7 Simple Ways to Get Your Finances in Order (and Still Have a Life)
Avoid Tax-day Panic
When it comes to tax prep, Pamela Kornblatt, president of the accounting firm Tax Strategists, says that most of the stress relating to tax season isn’t actually tax-related. To avoid feeling overwhelmed when it’s time to file, she suggests uploading everything to an electronic folder in the cloud as forms arrive in your inbox throughout the year. “People file at the last minute without paying attention to what documents come into their pile,” which can lead to a frenzied search, Kornblatt says. But by keeping track of documents as soon as they arrive, “you’ll be in a much better position for tax time next year.”
Build A Buffer
Morgan Newman, financial adviser with the Newman Group at Morgan Stanley, has noticed that while most of her clients are disciplined about monthly recurring payments (like rent and utilities), people tend to get tripped up on what she calls “FOMO expenses”: dinners with friends, weekend travel, bridesmaid duties, etc. “I recommend women build in a buffer to their budget to account for unexpected splurges so that you can contribute to your IRA and buy that new weekend outfit,” Newman says.
Pay Yourself First
It’s important to automate your savings in a separate online account to keep your cash out of sight and out of mind, says Stephanie Genkin, CFP founder of My Financial Planner, a fee-only New York–registered investment adviser. “Most people make the mistake of paying themselves last, which usually means not at all. If you say you'll take whatever is left in your checking account at the end of the month to put into savings, you'll never really have much saved. Let's be real—if you see it in your checking account, you'll find a way to spend it.” Genkin recommends online banks, which are nearly all FDIC-insured, have no monthly fees, and offer better rates than most brick-and-mortar savings accounts.
Treat Credit Like Debit
We all know the dangers of getting too addicted to plastic, but Priya Malani, founding partner at Stash Wealth, a financial planning firm for H.E.N.R.Y.s (“High Earners, Not Rich Yet”), tells clients they don’t necessarily have to be afraid of using credit cards regularly. “As long as you use it as if it's just like a debit card—don't spend more than you can pay off every month—it's your best friend” to rack up rewards, she says. Malani also advises making biweekly (instead of monthly) payments to your credit card, since the more frequent payments will help boost your credit score.
When Career Passport founder Jill Ozovek was working in finance, she regularly took advantage of credit rewards but had to rethink that method a few years ago when she started her own coaching business. “Now I prefer to pay for whatever I can with a debit card or cash. Because there's a delay in when you pay versus when you pay the card off—and because the income isn't stable every month especially when you're first getting started—it can feel like credit-card Tetris trying to pay it off each month.”
Ask For More (but Do Your Research)
If you have financial goals you’re having trouble meeting, Alexandra Dickinson, founder of negotiation training and coaching company Ask For It, says the best solution is to negotiate for more money, rather than just trying to save. “If you’re going to ask for a raise, be ready to do some thorough research. You actually have to talk to people [in your industry] about how much they’re making,” she says, and not just check Glassdoor. “Talk about your evidence for your case, why you’ve done outstanding work this year, and even if you can’t talk about quantitative figures like sales, make a strong case about your value to the company.”
Just Say No
Alicia Lazarto, a trainer at the Financial Gym, a financial-services company that takes a fitness-inspired approach to managing money, tells clients that sometimes it’s better in the long run to bow out of things you can’t actually afford, like a bachelorette in Vegas or that thrice-weekly SoulCycle habit. “Remember, being frugal doesn't mean you're cheap,” Lazarto says. “It opens the doors for financial freedom and paves the way for meeting money goals.”