Budgeting. Finances. Planning for retirement. Investing. Paying off debt. Preparing for the unexpected. Saving for college. Teaching kids money management before they leave the nest.
Personal finance is a huge topic and one that can quickly become overwhelming and even contentious. But it doesn’t have to feel that way. The key is breaking it down into smaller, easily digestible bits.
When I was growing up, my grandparents were the richest people I knew. My grandfather grew up poor, joined the Navy and rose to command a WWII squadron at the young age of 22. When he separated from the military, he worked hard and eventually owned his own company. My grandma was a teacher, who gave that up to raise three daughters.
Over the years, my grandparents kept their modest home in Des Moines, Iowa, as well as building a beautiful lake home in Minnesota and a villa in the Bahamas. They entertained regularly and traveled frequently.
How did they do it?
When my grandfather got a raise (especially in his younger years), they never spent that money. In fact, they pretended it didn’t exist — investing or saving those extra few dollars each month. And even later, when they had more money in their bank account, they still saved. My grandmother shopped at Kmart (which she jokingly referred to as “The K Market” to make it sound fancier.) After they passed away, I found one of my grandma’s recipes for a boozy holiday punch — she had written substitutions for cost cutting in the margins. And at Christmas? She reused every scrap of wrapping paper and ribbon year after year.
They didn’t buy new appliances, televisions or furnishings unless they broke. In other words, they saved everyday, so they could splurge when they wanted to. I was young, but I was watching and taking mental notes.
A Thousand Tiny Choices
In life, we make choices every day that affect our finances. Really, there are no rules, except that there’s no way to get ahead if we say yes to every spending choice.
Something critical I learned early on (I’m past the half-century mark) was that my financial situation had far less to do with what I made then what I spent. Did you read about this janitor who secretly amassed $8 million? And lots of lottery winners and highly paid celebrities ultimately go broke and declare bankruptcy.
Here are some small, commonsense ways we keep costs low in our household. Not a single one of these cause us to feel as if we’re missing out.
Feel free to steal:
- Memorize your library card number rather than your credit card number. In 2021 alone, our family saved $665.11 by using the library for books, movies and other media instead of buying them. Plus, the library is more fun!
- Take advantage of the “Momconomy” — the super secret world of “free” trade among moms. Instead of hauling loads of outgrown kids’ clothing to Goodwill, talk with your friends who have younger kids. Pass those gems along to the next family. And gratefully accept those same items from your friends with older kiddos.
- Don’t have a pipeline of friends with older kids? Hit the thrift shops. Kids grow fast. Why buy a sweatshirt for $75 at the mall when you can buy the same thing in a lightly used version for $3.25 at your favorite thrift shop?
- Look for bargains. Allow sites like Rakuten and Honey to scout out deals for you.
- Buy items or book travel far in advance to get better deals. Our family has a 20-year travel planning spreadsheet. We book as far out as allowed by airlines, lodging, campgrounds and venues. It saves us money and usually gets us the best rooms, campsites and seats in our price range.
- Like my grandparents, avoid purchasing new things until the old ones break or until you’re sure you’re in a good position to splurge.
- Always ask whether discounts are available because… why not?
Start Saving Early
Listen, there are countless algorithms on how much to save, how to do it and and how much you’ll need for kids’ college, retirement and the like. Lots of people follow Dave Ramsey, for instance. Maybe you prefer Robert Kiyosaki, Suze Orman, David Bach, Neale Godfrey, Miranda Marquit or other finance gurus.
Each has a slightly different approach to getting out of debt, budgeting and/or amassing wealth. But most financial experts agree on one thing: The earlier you start saving, the better off you’ll be.
If you haven’t started saving and/or investing yet, skip that glass of wine tonight or Starbucks tomorrow and tuck that money away. You’ll be surprised how fast it adds up. Lucky enough to have a 401K program at work? Eat mac-n-cheese and canned green beans and max that bad boy out, friend — especially if your company offers a match.
Then, when your kids start working, guide them to put a chunk of their money away each paycheck. If they get into solid routines early, they’re more likely to carry them into adulthood — it’ll simply be standard operating procedure. If you’re comfortable with it, even help them invest a portion. #lifeskills
Pro Tip: When my husband and I got married, we earned roughly the same salary. We decided right away that we’d build our life—mortgage, vacations and bills—around one income. He could work or I could, but if both of us were working, one of our incomes would go straight into savings or investments. That decision has been life changing and has allowed us incredible freedom over the years.
Tips from Other Smart Women
I could talk forever about finances. It’s one of my favorite topics. But as I mentioned earlier in this article, the easiest way to tackle the sprawling subject of finance is to break it down.
To that end, we’ve collected a couple dozen of the best finance stories written by some of the thousands of writers from across the City Mom Collective network. Grocery shopping to college planning to retirement and everything in between.
Reading the stories below might just change your life for the better.
~ Family Finances ~
~ Groceries + Meal Planning ~
~ Women + Finances ~
~ Paying Down Debt ~
Money + Kids