We all have priorities in life.
Before a blizzard, it might be buying milk, eggs, and a new snow shovel. Before a trip, we make sure we clean the house and pack everything so you don't have to go to Walmart to buy a forgotten item.
Do you emphasize your financial priorities as much as your non-financial priorities?
At my old job, we used to throw around the phrase “dime holding up a dollar” when we had to do an unimportant task before something that actually had a larger impact on the operation. Not only did these dime moments make for a long workday, but they also made us wish we could be in charge so we could run a smooth operation–instead of doing someone else's pet projects.
I want you to ask yourself if you have the best financial priorities?
One benefit of being married to my lovely wife is that she is great at providing constructive criticism to point out my own misguided motives. We usually have several financially-related conversations each week to discuss the best ways to achieve financial goals like getting out of debt, preparing for the future, and even paying this month's bills.
Even though we don't always agree on what is the most efficient solution, we do agree on the final goal and always go to bed happy at night.
I'll lay out a few of the ways we don't always have the best financial priorities, so you can pursue the best financial priorities too.
Build an Emergency Fund
If your finances are in shambles, step #1 is building an emergency fund where you have three months of living expenses in an online savings account.
For example, you would work towards saving $4500 when your monthly expenses are $1500.
I couldn't have quit my job a couple of years ago if we didn't have an emergency fund, because I knew I couldn't work full-time and job hunt. We had more than three months saved up to cover our expenses because we didn't know exactly how long I would be out of work.
For starters, try setting aside an extra $100 to $300 a month until you get three months set aside. After that, consider making extra debt payments to quickly eliminate your monthly payments. With each monthly payment eliminated, the lower your monthly expenses are.
By paying off that $500 a month car payment, your monthly expenses can go from $2,500 to $2,000. That's a huge relief. And, that $500 that used to go to the car payment can now be used to repay other debts or put into savings.
In addition to the other financial priorities listed below, these quick money hacks can save you a bundle of moolah too.
Making Extra Debt Payments
Getting out of debt is our #1 financial priority for 2018. I don't know if it will happen, but we sure want it too.
The quickest way to get out of debt is to make extra loan payments.
You have three different options to find the money to make an extra payment:
- Cut monthly expenses
- Earn more money (at work or with side hustles)
- Sell unused paid-for assets like your car
Whether you do one or a combination of the three (like us), put the proceeds towards your borrowed principal; especially your high-interest credit card or personal loan debt first.
Doing so can save you thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.
Take us for example, we try to make a double house payment each month to repay our 15-year mortgage in 5 years or less.
Consider refinancing your loans to get a lower interest rate to save even more money!
Buying Used Vehicles Instead of New
Here's a cardinal financial rule of thumb: Never borrow money to buy a car.
I must confess that my wife and I are still perfecting this priority, but you'll be better than 43% of America by not having a car payment.
The last two cars my wife & I bought we paid for entirely with cash, so we got the zero car payment down pat.
Now we're working on trying to buy the most practical cars the first time.
While the two cars we bought get us around town safely, our family is outgrowing them sooner than anticipated. The family car we bought two years ago that we planned to keep for the next decade isn't as practical as we imagined once the time came to put the second car seat in it.
That means we get to face the reality of vehicle depreciation and the whole car buying/selling process sooner than we ever wanted to.
We're currently in the process of upgrading our car in 2018 to meet our new needs as young parents and still have a vehicle suitable for our other endeavors that require a pickup bed or trailer to haul our materials.
Stop Using Technology
I love technology as much as the next person, but it consumes our entire life.
It seems like anytime we visit friends or even go out to eat with coworkers, everybody has their face in their smartphone more than having a conversation with the people they care about most.
Seriously, what on Facebook or ESPN is that important?
Besides reemphasizing personal, face-to-face relationships, using and buying less technology has two benefits:
- Fewer monthly payments
- More opportunities to be productive
Are you making monthly payments on your phone, computer, tv, or other tech gadgets?
Even if it's only $50 a month, that's $500 a year and $1,000 for two years. Considering that hot piece of tech will be obsolete before you make the last payment two years from now, pay cash instead and use your current technology until it breaks.
Instead of buying the iPhone X, 4k television, or video game system, do these activities instead:
- Go hiking (gas and state park fees are cheap!)
- Learn a new hobby
- Read personal finance books
- Party like it's 1999
Buy Life Insurance
We have term life insurance where my wife and I pay $15 each for the next 20 years. If I was to die tomorrow, I don't want my wife to be forced to find a full-time job and put our two girls with a baby sitter because she needed to make $1500 a month to pay our monthly bills.
My life insurance policy would pay off our entire home mortgage balance and give her a financial cushion for a couple of years to figure out how to start the next chapter of her life.
Our goal is to ultimately become self-insured by having enough money in our savings and investment accounts to pay for the inevitable when we're older and life insurance is no longer affordable.
Until then, seriously consider getting a life insurance policy if you don't have one. All you have to do is go out to eat one less time each month to pay the monthly premium.
Don't Go Out to Eat
The average family spent $3,000 in 2015 at restaurants. As a single person who drove 200-300 miles a day for work, I spent $5,000 a year at my old job for three years.
Yes, I wish I had a lot of that money back to spend on something besides a one-off purchase and been more diligent about packing a meal instead.
Instead of spending $20-$30 a day at restaurants, I could have spent between $5 and $10 instead each day. That's an extra $4,000 each year for me.
What could you do with $4,000?
- Buy a used car
- Made an extra mortgage payment or two
- Put the money in savings
- Gone on vacation
- Have a baby
By simply take a few extra minutes each day, you can save thousands of dollars over the course of a year. I didn't look back at how much I spent until after I switched jobs and stopped going out to eat so much.
Even though I make less money now than before, I still have more to spend each month because of the lower monthly expenses.
These are five of the most important financial priorities that help my wife and I live within our means.
We hate debt and we don't like monthly payments even more because they make it extremely easy to stay in debt.
If we were still in debt, we couldn't have changed careers or have the schedule flexibility we do now.
Readjusting your financial priorities can daunting at first, but after you starting seeing dollars roll into your bank account instead of dimes, you'll be happy you made the change!
What dimes have held up the dollars in your life? What have/are you doing to focus on your best financial priorities?
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.