Money. It tears families apart, ruins marriages, and keeps people from pursuing their dreams. Money troubles inject unnecessary stress, anxiety, and arguments into our daily lives, which keeps us in perpetual discontent. We never seem to have enough, and, living paycheck to paycheck, we can’t ever get ahead.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
We—Joshua & Ryan—know first hand. The road to financial freedom was a long trek for both us. Even though we had prestigious six-figure careers, we struggled with money back then; and we weren’t financially free for a long time. In fact, it wasn’t until we walked away from those career’s (after devising a plan, of course) that we discovered how to get out of debt, how to eliminate unnecessary expenses, how to plan for our future, how to master our finances.
While we all need to make money to live—and there’s certainly nothing wrong with earning a great salary—taking control of your financial life involves much more than adjusting your income upward. It involves making repeated good decisions with the resources you have, changing your financial habits, and living deliberately. None of which is inherently easy—especially under the tyranny of today’s instant-gratification culture—but fortunately, regaining control of your finances is simple.
A few years ago, overwhelmed by money’s rapacious tug on our lives, the two of us decided to change; we decided to take back control of our finances and our lives. These are the five steps we took, and they are the same principles we use today to ensure that we’ll never again struggle with money.
Most of us have no idea where our money is going. We think we know, but we don’t really know. This is doubly true for those of us who are married or live with a significant other. Ergo, the first step toward financial freedom is establishing a written monthly budget. Note the three key words here: written, monthly, and budget.
A few guidelines:
Categories. Identify what’s truly necessary by identifying all of your monthly expenses based on the past six months, and then divide your expenses into three categories: Need, Want, Like. Write down every expense (food, housing, utilities, insurance, cars, gas, transportation, clothes, credit cards, phones, Internet, pets, entertainment, etc.); triple-check the list with your significant other or a friend; and then use your Need, Want, Like categories to prioritize and cut wherever you can. The stricter you are, the sooner you’ll be free.
Boundaries. Give every dollar a destination at the beginning of the month. By establishing these boundaries, you won’t worry about what you can and can’t purchase because money that wasn’t assigned at the beginning of the month can’t be spent mid-month.
Teamwork. Everyone in your household—even your children—must have a say in the written budget. This is the only way to get every person’s buy-in. Working together means taking from one category to fund another (e.g., extracting money from, say, your clothing budget to fund your entertainment budget) until each person is on the same page. Once everybody is on board—once everyone is committed to financial freedom—it is much easier to gain the traction you need.
Adjust. You’ll have some slip-ups along the way. That’s all right, it’s part of the process. At first, you and your family should scrutinize your written budget daily, and then eventually weekly, adjusting accordingly until your whole family is comfortable with your set monthly allocations. The first month is the most difficult, but by the third month you’ll curse yourself for wasting so much money during your budget-less days.
Safety. Shit happens, so it’s best to create a Safety Net savings account with $500–$1000 for emergencies. Now listen: do nottouch this money unless there is a true emergency (car repairs, medical bills, job loss, etc.). Your Safety Net will allow you to stay on budget even when life punches you in the face. Over time, once you’re out of debt (step 3 below), your Safety Net will grow to include several months of income. But for now, worry only about the first $500–$1000 to start, which you’ll want to keep in a separate Safety Net account to avoid temptation (more on that below).