One silver lining of the past year and a half was that Americans got more serious about their finances: 83 percent of people were spurred to create, revisit or adjust their financial plan, according to Northwestern Mutual’s 2021 Planning & Progress Study. That momentum shows no signs of slowing down, with 32 percent saying they have more financial discipline now, and a whopping 95 percent saying they expect their newfound habits to continue into the future.
And as life starts going back to normal, you may find that your everyday spending habits have shifted, possibly throwing your budget off track. If you want to keep your momentum going, here are four money habits that can help keep your household budget in check.
AUDIT YOUR EXPENSES PERIODICALLY
According to the survey, 45 percent of respondents want to continue keeping their spending and living expenses down. That was a lot easier during the pandemic, when costs around traveling, gym memberships and going out naturally went down. But as pre-pandemic activities resume, it's a good idea to reassess that you’re spending money on the things that matter most to you.
If you found you were perfectly happy with at-home workouts over a monthly gym membership, don’t rush to add the gym fees back into your budget. Or maybe what you used to spend on a subscription service your family doesn’t miss can be funneled into a home improvement project that's more important to everyone. One guideline to consider when looking at a household budget is to earmark 60 percent of your total take-home pay toward fixed expenses, 20 percent toward financial goals and 20 percent toward discretionary spending (i.e., “fun” money).
BE INTENTIONAL WITH YOUR SPENDING
Many of us have found creative ways to have fun this past year, whether it was a backyard gathering and picnics, taking long walks with friends or setting up a Zoom family reunion. Remember that spending a lot of money is not a requirement for connecting with others, so don’t feel guilty if you still want to keep a few inexpensive activities in the mix. Again, it’s all about what’s important to you, and being mindful about your spending can help make it easier to make decisions about your budget.
CHECK YOUR PROGRESS ON FINANCIAL GOALS
If you found yourself repurposing the money you didn’t spend last year toward financial goals like paying off debt faster or saving more for retirement, give yourself a big pat on the back. After you’ve assessed your recent spending, do you still have the extra money you can keep putting toward those goals? And if you do, are there any new goals you’ve been putting off that you can start to or continue to fund? If you don’t have the same level of cost savings you had last year, still aim to devote about 20 percent of your budget toward financial goals.
Also, remember that the next time you receive some extra funds, whether that be a work bonus or tax refund, consider the different ways you can use that money to your advantage. You could split it with some “fun” spending while also devoting some to staying on track with your financial goals.
SCHEDULE IMPORTANT FINANCIAL TASKS OR REMINDERS
One of the characteristics of a habit is that you do it on a regular basis, so similar to the way you schedule a medical checkup or auto tune-up, consider setting calendar reminders for any financial tasks you need to complete or any big bills that will come due. For instance, if there are bills you pay periodically, like quarterly taxes, putting a reminder on your calendar will help ensure you don’t get caught off guard by those costs. You can also schedule reminders for things like checking in on your spending or scheduling a tax appointment or meeting with a financial advisor to check in on your larger financial plan. If you see it on your calendar, chances are good those tasks won’t fall to the wayside.