For those seeking great money management skills, there are several tried and true methods that seem to work. Whether struggling to pay off debt, saving for a big expense, or building wealth, following the successful ways of thousands of people has to equal success, right? Maybe, but here are four smart money moves that never worked for me.
Cash Envelope System
The cash envelope system is pretty simple. Take the amount of money you have to spend in a month and divvy it up into envelopes marked for specific purposes: $400 for groceries, $100 for gas, $25 for household supplies, etc. Once the envelope is empty, you’re done spending for the month. This method is great for people who tend to overspend. I would certainly be mindful of what goes in my shopping cart if there was a chance I wouldn’t have enough to cover the final tally.
I certainly used to overspend, but using cash probably wouldn’t have helped. One, if I do have cash, it’s been known to go missing. Whether it gets dropped from my hot mess of a wallet or whether I spend it on something I can’t remember, giving me cash is almost as bad as flushing it down the toilet.
Two, since we’ve gotten hooked on taking epic trips on the cheap, I might cry if I had to give up credit card reward points. Just this month, we’ve earned 150,000 points for paying our quarterly taxes, rental property insurance, and car insurance premiums. Those points will easily be worth a few thousand dollars in travel.
When we were in the midst of paying off our credit card debt, we didn’t use credit cards at all but did use a debit card for just about everything. I know using cash works for many people, just not for me.
Keeping 3 Months of Expenses in an Emergency Fund
I am a strong believer in emergency funds. People should have some sort of savings before attempting to pay off debt or pursue any sort of investments, and generally, experts say to save three months worth of living expenses. For us, though, 3 months doesn’t seem like enough. After having almost no savings for the longest time, it feels very reassuring to know that we have enough money in the bank to cover whatever comes our way.
Leaving lots of money in an account earning almost no interest is probably not the smartest move, and we have pared down our cash reserves into some investments over the past year, but if I have to work another year or two for the peace of mind our large emergency fund brings, that’s OK. It’s a good problem to have!
DIY Car Repair
We have a good friend who does all of his own car maintenance. When I see how much it costs for a repair at the shop versus how much he pays for parts only, it almost makes me want to
go send Jim to auto mechanic school. I know there are tons of YouTube videos that could probably teach us how to do routine maintenance and basic repairs that would save thousands of dollars over the long haul.
The problem is that Jim and I would both rather have our toenails pulled out that work on cars. While we do lots of stuff around the house, we just can’t get into DIY car repair. Heck, if I’m being completely honest, I would probably pay extra if there was a full service gas station to pump my gas and wash the windshield.
Canceling a Gym Membership
I could easily save an extra $40 per month if I cancelled my rec center membership and stopped going to exercise classes. I know how to do all the stuff from the class on my own. We have weights, exercise DVD’s, and even a stationary bike at our house.
The two biggest reasons I use the gym to work out are for social interaction and so I can exercise without distraction. I’ve been working out with the same group of people for years, and I’d miss them if I quit. Also, when I do work out at home, there is always an interruption.
Whether it’s the dog, the child, or the fact that I forgot to put a load of laundry in the dryer, it’s hard to get a solid hour in without something popping up. When I go to the gym, that’s my time when no one is able to ask anything of me. Maybe that’s selfish, but I know I’d be sad if I cancelled my gym membership to save money.
Now that we’ve established that there are at least four things we do that go against tried and true best financial practices, I will say that there are lots of things we do right.
- We track our spending.
- We spend mindfully, even if part of it is on car maintenance and exercise that we could do at home.
- We avoid consumer debt.
- We max out our retirement plans and HSA to reduce taxable income.
- We are building wealth with rental properties.
The take home point today is that you don’t have to follow every piece of advice because it worked for someone else, but you also can’t blow off every money skill by using the excuse that it just doesn’t work for you. Start with the basics.
- Track Spending. If you don’t want to do it yourself, try Personal Capital for free!
- Spend less than you earn. Either buy less stuff or make more money.
- Pay off and stay out of debt.
- Start building wealth.
It really is that simple. The hard part is figuring out what works and doesn’t work once you have the basics down. Never beat yourself up if all the smart money moves don’t always work for you either.
Is there a proven money rule that you just can’t follow? Would Dave Ramsey love or hate you?