How To Start Being Good With Your Money
Everyone wants to be better with their money, but many of us aren’t exactly sure what that entails. So we spoke to Ash Gray, Westpac’s main man when it comes to youth and millennials, about what being ‘good with money’ means – and what to do if you’re not.
Hands up if this thought process is familiar: #1 Check bank balance with dread after avoiding for a fortnight #2 Think ‘Ugh, I’m rubbish with money’ #3 Repeat.
We all have the mate who’s been annoyingly competent at saving from a young age, who can buy all the concert tickets at once and then wait until everyone else pays them back. But it’s actually within your power to be that person. Being ‘bad with money’ isn’t a life sentence; it’s something you can improve over time.
Ash Gray, Head of Westpac’s Youth and Millennial Markets, chatted to us about the things you need to consider if you want to get better at managing your finances – and what to do to help your chances if you feel like you’re at the bottom of the class.
The things you need to be doing to be good with money
#1 Decide what being ‘good with money’ means to you
Being ‘good with money’ isn’t a standard that you either meet or don’t, it’s something for everyone to define on their own terms.
“It can be very subjective and is often influenced by someone’s life stage. For some people, it may mean consistently saving a set proportion of their income to achieve their goals – the adventure of a lifetime or purchasing a home. For others it could mean being financially literate and having a plan which will allow them to be debt free.”
The Westpac Student Finance Report showed that almost nine in 10 Aussie students believe managing their finances is a priority, and that “being financially savvy involves putting together a budget planner, having few debts, and learning how to invest,” Ash says.
Figure out your definition so you can be clear on what areas you need to work on moving forward.
#2 Create goals to build up habits – and reward yourself
No matter what your goals are, they’re the motivation for your savings – at every life stage. “People who are achieving their financial goals tend to be more disciplined with their savings,” says Ash. Probably because kicking a financial goal is gives a feeling of sweet, sweet satisfaction.
“If you can bed down good savings habits early, then being ‘good with money’ or achieving your financial dreams will be an easier task. Setting financial goals is a great way to build good habits and keep you focused on an outcome.”
But in order for you to reach the goals and set new ones, you need to ensure you stay positive about it all – and one excellent way to do that is by rewarding your good work. So when you reach a goal, pat yourself on the back and celebrate. “It’s important to reward yourself when you achieve your goals,” says Ash, “you’ll be amazed how much an incentive can contribute to your propensity to save!”
Creating goals will cause you to work out the healthy habits you need in order reach them, and rewarding yourself will ensure you’re likely to want to do it over and over again.
#3 Starting small is better than not starting at all
Being good with your funds doesn’t mean immediately putting away 50% of your pay. Starting small is often the best way to feel like you’re finally doing something and that feeling will make you want to continue saving.
Getting into the rhythm of funneling off a regular amount to a savings account is an essential practice – the amount is just a minor detail. “By putting away a small amount every week you will start to form good savings habits and be amazed how quickly it adds up. By putting $50 a week into a high interest savings account for three years you will have saved over $8,000,” says Ash.
#4 Stick to a budget and track your spending
One of the hardest parts of being disciplined with money is knowing where your money goes, learning to budget and – of course – sticking to it.
Having a budget also helps you manage unnecessary spending and there are heaps of online budgeting tools that are helpful for getting started.
And if I’m not doing any of these things?
Not ringing any bells? If you haven’t ticked off these boxes yet, Ash knows how you can start moving in the right direction.
Choose debit over credit until your habits are formed
If you have a credit card but aren’t paying it on time each month, then think about whether it’s the best idea for you. Of course, having the right credit card and paying it off on time every month is essential to building a great credit rating, but if you don’t do it the right way you’re not only hurting your credit rating, you’re paying extra in interest.
“Many financially savvy people only get a credit card if they know they can pay off the balance in full each month, avoiding any interest payments. If you develop good savings habits and put a little away each month you will be able to use savings instead of accruing debt.”
Get a savings account – and use it
Having all your money sitting around on your keycard account just doesn’t cut it when you’re on the road to a strong finance game.
“Don’t keep your savings in your general transaction account. Move it to an online savings account or a term deposit. Options such as these often offer better interest returns than just leaving the money in your everyday account. It also helps to remove the temptation of dipping into your savings.”
If you don’t really need it, don’t buy it
If you want to be on your A-game with your funds, then there’s no denying it: self-discipline is going to come into the equation.
One way to trick yourself into realising how much you spend on things is by paying cash, says Ash. “This sounds simple, but you’d be amazed how many people overlook spending cash on smaller purchases, which can be better used to boost your savings!” This clever tactic makes your brain very aware of your spending: if you’re physically handing over cash, psychologically you feel the pain of having to part with it. Doing it on card makes it feel like magical, invisible money that doesn’t really exist.
“For instance, say those two skim lattes you purchase every day cost $8, that’s $40 a week, $160 a month or $1,920 a year that you could be saving,” says Gray. But if you had to fork out cash every single day, you might be more inclined to cut it down a little.
Ask for advice
If you’ve got no idea what you’re doing, you don’t have to go it alone. Whether it’s asking a friend, a financial advisor or seeking education through online tools and resources, you can never have enough information.
“There’s never a bad time to seek advice from an expert regarding your financial future. Through discussing your current financial situation and setting realistic targets they’ll be able to help you with budgeting and savings to help you reach your goals. ASIC’s MoneySmart website also provides calculators and tips to help you make better financial decisions.”
Don’t forget: this can change your life
Not being in control of your finances means that many other things can fall out of your control, too. Getting a handle on it can mean you’re well on your way to being secure and happy.
“Knowing how to save, invest and capitalise on your assets can help you build the life you want and achieve your financial goals. It’s easy when you’re younger not to think too far into the future, however, being financially flippant will catch up with you,” says Ash.
He’s referring to some of the bigger life milestones and goals, here: “When you’re looking to buy your first home or wanting to retire, for example. It’s never too early or too late to start thinking about your financial future and goals.”
The old saying goes that money can’t buy you happiness. Maybe not on its own, but it can buy you security, a home, and the experiences you want – and if that’s not part of the foundation for happiness, I don’t know what is.
If you’re up for making positive changes and want more information on some of the savings accounts Ash Gray mentions, click here.
Vivienne is a travelling freelance writer/editor, feminist, Harry Potter nerd and co-founder of Taylor Hermione & Co, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes safe relationships, consent and gender issues to teenagers in Australia. Find her on Twitter @VivEgan41 and Instagram @vivalogue