Five Daily Activities to Improve Your Finances

Often times when we set big goals such as getting out of debt, or losing 100 pounds, we immediately feel overwhelmed by the amount of effort required to reach those goals. It’s no secret that the best way to stay motivated is to break these goals down into smaller, more manageable goals.

I like to break things down to daily battles, that if won, will ultimately help me reach my goal. Here are five daily battles I’ve fought each day over the past year and have helped me hit (or get close to hitting) the goals I set for myself back at the first of the year.

1. Maintain a spending journal. Journaling is a great way to introduce accountability into your life.  Whether it is dollars or calories, keeping a journal of expenditures provides a way to keep track of your daily outgo.  It also helps you identify trends that may be valuable in creating next month’s budget, or help in reducing a particular budget category.

Write down all of your expenses in the journal and give them a category (housing, food, clothing, school expenses, gifts, etc.). At the end of the month group these expenses together.  You might be surprised to learn you spend $200 eating lunch out with coworkers every day, or $2.00 a day at the vending machine.

2. Develop a passive income. Developing a passive income is one of the keys to building wealth because it puts your money to work even when you are not. Passive income may be derived from things like interest accumulation, royalties, rent from real estate holdings (although landlords would argue this isn’t exactly a passive activity), social lending somewhere like Lending Club, or you can get close to passive income with activities such as blogging, or selling e-book products online. Even if you only make two or three dollars a day, that is $60-$90 per month that you would not have earned otherwise.

3. Make micropayments on outstanding debts. Many people are now familiar with the concept of snowflaking–collecting small amounts of “found” money and pooling it for a purpose such as savings, paying off credit cards, etc.  Well, I like to take that same method and apply it to debt reduction.

Some refer to this method as “snowballing,” after the other popular personal finance concept, the debt snowball.  Using any extra money I can squeeze out of my budget, or from passive income, I make small payments throughout the month on outstanding debts. If I left the amount sitting idle in my checking account chances are I would spend it before it was applied to debt.

4. Update your budget. At risk of seeming obsessive, I like to update my budget every single day.  I wake up early, and part of my routine is to review my checking account from the day before and mark cleared items in my checkbook.  I then subtract any outstanding credits, and add back any outstanding debits, to balance my paper register with the online system’s current available balance.

Like I said, it may seem a little excessive, but after going weeks without balancing my checkbook register I found this daily action helps keep financial stress away because I always know exactly where I stand.

5. Read something educational every day. I start my day off reading posts from about twenty-five of my favorite blogs. Then I check the news headlines online before moving onto a magazine article or book chapter I’ve bookmarked the night before. Throughout my day I try to carve out time to read some of the newspaper for local happenings, and usually wind up my day reading more from a book. I’ve reviewed a few of my personal finance favorites here:

I had a goal of reading a non-fiction book every week, but quickly burned out thanks to my hectic schedule.  Perhaps a book every other week is a more feasible goal for this year.  Either way, the idea is to read something educational every single day. And if you can sneak in something finance related, even better.

I have discovered the hard way over the years that success usually comes to those that win the daily battles. You might have noble goals such as to lose 50 pounds in 12 weeks, or pay off 50% of your debt in six months.  However, if you don’t win the daily battles you will not reach those long-term financial goals.

Comments

  1. What a great list! I would add, talk through your options with someone you trust. They might have insights into something you hadn’t considered already.

  2. Love your post, especially number 5! There is so much to learn to keep us fresh and growing. Learning is like water to a tree. Without it we become stagnant and will eventually die in our own opiniions.

  3. I admire your perseverance to check your finances every single day. Not many people are able, or willing, to that these days. Most people, including me, usually do it over the weekend. It’s different with different families, I guess. For me, if I keep the expenses simple, few accounts, then once a week is fine since checking it every day wouldn’t make any difference. One other thing that few people actually have the will power to follow through is the spending journal. People like to use credit is because it’s less painful than using cash. So writing a spending journal would be quite painful for some because then they have to take into account all little expenses. The tasks that you mention in this post are easy things to start but very difficult to follow through. I admire you willpower to better your finances by doing these things repeatedly because not many people can do that, including me.

  4. I think the micro-fund is a great idea; we have cans from soda that we recycle and usually have some spare change laying around. Why not save it or apply it towards debt? Also looking into some passive income. Would definitely be nice to add that into the mix.

  5. Great list Frugal Dad!
    I am attending a great conference this week and just today, it was stated that in a job an annual review doesn’t cut it. And the speaker said we have to set our OWN goals, whatever it is we are trying to accomplish and be accountable to OURSELVES on a daily basis. It was so ironic, because I actually posted early this morning my post about eating the elephant!
    http://bernicewood.wordpress.com/2010/10/07/how-to-finally-eat-the-elephant/
    Bernice
    PS. I love the part about learning soemthing new everyday! Crucial!

  6. I am interested in how you have increased your passive income. My wife and I are working are hardest to do the same. We live in a home that is bigger than we need but was a really great deal. We currently rent out the basement to a renter which is really nice. Being a land lord has been a great experience so far and has taught us both a lot.

    We have not missed the lost space at all. In fact it has helped us get rid of a few things that we just do not need.

  7. I absolutely agree with #4. For a long time, my finances were not in good shape at all – budgeting was a foreign concept to me, and I ‘managed’ a dire financial situation by sticking my head in the sand and hoping that it would all go away or somehow resolve itself by magic. Now that I’ve finally started to actively get my affairs in order, I find myself checking account balances and updating my budget on an almost daily basis, so that I know at any given time where I’m at, to within a few euros, and exactly where I will be at the end of the month. Keeping on top of those very simple pieces of information has helped reverse the situation: my finances no longer control me; I control *them*.

  8. Keeping a spending journal is a really underrated way to help! It actually does make a difference… it’s smething like only 26% of adults actually write a budget down. But when I started writing my spending down I got it under control so, so much more easily.

    It was surprising just how much I was spending on “little bits and pieces,” that you tend to just forget about!

    Scary stuff, reading a spending journal for the first time… but definitely makes a big difference (in a positive way) to your bank balance.

  9. These are some great tips! I love #1, you’d be surprised how much of a difference writing down your spending actually makes. A friend of mine who’s brother is a millionaire told me that’s exactly how he became one. It makes you more conscious of your spending habits.

  10. Passive income is a great one. As you said, even if it’s small, it’s still something you never would have gotten otherwise. To me, any kind of passive income is almost viewed as “free money” in that it wasn’t part of my full time job and I can immediately apply it towards a debt or that dinner I’ve been wanting to go out for. And over the long haul, this money can really add up.

    On your updating your budget daily, I am VERY impressed. I don’t have the discipline to do that so often, but I really should and it would help me stay on top of exactly my financial situation and help me avoid debt.

  11. I think a good way to try to tackle credit card debt is to pay more than the minimum balance each month. It’s nice to say that you should pay off your entire statement balance every month, but some people use their credit cards instead of taking out loans, and they don’t have the money right away. But it can really cut down the interest and the length of time it will take to pay it off, if you can pay at least a quarter of your payment more.

  12. This is a good list. I particularly like the one about checking your budget daily. I keep track of mine almost daily, as well, because if I don’t keep on top of what’s going on then I’ll let too much time pass and that brings on a lot of financial anxiety. It’s just so much easier to check regularly, so I know exactly what our financial situation is. If anything unexpected comes up, I know without looking how we can deal with it. For example, we need a new tyre for the car but it takes 3 days to move the money from the ING account into the current account … but is there enough to float that payment until the money gets transferred? Keeping up with the budget regularly means that I don’t have to get stressed about it, even if we can’t afford the tyre straight away and have to get home on the spare. At least I know.

  13. Keeping at goals daily is definitely the way to go. I like how you have specific tasks that move you forward daily even generally too (like reading something educational daily.)

  14. Micropayments especially on credit card debt just doesn’t work due to high interest rates and fees up the you-know-what. These fees do not allow one to make any progress on reducing credit card debt. And, just try to negotiate lower rates when you have gone over limit after the bank has decreased your credit line without notifying you in advance (which as I understand, they will no longer be able to do after 2010). As to leaving “found” money idle, try pulling up to the gas pump, or buying groceries, or paying the utility bill. Good luck with having “idle” money at the end of the month!

  15. I’m surprised you would be promoting LendingClub on a blog that is in favor of financial responsibility. I did a very basic google seaerch on Lending Club and found more horror stories than success stories with it. Putting money into Lending Club is on par with putting money in the stock market. While this blog is very informative, I would recommend staying away from investment strategies and stick with your ideas such as the spending journal – which is a good idea. While money markets are only returning 1% – its where my hard-earned money stays.

    • @John: I’d caution against believing stories you found on Google, although I’m sure some legitimate negative stories exist. I’ve been investing with Lending Club for some time now, and have not personally experienced any problems.

      You are correct, it is a riskier investment than money markets, so I only invest a very small percentage of my overall portfolio here and in other taxable investments such as DRIP stock plans, etc.

  16. Anyone who has ever played sports at a semi-competitive level has undoubtedly encountered the concepts of breaking tasks into manageable pieces and focusing on winning something small to have success in a larger sense. Take running, if you set out in a 5K race, are you thinking of it the whole time as 3.1 miles. No, you break it down into half mile times or mile splits. Such thinking makes accomplishing difficult tasks much easier and is definitely transferable to one’s financial well being.

  17. I would have to agree with your post. Great you made something like this. But with these tips or steps as you call it the best would be to develop passive income. For me, passive income will be the answer to most of our questions when it comes to handling or even maintaining our finances. A lot of people nowadays stick to their daily jobs but without taking in consideration that they can create another income. Some blogger nowadays are embarking their time to it and to be honest they earn more than what most employees or executives are earning.

  18. For me you are spot on, especially with the need to develop a passive income.

    As a blogger and an affiliate marketer there is nothing better than the near-passive income I get through adsense and affiliate sales though the trick is to not rely on these channels for income as it can and will no doubt change at some point.

    Of course you could use your ‘passive’ income from blogging to make additional payments on your current debt or credit cards!

  19. I think the hardest part for most people will be cutting down on dinner and lunch outs – I know it has been, and still sometimes is, for me. This usually is a big chunk of money, that can easily be saved. I generally take advantage of those credit card reward points though, those are too good to pass up.

  20. I have been reading personal finance and frugal blog sites for over a year now and this is the first blog I’ve read that has taught me some really concrete new tips. Kudos to you!!! I love the concept of Passive Income, as I earn passive items via points programs all of the time where I earn prizes for collecting (not buying) things from family/friends/co-workers who don’t collect. Examples are Disney Movie Rewards, iCoke, Pampers and Huggies Points, Airmiles free points online promos, Facebook corporate promos. In the past year alone I’ve gotten several gift cards for restaraunts, coffee, merchandise, as well as prizes such as movie passes, a new scooter for my kid, etc. This was all done via using my passive time.

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