Dear Readers, at the beginning of each new year, I’m filled with a sense of new direction. At the same time, I like to look back at the previous year, evaluate what worked and make a fresh commitment to keep going on whatever path proved most successful.
One of the things that was a real boost to me in 2016 was a 30-day food cleanse that left me feeling stronger and more in control of my physical health. I turned that idea of a physical cleanse into a 30-day financial cleanse with the goal of giving people a way to supercharge their financial health. The response I got was so positive that I decided this is one of those ideas that really should be repeated.
It’s pretty generally acknowledged that financial health and physical health go hand in hand. And it’s all about stress. In fact, studies have found that financial stress leads to a whole range of serious physical problems from heart attacks to ulcers to migraines to depression.
Plus, according the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, financial stress can also significantly impact your professional life. A 2016 IFEBP survey found that financial issues result in employees’ inability to focus at work. So it only makes sense that paying attention to your financial health not only potentially improves your personal well-being, but may also have a positive impact on your professional productivity — a clear win for both employees and employers.
It starts with mindful spending. One of the best ways to reduce financial stress is to refocus on where your money is going and where you want it to go. Sound difficult? It’s not. You just need to zero in on three things: your spending and saving patterns; your short- and long-term goals; the changes you need to make to align your spending with your personal priorities. And the financial cleanse is designed to help you do just that.
Four weeks to a financially healthier 2017
The New Year is the perfect time to detox your finances and commit to financial health. So for those of you who followed my financial cleanse last year and want a refresher — and those who are looking for a way to lessen financial stress in 2017 — here is the program in a nutshell:
Week 1: Set the stage for success. If this were a food cleanse, you’d start by cleaning out the pantry and refrigerator to get rid of unhealthy foods. For your financial cleanse, this means temporarily putting away your credit cards and using cash for your day-to-day expenses — things like lunches out, hair appointments, morning coffee, outings with your kids, date nights and impulse purchases. To increase your awareness even more, keep a written record of where your money goes. Can you identify areas where you could easily cut back?
Week 2: Track ALL your expenses. From mortgage or rent to utilities to insurance premiums to subscriptions and club memberships, add up all your monthly expenses. Then project your total monthly expenses and compare them to your take-home income — try using an online budget planner to make it easier. Will you fall short or have extra? Where can you make changes?
Week 3: State your goals. Rainy day fund? House? Vacation? College? Dream a little, but be realistic. To make your goals concrete, pick one short-term, one medium-term and one long-term goal and assign a dollar amount to each.
Week 4: Put the pieces together. Look at the evidence you’ve collected and be honest with yourself. Does your spending align with your priorities? Do you need to adjust your budget? Can save more toward your goals?
Are you ready to make a change?
If I’ve peaked your interest, the next step is to make a personal commitment to improve your financial health. But don’t think you have to do everything all at once or necessarily all by yourself. To help you get going, I’ve developed a Financial Cleanse Quick Start Guide with simple to dos for each week plus tips to help you keep motivated and on track. Find more information at www.schwabmoneywise.com/financialcleanse.
In my experience, change doesn’t have to happen all at once; it can be incremental. Just take it one small step at a time. Within a few weeks those baby steps can build into a formidable habit that will soon become second nature and put you on a lifelong path to financial health. Believe me, it’s worth the effort!
Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER ™ is president of the Charles Schwab Foundation and author of “It Pays to Talk.” You can e-mail Carrie at askcarrie@schwab. com.