This article is by Kassondra Cloos, an Earnest client and freelance journalist.
Budgeting is a bear. It can seem daunting, depressing, and like a lot of hard work. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are five road-tested ways you can save and spend better in 2018.
Monitor Your Finances Daily and in One Place
There are a couple new digital apps out that can help you see where all your money is going at any given moment—in one place.
Clarity takes the guesswork out of budgeting by closely tracking what you’ve spent over the past week, month, and year. Curious how much your impulsive Amazon purchases have added up to? Clarity can tell you with the quick press of a button. Want to save money right where you budget, check your credit score, find all your credit card balances, and monitor your Acorns investment account, all in one app? Clarity can do all of that, too, and it will even work to negotiate your cable and internet bills in collaboration with Billshark. (Note: It’ll charge 33% of whatever it saves you.)
Another option is Varo, a free online checking and savings account, where you can link outside accounts as well so you have your full dashboard of financial accounts. Varo’s app gives you a forecast on how you’re doing with your money so you don’t overspend based on the budget you’ve set for yourself. Roger that.
Read more: 5 Apps to Help You Save More Money This Year
Ask Your Friends to Hold You Accountable
“When you go out, you’re most likely going out with your friends. Get them involved with your [budgeting] plans,” says Ogechi Igbokwe, financial educator and founder of One Savvy Dollar, which helps people find jobs at companies that pay for college degrees and help with student loans.
“A lot of people think, ‘Oh my God, going on a budget is so hard.’ Yes, it’s hard, but sometimes it’s about substitutes or finding alternatives, and there’s an alternative to everything.”
The takeaway? Use the buddy system to do things like carpool, go potluck on meals, trade clothes and media, and just generally swap money tricks and tips.
Budget with an Old-School Spreadsheet — With a Modern Twist
Some of my savviest friends swear by the spreadsheet method, like my friend Leslie Barrett, who paid off a few thousand dollars in medical bill debt in just six months.
She did this by tracking her spending manually, which helped her overcome her financial anxiety. “It’s empowered me to make smarter financial decisions,” she says.
Barrett uses a Google Sheets document to record and categorize every single purchase manually. The goal is to have every dollar accounted for. Then to hold herself really accountable, she meets up once a month for a potluck with friends to catch up on record-keeping together.
“It was good to have people around that I could bounce ideas off.”
“It takes time and it’s nice to make it a social activity,” she says. “For the first few months, as I was learning, it was good to have people around that I could bounce ideas off. My relationship with money has changed dramatically.”
Use a Digital Envelope Method
Savings app Qapital helps you save as much or as little as you want thanks to rules you can set and forget. I’ve saved thousands of dollars by rounding up to the nearest $5 every time I make a purchase, rolling over the unused portion of my grocery budget every month, and saving $1 toward vacation every time a certain politician gets on Twitter.
Qapital recently created a debit card you can use with the app, which makes it easy to take the old envelope budgeting method—what you have for restaurants, travel, shopping, drinks, etc. is put in a separate envelope each month and once your cash is gone, you’re done–digital.
You can get your paycheck direct-deposited to Qapital and then divvied up into goals for things like groceries, restaurants, insurance, new clothes and so on. Each month, automatically transfer your budgeted amount into each goal and transfer the money to your debit card before you spend it. Transfers are easy and instant.
Go on a Spending Cleanse
Just like a fancy juice cleanse (but way less expensive), auditing your monthly spending and then going cold-turkey on unnecessary charges will help you create a baseline for healthier spending in the future.
To involve your friends, like Igbokwe suggests, consider getting a (cheap!) bottle of wine and having a night at home to brainstorm ways to cut your spending together.
Print out your credit and debit card statements, bring highlighters, and add up all the money you spent together over the past month or year, and then come up with lower-cost alternatives. Purge your email of all the promotional and sales-related messages. Maybe even think about going on a social media diet so you don’t get tempted to buy the latest and greatest leggings/lipstick/backpack gear.
As a group, you can use Qapital to save together toward a shared goal like a concert, road trip, or inexpensive summer vacation, and make a pact to call each other out over dumb spending like a super-trendy new shirt you’ll only wear once.
Hold on to Your Money Vision
Igbokwe has two suggestions.
First, create a vision board and put it somewhere obvious in your house, somewhere you have to look every day. Igbokwe paid off $26,000 of graduate school debt in just three years by being focused on her goal to be debt-free. She drove a ‘99 Camry instead of getting a new car and she didn’t increase her living expenses even when her salary increased.
Second, read other people’s stories of how they got out of debt. Remember that you’re not alone and you don’t have to do this alone, either.
Here are some other Earnest clients and friends who lived on a budget and paid off their debt:
- How I Recovered From A Student Loan Default
- Pursuing My Journalism Career While Paying Off Student Loans
- A Side Gig Helped This New Grad Pay Off His $23,000 Student Loan Debt In 10 Months
- This Entrepreneur Transformed His Business While Conquering His Student Loans
- How This Dentist Started His Own Practice While Paying Off His Student Loans
Good luck! You can totally do this.