my financial and physical health! All of a sudden my budget got so much easier to manage. Even in my tiny Toronto condo, I started buying frozen fruits and meats in bulk. I made a list of easy recipes so I never wondered what to make for dinner. A year after and my husband and I have the down payment on our home ready to go.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Yes, yes, yes, Sarah! Totally agreed with this. Food expenses add up so quickly! Love that you have a list of easy recipes to make at home. Inspired to do the same :)

  129. Caitlyn says...

    YNAB changed my life. Also, I use Qapital and Clarity Money often — I am not a saver and the set it and forget it rule of saving a certain amount of money per week has been really eye-opening and I found money that I didn’t know I could save.

    Also, I’m competitive, so I set up rules with Qapital and IFTTT and I reward myself for things that I want to do: bring lunch from home? $5 in savings. Hit my step total for the day? $5 to savings. It really adds up.

  130. Katie says...

    my husband and i use Mint to track our spending and budget and it has worked well! we have his grad school loans, our mortgage, and our assets entered in and it is SO rewarding to see our net worth slowly tick up each month! when we started we were new grads and below sea level. we’ve been married nearly 7 years and i still remember when our net worth finally clicked over into the black–such a happy day!

  131. Allison says...

    If you’re new to being financially literate, the YouTube channel The Financial Diet is great.

    The single most helpful thing I’ve ever done is track every purchase for a couple years. Having to record each purchase in a rough category and check spending per category each month is key to understanding how you can improve your habits. I am not quite as detailed now, but I still review my spending regularly.

  132. Chrissy Shea says...

    My husband and I use an app called “Good Budget” to manually log ALL of our purchases outside of static monthly bills like utilities. We have an “envelope” for each budget line and it tells us how many days ahead/behind we are given how much has been spent. Every day-to-day expense is on one credit card then paid off each month. Someone once told me this is like Dave Ramsey, but we have never actually participated in his method so I’m not sure. Sounds extreme, but it’s 100% habit now, and we paid off 65k in student loan debt + my car in 32 months! For me, the toughest thing about “budget boot camp” (as I lovingly named it) was just facing the things I was spending $ on. Having to manually log an impulse buy really gave me valuable awareness and freedom, and defining the limit for each envelope really makes it feel like I CAN’T spend over that amount.

  133. Jess says...

    YNAB. YNAB. YNAB. (You Need A Budget)

    Yes, you do! This software is the absolute best. It honestly transformed our finances, and we’ve been using it for over three years now. YNAB talks about the four “rules” of personal finance:

    1. Give every dollar a “job”
    2. Save for a rainy day
    3. Roll with the punches
    4. Live on last months’ income

    It’s a new way of thinking about money, and it’s really powerful. I know I sound like a commercial, but I sing YNAB’s praises to everyone :)

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Wow, thank you for sharing, Jess! Going to check it out tonight. xx

    • Michelle says...

      hear hear! I posted my emotional testimonial below. :)

    • Brigid says...

      Please tell me that YNAB gets easier to understand after a few months of using it? I have been a Mint user for a few years, but decided to try YNAB with a free 3-month subscription. It honestly makes me question my intelligence every time I log in, ha! I have found it so unintuitive, but would really like to use it, as all I hear are great things. I’m hoping it just takes a little getting used to…

    • Johanna says...

      AMEN.

      I put off getting it for so long (it costs money! Mint is free!) but it has more than earned back what we pay for the subscription. It really works so much better I’m kicking myself for not signing up sooner.

    • Johanna says...

      Brigid – have you done any of their tutorials? I was confused at first but found those very helpful for understanding the system.

    • Brigid says...

      Thanks, Johanna! I have watched a number of the videos and read articles, but I probably should just bite the bullet and sign up for their classes :) I’m sure something will make it all click. it just feels overwhelming to sign in at this point!

    • shashi says...

      YNAB!!!!!

    • Brooke says...

      I’ve been using YNAB for 3 months now (thanks to a COJ reader comment) and it has 100% changed my life / finances. I used to live paycheck to paycheck and was scared to look at my account numbers. I now feel so much more secure, confident, and I’m saving WAY MORE than I thought I could.

      I’m still learning as I go and get confused from time to time. I google questions and find answers within threads of fellow YNAB users!

      Last thing, thanks to another COJ reader comment, I started to listen to Dave Ramsey’s podcast and it’s been AWESOME. He’s designed a simple structure to help people save, pay off debt, invest, and give. I’m soooo inspired by the people who call in and have learned a ton from his advice.
      Thank you COJ readers for all your tips and help!!

  134. Denise says...

    Along the same lines, I still keep a checkbook balance even though I rarely use checks anymore. I know I can find this info online but something about saving my receipts and writing it in my balance book makes it solid for me. I know I just spent $9.20 at starbucks for breakfast so I also know I can’t afford to do it daily. It definitely helps to keep track daily.

    • This! I bought a small finance tracker notebook on Etsy and write down every. single. thing. I spend money on. It has had the effect of pre-shaming me when I feel like shipping out my debit card to buy something useless (a hot tea I could easily make at home, another tchotchke for my desk, etc.) and makes me think: “Do I really want to write this down?” It’s a small habit but it’s wildly changed my spending habits! Plus it’s giving my brain a workout doing manual addition/subtraction :)

  135. Olivia says...

    To add to this great post – read your paycheck breakdown each month!!!

    A co-worker of mine assumed she was contributing to her 401K (she thought she’d filled out that paperwork on her first day of work), but it turns out, it was never set up. She hadn’t read any of her paycheck statements and found out FIVE YEARS into her job – when she was looking into her finances to buy a home – that she hadn’t been contributing to her 401K. She was a wreck about it (and admittedly embarrassed) – especially when she calculated how much she would have saved in the future.

    It can be scary to look at your bank and paycheck statements, but it’s so important to stay accountable!

    • celeste says...

      Wow!!

    • Leanne says...

      That is my nightmare, but I’m sure she’s not the only person who’s made that mistake.

  136. Nina says...

    Honestly, I’m shocked by how many people I know who never even get a receipt. For years I’ve kept a notebook (pick the size) to balance my checkbook/spending – yes even cash I track. I keep my receipts until they are entered (I now take picture of them on an app and earn Amazon credit – receipt hog). I keep envelopes for those that are deductible- buy 5 small Manila at beginning of year (child care, work, medical, house, car are all write offs) and keep in book for tax time. Plus, I write on my calendar when each bill is due and how much – so I pay IT and don’t spend the paychecks on whatever. I’m frugal and don’t splurge on much – try to get the best bargains I can for almost everything. But keeping track helps. Oh I also stick cash aside – if I get paid every 2 weeks I put at least $40 for the 2nd week quick grocery runs that inevitably happen.

    • Alli says...

      I get paid every 2 weeks as well and usually budget for our food per each pay cycle (2 weeks), but I love the idea of separately putting aside $40 for the 2nd week grocery runs because they really do inevitably happen!

      CoJ – loving the finance posts! It’s something more women need to be comfortable talking about, learning, empowering. Slowly my group of girlfriends are starting to discuss more. We’re in our 30s now and starting to have families etc, and we’ve discussed all the dirty details of our lives since university in our early 20s, notably except finances. Finally starting to talk about it feels like a whole new level of our friendships, which I didn’t even know was possible! (After you’re there when a friend delivers it feels like you’re really at the closest you’ll ever be!) It’s so supportive to know I’m not alone with student loans, guilt, pride when finally getting the hang of investing etc.

  137. Elaine Tran says...

    I may be biased but…I find that TRUEBILL helps tons in keeping me in line with monthly spendings. I’m not one to micromanage my finances, but have found that after using TRUEBILL, I’m always left with more money in my checking month over month, than I expected :)))

  138. Moo says...

    Before I pay my credit card bills, I def look at the line items to make sure they’re all mine and to see where all my money went, lol. Some months are better than others. I never charge more than I can pay off at the end of the month, but it is those *small* amounts that really add up. Damn Daiso.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Hahaha, yes, same here, Moo! It’s so surprising — even if you don’t charge more than you can pay off!

  139. Jenna says...

    Set up automatic withdrawals to a savings account on payday, preferably to an account you cant see! With the money out of your account, you wont be able to spend it on frivilous purchases. Start with more than you think you can afford too.

  140. Ro says...

    Oh man, I relate this all of this on a deep level. I spent last summer (before I was feeling tech-savvy?) writing all my purchases down in a little notebook. Even if I bought a pack of gum, it had to go in the notebook. I wanted to see exactly where my money went, since I was constantly coming up short at the end of the month.

    Now, I’m more sophisticated and have Mint (which I love) and am constantly astounded by how much money I spend on food. So that has become my number one change. I’m trying do one $50 grocery shopping trip on Sunday, and that’s my food till the next week. I buy very cheap lunches at work, and everything else I eat at home. It’s made a big difference.

    I’ve also stopped allowing myself to go hog wild with the shopping. In the past, I instantly saw an extra 50 or 100 bucks as fun money that must be spent IMMEDIATELY. Now, I’m finding more pleasure in keeping that money, and maybe only treating myself to something special once a month.

    I read somewhere (I think on “the financial diet) that it’s not a treat if you do it everyday; it’s a lifestyle. Also, shopping can feel so fun and freeing in the moment. But it’s MUCH more fun and freeing to have extra dough lying around, and not living paycheck to paycheck. It’s just about shifting your perspective and finding thrills in financial freedom, instead of purchases made on Amazon at 2am.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Thanks so much for this great comment, Ro. Yes to all of this. “It’s not a treat if you do it everyday; it’s a lifestyle.” Yes!!!

    • Ro says...

      It’s such a great quote! I’m trying to live by it :)

    • Elizabeth says...

      Oof that “it’s not a treat, it’s a lifestyle” line is hitting me where it hurts, by which I mean all my $12-14 lunches in midtown Manhattan… that are my “treats” to myself but happen uhhhh several times a week lately… OOF. Thank you for the gentle / necessary shake back to reality!

  141. YNAB (You Need A Budget) is another good app. A bit complicated and in-depth, but really good for SERIOUS money tracking and goal setting.

  142. sonja says...

    YNAB is the best! It absolutely prevents spending money you don’t have, and gives a true understanding of where my family’s finances are day to day. we’ve been using it for 3 years and will continue :). great for saving up incrementally for something bigger, as well as budgeting for one-off things like car repairs and new glasses.

  143. Cat says...

    Digit has totally changed my financial life! I started using it in January and I’ve already made a huge dent in my emergency fund. It also made me realize that I needed to maximize those funds once they’ve accumulated so it inspired my open a high yield savings account- which I probably would never have done if I didn’t have the discretionary funds digit has allowed me!

    • Cat says...

      AND I forgot to mention that a huge benefit to the app is that it texts you your bank balance every morning so you don’t even have to go out of your way to look it up.

  144. Di says...

    I sometimes wonder about the target audience for CoJ. We discuss parenting, miscarriages, and purchases revolving around a more mature audience… and suddenly discussing budgeting as if we’re just out of college. Surely, these two audiences aren’t one and the same? Me: we’re early 30s, 2 babies in, and budgeting to buy our home. No disrespect to Stella, but this article seems misplaced on CoJ.

    • Janet says...

      I’m not dissimilar to you Di but I am always interested how I could do my finances better! Especially as it’s the one thing my girl friends don’t really discuss.

    • Jen says...

      I disagree. While I am also late 30’s, a parent, business owner, homeowner, landlord…many of my peers (who are also all those things) are AWFUL with money. Being financially responsible isn’t always something that naturally occurs with age. I think it’s good information for any age.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much for your note! the majority of our readers are between 25 and 45 (with more women older and younger, as well), so we try to touch on all sorts of topics that will resonate with everyone, no matter what their different ages and life stages — from first dates to marriage; from living alone to raising children; from making friends to thoughts on aging — plus, lots of other posts on culture, travel, design, loss, friendship, career, books, TV, etc that aren’t related to age or life stages at all. we want as many people as possible to feel welcome and represented here. we’ll be doing many more finance posts in the future that hopefully will resonate with you. thank you again for your note, Di. xoxo

      (also, fwiw, i’m 39, married with two kids, and this advice is very relevant for me — tonight i’m going to comb through my credit card statements, see what’s going on, and make some changes. honestly, i’m nervous!:)

    • Moo says...

      I’m in my mid-30s with no kids, not married but in a serious relationship, own my home and love talking about money. I may not be in the same place as Stella or many readers but I love hearing from different perspectives. And I love hearing about new apps the young folks are using, lol.

    • Sarah says...

      What I love about this blog is the diversity of the audience – if you read the comments you’ll see that it’s often all ages. I’m in my early 30s too, but no children, no intention of buying a home, living in the most expensive city in the US and happy to see this article! Glad the blog speaks to people in such different positions in life!

    • Lolo says...

      Good for you. I’m 33, have a 3 year old, am married and find this helpful.

    • Di says...

      Thanks for the reply Jo. I do agree that budgeting is relevant at any stage of life, but it was more the simplistic tone of the article. Mindless spending and living paycheck to paycheck is a thing of the past for me thankfully. I would love some advice targeted to those of us already living quite prudently (as you have to when you’re a parent) in the money suck that in NYC.
      Didn’t realize you had 20 year olds reading CoJ- good for you!

    • Claire says...

      That’s the beauty of COJ :) It covers so many topics and even if I’m not interested in them now, I learn from them and may need them later. I’m in my late 20s and this article is perfect for me and not misplaced at all.

    • Michaela says...

      While I get where you’re coming from, one of the things I think is amazing is that the COJ community is very diverse — including financially. While its great you feel in control of your finances, for a variety of reasons many people do not. I don’t think it’s ever displaced to encourage more people to openly talk about and think about personal finance.

      In fact, a recent study showed less than half of American’s could cover a surprise $1,000 expense. Financial literacy is severly lackign in our educational system and our culture. Thanks COJ for addressing this topic!

      (reference for the stat I mentioned) https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/18/few-americans-have-enough-savings-to-cover-a-1000-emergency.html

    • Emily says...

      For real, I know plenty of people in their 30s (and older!), with kids and houses and cars who don’t manage their finances very well and live paycheck to paycheck and/or with credit card debt.

    • Hanna says...

      I don’t know. To me it seems like the target audience is young adult (immediately post-college) to mid-life (40s), though there’s some effort to touch on issues for older women as well. This article isn’t particularly useful to me (mid 30s, young kids, homeowner, etc.), but it falls under my view of the audience here. Also, when writing articles about financial issues it’s probably much easier to tackle basic budgeting in early adulthood (where there are some clear solutions) than to talk about the conundrum of conflicting savings goals for retirement and kids’ college educations (where there aren’t clear solutions, and there are bigger cumulative wealth disparities in the audience). Just my two cents. :-)

    • Katy says...

      We’re mid-30s, two kids, already bought a home, and I very much appreciate tips to help improve our finances. Some may work for me, some may not. And, knowing about any cool apps that can make life easier will never not be appreciated.

    • Emma says...

      I am 27 and I love this blog. None of the parenting posts resonate with me, but sometimes I find them interesting anyway, and if I don’t find a specific post interesting, I just skip it! Just because one post doesn’t directly speak to you, doesn’t mean it’s misplaced on the blog. Jeeeez.

    • Cait says...

      Not every article has to speak to everyone. Maybe think about those of us who are readers but aren’t married, don’t have children, don’t live in NYC, etc. I don’t have kids but was cracking up at the lines on parenting yesterday.

    • Maggie says...

      I am in my 30’s, a married professional with two kids and a home, and I am terrible at budgeting. For the years that we were two apartment-renting lawyers with no kids, we were spoiled and freewheeling and didn’t worry about it. So we’re learning now, and I find articles like this helpful!

    • Kate says...

      I’m thrilled to see CoJ taking on some financial posts! And I definitely agree with the other commenter who pointed out that a lot of people don’t have much in savings; also, most budgets could use a tune-up from time to time.
      I hope there are more of these posts to come, and I think it’s really great to encourage more discussion around money, especially in this largely female audience. I would love to see this go a little deeper. For example, I really read a reference to using an IRA to save for a house, and was completely floored, had never heard of this before. I’m also hearing more about online savings accounts, and have no idea where to start.
      Keep up the great work, CoJ!

    • Abby says...

      Huh, I’m 35, have a kid, and own a home and this was the first article I picked out of my feed. I’m sure there are recurring charges I could cut or small indulgences I could appreciate more or do without. Carry on, Stella!

    • Laura says...

      I’m 59 (yikes!), and I skip the posts that don’t apply to me (primarily those about young children). Outside of that, I find plenty here to interest me. While most of the comments on this post seem to be from much younger women, I find the Trim app to be appealing as a way to reduce costs as my husband and I approach retirement.

    • I’m 22 and have been reading COJ for 10 years (haha, seriously!). Naturally, the posts were not geared towards 15 year olds but now, as I’m in my early 20s and thinking ahead, I find more and more posts relevant to me. Even still, when Joanna was writing about having kids and getting married, I found the posts enjoyable to read as I could envision my life ahead of me. I don’t expect every post to relate to me; I do expect every post to offer a new idea to consider.

    • One of the things I most admire and appreciate about COJ is the range of content. As a single, 28 year old, posts like this are pertinent to me now. That said, I also enjoy posts about topics that aren’t as relevant to me immediately (like marriage or parenting advice) because, through the post itself or the hundreds of comments that follow, I feel like I’m getting advice from thousands upon thousands of “big sisters” that I don’t have in real life. (The comments on this post are fantastic because many of them are cluing me in on what others have learned and wish they had done sooner, which I now have the opportunity to learn from.) The COJ community is where I’ve learned about everything from easing my travel anxiety to hosting budget friendly dinners to vibrators – invaluable advice if you ask me ;) Thanks for continuing to build a beautifully multifaceted online community, Joanna, Stella and the whole COJ team!

    • Kate says...

      Started reading in my early 20s and now I’m in my early 30s and my only complaint would be that I didn’t read more articles like this ~10 years ago (lol when Jo was dating, blogging wasn’t a career, Instagram didn’t exist, and nobody had a smartphone). I’m saving for a big trip this summer and was doing really well the first 3 months of 2018 and have completely started slacking, so this article couldn’t be more well timed for me! (No kids, 1 dog, 1 cat, own my home FWIW and I still feel like the target audience!)

    • Charlotte K says...

      I am 60 and I love this site. I’m always learning things here, and I can always learn more about how to manage money well (and many other topics discussed here).

    • Laura says...

      I feel like this comment was disrespectful, disguised as polite. This blog offers different perspectives, and something for everyone.

    • Megan says...

      I disagree too… I’m in my 30s, married with 3 kids, homeowner, etc and my husband and I are still trying to figure out a way to have consistent (non emotional) conversations about money. Have heard SO MUCH about YNAB – all of these comments are getting me excited to jump on board!

    • Justine says...

      This thread has been the best. Such a timely and important conversation for where I am in my life right now (married, one child, another on the way, home owner and landlord). I adore this blog and community and this has been one of the best comments sections in recent memory.

    • Sarah says...

      Lol, me: mid-30s, 1 child, and I have been picking up good tips from the post and comments about budgeting! Was budgeting well for awhile but slacked off once having a kid and finding myself more tired and having less energy and free time to do so . Many of my friends in the same age range with 1-3 kids live without budgeting, and either living paycheck to paycheck or living with lots of credit card debt. Please keep up these budgeting posts! Sometimes I dont want to think about it, but know it’s good for me. After paying taxes this weekend, I realize I need to stop avoiding looking at my finances…sigh.

  145. Jenn says...

    I track “cash” spending the old fashioned way, in a spreadsheet. It is fascinating to see that my husband’s happy hour doesn’t break the bank, while my grocery store impulse buys blow the budget. Love personal finance and happy you are adding this content.

  146. C says...

    I started using YNAB (You Need a Budget) and LOVE it! It took a few months to get used to but is now really intuitive. I used to use Mint, which didn’t work for me because my projections of what I expected to earn and spend were far too optimistic and I’d always end up running out of money in my checking account. YNAB has you look at money you already have, and budget based on that. I think the most important change it’s made for me is that I no longer feel guilty about spending money since it’s easier to know if I can truly afford it or not.

    • Michelle says...

      Yes! I am part of YNAB’s notoriously vocal set of evangelists. It has changed how my husband and I think about money, and made our household finances transparent and stress free. Unlike a lot of software, YNAB is forward-looking (it’s not just tracking software that tells you where your money WENT) and flexible (it’s not a spending straightjacket that makes you constantly feel guilty). Those two differences change everything. I agree with C, above, that it takes a little while to get the hang of it, but it’s worth it because it’s so empowering.

    • Lisa says...

      More praise for YNAB! It’s the best, and lets me save for major things like retirement and a house downpayment on my meager graduate student stipend. It also made taxes a breeze this year, since I could easily pull up any work related travel, book purchases, and philanthropy.

  147. Shelby says...

    I use Personal Capital and LOVE it! Really helped me get over my fears of looking at my accounts and helped me understand where I’m spending.

  148. The best app for doing this on the phone is called Pocketguard. It replaced another discontinued similar app (Prosper) that I loved for doing just what you describe above: Pulling in credit card data and automatically helping me sort what I’ve spent into different buckets and categories. I can flag things for reimbursement, and set budgets in various areas.

    When Prosper shut down I tried nearly every similar app out there and this is the best replacement I found.

    • Hannah says...

      Totally agree! Pocket Guard is easy to use and much more simple than YNAB and Mint. And it makes it really easy to categorize Venmo transactions, which is clutch!

  149. Louisa says...

    We just did taxes, so we downloaded a year of expenses off of Mint to a spreadsheet and then sorted by vendor. I did this to easily pull off the utility bills for our home office but HOLY MOLY. It was easy to suddenly see each chunk – a year of coffee at my favorite spot; parking bills; library fines; thredup (seriously… it’s its own category). It was an eye-opener.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      so interesting and inspiring! i’m very scared to look at my own, to be honest!

    • Maryann says...

      I just did the same through my credit union and it was SOBERING.
      But I used the data to pull together a detailed look at what we are spending on food per month and that was pretty enlightening. I always thought our food budget is modest, but we spend about 17% of our net income on food. The national average is around 9-12%. I also figured out that my husband is the weak link when it came to spending $$ on groceries. All that session beer, good chocolate, and tortilla chips (all of which I happily eat!).

    • Kat says...

      I rushed and did this after reading your comment to see how much we eat at restaurants vs. how much I cook (I feel I am always cooking/grocery shopping) and that number was sobering for 2017…. ouch.

    • Emily says...

      Ha – I second ThredUp being its own category (i justify that it could’ve been worse if I bought retail!)

  150. Amber says...

    THANK YOU for sharing about finances on Cup of Jo!! This is a topic so many of us don’t know how to approach and have a hard time talking about, so hearing about tips and research and beneficial practices from a neutral yet loving source is so, so helpful.

    I’m going to pay more attention to my statements now, too! Thank you!