My single mom was a hero. This woman learned new skills at age 40 and started a new job.
Six months later, she was the CFO of her new company. This happened during the biggest economic crisis our country faced in the last 60 years.
She taught me to be smart with the money I have (and a ton of other things).
The rules my mom left for me are good with any budget for two reasons:
- You don’t want to stress over your personal budget.
- You want to start making smart choices for your future financial comfort. It will allow you to focus on learning instead of focusing on paying your debts. Both can be educational, only one of them is enjoyable.
To be smart with your money means to make smart choices on how to spend them. The rules below can help you with your choices:
- Rule 1: Pay your bills first. No exceptions
- Rule 2: Plan and re-plan your money per day
- Rule 3: Cook at home
- Rule 4: Take good care of your physical condition
- Rule 5: Brands are irrelevant for your confidence
- Rule 6: Don’t live on credits
- Rule 7: If you can buy it twice, buy it
Let’s look at each one of them individually, shall we?
Rule 1: Pay your bills first. No exceptions.
It seems like a no-brainer, right?
I know a few smart people who were not used to do this. It ended well for them, but they had a few months full of stress, self-doubt, and… unpleasant conversations with the people they owed to.
You don’t want this.
You want to pay your bills the minute you receive your paycheck.
These include rent or mortgage, electricity, internet, water supply, credits, etc.
Think about this money as “already spent.” They are not yours and not available for you to spend on other things.
As a rule of thumb, your bills should be around from a quarter to a half of your income. If you miss paying them for one month, the next, they are around a half or even your entire salary. Piling up bills is a vicious circle.
Worst case scenario might be to lose your home or normal conditions you need to be productive at work. Getting back on your feet on this slippery slope is hard. Not impossible, of course, but hard.
Do not accept the slightest chance to face it. Pay your bills the moment your salary arrives. No exceptions.
Rule 2: Plan and re-plan your money per day
Plan and re-plan?! I can hear you object: this might get depressing!
Don’t worry, I didn’t say stick to the plan at any cost, did I?
“Money per day” is a powerful tool for building a habit of making informed choices with your money.
The formula is simple:
The money you have today/The number of days until next paycheck.
Let’s say you make 3600 $ per month. It is 1st of June. Your bills are half of it, so you have 1800 $. 1800 $/30 days gives you 60 $ per day.
Now, imagine your partner calls. She tells you she nailed the job interview or received her long-awaited promotion, or closed the deal of her life.
This requires a celebration! Your choice is how to make her special day happier.
You might choose to take her on a 500$ date. You will be left with 1300 $, and this choice lets you have 43$ per day until your paycheck. You might decide to cook for her and buy 100$ bottle of wine. It means ~56 $ per day. Or, buy an online course she will need in her new position for 50 $. This makes it 58 $ per day for you, etc.
All choices are valid. Thinking about them gives you the chance to make the best choice. It is not always the most expensive one. There is even a bonus – it sparks your creativity and thoughtfulness.
Re-plan your money per day when your partner calls with happy news. Do it when you feel you “deserve” the new iPhone. Do it when you want to buy 25 books, 3 gaming keyboards, and 4 sets of Lego when you went to the mall to make an “adult” purchase.
I am so guilty of going for these. But, re-planning my money per day helped me make the next choices in these months to be smarter.
Rule 3: Cook at home
I know, I know, it might be annoying and time-consuming.
I, myself, am a terrible cook, and I hate cooking.
My mom was having none of it. She taught me to make eggs, beans stew, lentils stew, stuffed peppers, rice & chicken, and two types of soup.
Basic cooking skills let you enjoy an affordable and balanced menu of protein, carbs, and fat.
Now, I am far from being a nutrition expert. I am sure; however, expensive food – e.g., steaks and salmon, is not the only alternative for healthy nutrition.
Ordering food and restaurants can be damaging to your budget.
Fast food can be damaging to your health.
Fitness regimes can be devastating in terms of money.
Learn basic cooking skills – cook at home.
There is a high chance it is cheaper and healthier than any other alternative, especially if the money is tight.
This brings us to the next rule.
Rule 4: Take good care of your physical condition
Wait…. what?! The last thing I need is an expensive gym membership!
Bear with me. You can move – every single day. You don’t need to pay extra for it.
I’ve been doing sports my entire life. There was a time, where the only movement I could practice was walking and climbing stairs.
Moving is perfect for your budget in two aspects.
One: walking, biking, integrating any movement on your way to somewhere is cheaper than driving or taking a cab.
Two: it gives you confidence, energy and makes you look more credible at work.
You don’t want to be a fitness model or a slave of fashion standards. You want to be healthy.
I, for example, am far from skinny. I move every day.
Start small. If you take good care of your physical condition consistently, it will show sooner or later.
Your boss might think that if you can take care of yourself, you can take care of more responsibilities.
This bias is so wrong at so many levels. Sadly, it exists.
You can use it to be healthier, more confident, and grow quickly to better-paid positions.
Rule 5: Brands are irrelevant for your confidence.
Let’s say you cook at home and take good care of your physical condition.
These, done right, can do something amazing for your budget.
You might feel as confident in a T-shirt for 10$ as in a branded 100$ tee.
Branded clothes’ price has a lot more to do with a promise for your status than with production costs and the quality of the materials.
Knowing this will help you make smarter money choices.
I still remember what my mom told a shop assistant who was trying to sell a branded shirt.
She said: “Dear, I am grateful for your service. There is no way I am interested in a 200$ shirt, knowing it is made from cloth, which my mother used to sew bedsheets.”
My mom insisted that I think about the reasons behind brands’ prices.
You should, too. Think about the materials, production costs, rent of the store, level of service.
If you conclude the price is fair, this is your informed, smart choice.
If you buy a branded product just because the printed label promises a status, you need to search for a confidence boost elsewhere.
Brands are irrelevant to your confidence. Making smart, informed choices with your money is not.
Rule 6: Don’t live on credit
There are situations in which you need more money than you have.
Many credit institutions will want to help you in a regulated, legal way. They can offer credit cards, loans, payday loans, etc.
Be careful with the false safety “regulated and legal” provide.
You might get in another vicious circle.
The credit system is designed to make a profit.
Credit institutions, whatever they claim, don’t want to help you. They want to make a deal with you.
Help means you are not obliged to give something in return. A deal means that if you’re unable to meet your end, you will suffer the consequences in a regulated, legal way.
Make sure you have an excellent understanding of the deal you plan to enter.
Be critical; consult a specialist with no connections to the credit institution.
Take your time to research, even if you are desperate.
Don’t apply “general knowledge” or your family and friends’ “wisdom.”
All in all, don’t take credits and loans unless you absolutely must.
If you must, then be smart with your money – educate yourself, think, and don’t go for the “quick” solution.
Rule 7: If you can buy it twice, buy it
This rule is about splurges.
You are a human. You deserve to treat yourself from time to time. Your loved ones deserve to be spoiled from time to time.
Marketing experts know this. Their job is to tempt you to make splurges as often as possible.
Now, getting out of a book store with 10 books instead of 1 means one thing for your budget.
Going to the Apple store for a charger and exiting with the new iPhone, Mac, and two iPads means another.
You can try to restrain yourself from splurges, but this is like a rigorous diet.
Sooner or later, you will enter into “emotional shopping” and make a big hole in your budget.
Instead, every time you feel like, “I want THIS, shut up and take my money!”, ask yourself: “Can I buy THIS a second time, without a single worry?”
If the answer is yes, this is a smart choice and a smart way to treat yourself.
If the answer is no, then ask yourself the following questions:
- Why exactly do I need THIS now?
- Is it worth buying and never using THIS because I will be afraid to damage it?
- Will I feel guilty about spending so much on THIS?
There is a chance you will re-think. There is a chance you want to serve your impulse anyway.
The point is it will be your choice. You will own your impulse instead of giving in to intelligent marketing.
Whatever your judgment, I won’t judge you. It’s your money.
My mom’s rules didn’t make me a billionaire. They removed the financial leverage any employer, spouse or creditor would have over me. They made me truly independent.
In a world where everyone wants you to spend more, good habits for your personal budget are one of the few things that pay you back big time.
Don’t aim to be rich, aim to be independent. It is a good place to be – for your productivity, your mental health, and your life in general.