The COVID-19 pandemic has had its low points. But there are some silver linings. One of which is the realisation that we can save money and curb our spending – way more than many of us thought to be possible.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog is my personal opinion and experience and is not legal or financial advice in any way! Also, just FYI, this post may contain affiliate links.
Prior to the pandemic, many of us female lawyers would spend frivolously on a monthly basis on things that, frankly, we don’t need.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made many of us realise what is important.
So the question “why is money important to me” can be answered not with reference to materialist things, but with reference to what represents our values and what is actually meaningful to us.
This is a perfect time to capitalise on the low-spending momentum and set a budget for the future.
Because, ultimately, financial success and security isn’t about how much we earn, it’s about how much we keep.
Why is budgeting important?
Making a budget is one of the single most important things that we can do to take control of our spending.
Without one we’d be financially lost.
And making a budget can actually be quite a fun thing to do (stay with me here…)
Yes, I do have secret love of spread sheets (which I know is a bit odd for a lawyer) but, putting that aside, creating a budget is a bit like de-cluttering your wardrobe of all your unwanted clothes.
It’s good for your psychological well-being!
How to create a budget
1. Do a financial appraisal
The first step is to establish what you have going in and going out. Download the Law Ladies Who Invest Income and Expenses Tracker and enter all income after tax and all of your expenses over the last 2 months.
This will lead to an honest conclusion about your financial behaviour.
Then use a Networth Calculator and enter all of your assets (such as cash in the back, equity in a house etc) and all of your liabilities (such as car loans, mortgages amounts etc).
Subtract your liabilities from your assets to figure out your net worth
This will give you a clear picture of where you are so that you can identify where you want to be.
2. Decide where you can cut the fat
Take an honest look over your list of expenses and figure out how you can cut the fat. Cancel all payments for things that you don’t use and redirect that amount – however small – to your savings account.
3. Simplify your finances
Try to manipulate your finances so that you commit:
- no more than 50% of your income towards essential expenditure (such as rent, transport, essential utilities and food);
- no more than 30% of your income towards variable or lifestyle expenses (such as Netflix subscriptions and eating out); and
- at least 20% of your income towards savings.
This may take some manipulating, but it’ll pay off in the long run. You might even find that you’re able to commit more than 20% to savings, which would be even better.
4. Set goals
Setting financial goals is essential for keeping you on track to achieve financial success.
Achieving your ultimate goal can be a long process, and may realistically be many years in the future. But you can keep yourself motivated by setting short term mini-goals.
These mini-goals will be your roadmap for achieving your ultimate financial goal.
Start by writing them down – be specific about exactly how much you need to have saved and by when.
To keep yourself motivated, also write down one way that you’ll reward yourself once you reach each mini-goal.
Keep the reward within reason and proportionate (you don’t want to reward yourself with a £1000 holiday for reaching a milestone of saving £100) but it’s important to celebrate your successes.
These small interim rewards will help you stay focused on your path to financial success and give you a taste for the sense of achievement you’ll face when you achieve your ultimate goal in the future.
Make sure you revisit and fine-tune your goals frequently. You can’t predict the future so it is important to keep readjust if necessary along the way but stay committed to your ultimate goal.
How to stick to a budget
You aren’t going to live in a cave and never treat yourself again – that would be unrealistic. But there are small changes that can cut costs. You’ll be amazed how these small changes can boost your finances.
1. Track your finances
Writing down your expenditure and keeping a track of it is the best way to get an honest appraisal of your financial behaviour.
Upload the Income and Expenses Tracker to your phone or use a money tracking app and record everything you spend your money on for 1 month (and I mean everything).
You’ll quickly see how those morning coffees add up and the cash could be better placed in your savings pot.
You can then start to adapt your behaviour (for example, if you find yourself spending money on coffee in the morning, take a different route to work so that you don’t pass the coffee shop).
2. Learn from Jamaican grandmothers
Jamaican grandmothers cook often and in large quantities, and freeze what they can. I often see female lawyers ordering breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Stop thinking of and shopping for individual recipes and start thinking about what you need in the house to ensure you are always well stocked enough to throw something together.
For example, a few herbs, tomato, garlic and onion can be thrown together with most things to muster up a tasty meal.
Also, NEVER go shopping while hungry.
3. Create a home that makes you feel good
As more of us are now working from home amidst this pandemic lockdown it’s easy to crave getting out of the house. But leaving the house is likely to mean spending more money.
Making a nice home environment can change your mentality about staying in the house and make it feel like more of a treat.
If it means making a one off investment in some nice garden or balcony furniture, some nice pillows or rearranging your bedroom to give yourself a “pamper corner” – do whatever will encourage you to stay home and avoid expensive nights out.
4. Leave it in your basket
Ever wondered why shops put impulse buy items right by the front counter? Shopping outlets and websites are designed to lure you in. Don’t give in to psychological manipulation.
The best way to avoid impulse buying and poor money decisions is to wait a day before doing so.
If you find yourself on ASOS, put whatever you want in your basket and then leave it in there for a day. If you are still considering it a day later, write down the pros and cons of buying it.
Then wait another day to reflect on those pros and cons – you’ll then be in a better position to decide whether you are making the purchase for reasons that are aligned with your values, or whether the decision to buy it was emotionally driven.
Compared to the happiness you’ll get from creating a secure financial future, that designer handbag isn’t really going to make you happy after a bad day.
This also requires a mentality shift: if you see a $500 handbag on a 50% sale, don’t immediately think that it’s a bargain – you won’t have saved $250, you’ll have spent $250!
5. Try a “no spend” week
Give yourself the challenge of not spending any money for a week. You’ll be surprised just how much you can save when you put your mind to it
Ask your partner or a friend or family member to join you in the challenge and turn it into a game for a bit of fun!
6. Be generous
Research tells us that people who give more, have more.
Being generous with your money and making it a priority to give to charities or help out other people can help you stay focused on your own goals and avoid poor money habits.
Giving money is also rewarding because you are showing yourself that you can afford to give – so whenever you do it, you’ll feel a sense of achievement that will keep you motivated.
People often think that budgeting restricts their sense of freedom. In reality it’s quite the opposite: being in control of your money provides more freedom in the long run.
Create a budget by first analysing your finances and identifying where you can cut costs and simplify your spending. Then make it easy for yourself to stick to the budget by making small changes that helps you avoid big spending.
There is no substitute for ACTION. So don’t reach financial success just by reading an article and then continuing as normal: it’s up to you to take action.