The holidays are fast approaching and then immediately we launch into a new year. New goals! New plans! New resolutions! This year, before the hustle, bustle of the holidays gets into full swing, I am stepping back and thinking about what is important to me for 2017. I have a couple of things: 1) January is bringing a clean eating, no sugar in any form, challenge, and 2) a year-long focus on getting rid of college debt (since I will have 3 in college come August of 2017!). 2016 seemed to be the year of the house so I am sending out the cosmic message that the house stuff is done, thank you very much, and it will please remain in full working order next year so that I may shift focus.
Cosmic messages aside, I am turning my own thoughts and energies toward setting up for the successes of 2017. On the eating front, I am reading books, looking at interesting “clean” recipes and preparing myself for the biggest obstacles – no half and half in my coffee (dairy is not allowed) and no wine. I must mentally prepare to change what have been deeply engrained habits – coffee in the morning, wine on the weekend. I am trying to come up with substitutes so that I don’t lose the coffee, I just put in something else (hemp cream is a no so I will continue to experiment with other nut milks.) I need to think of what concoction will evoke the “ah, the week is done and now I relax” state that a glass of wine currently creates. Luckily, I have a few weeks to ruminate on such topics before the big launch on January 1.
Similarly, on the “pay off student loans” front, I have started to take a hard look at where the cash went in 2016. Yes, the money pit took a larger than normal bite last year (but that’s done, I say) but groceries and “stuff” could be trimmed a bit. Here was my financial review process. See if this might be helpful for you:
- Download the credit card transactions for the year (I use one for nearly everything so that is easy).
- Once in excel, sort by the payee. That way the Kroger and Target and other common payees get put together.
- I created some columns that were important to me. This is the most critical part – don’t get granular here – that’s what makes it so tedious. Instead, think of what categories you sense are a problem AND that you have some control over in the future. Here are my categories:
I put “life” as the head of the main column because most items weren’t going to move out of that column. Cars, medical, utilities, haircuts, etc. are what they are. I just left all of that in the main column. Then it was easy to cut and paste the expenses into the right columns. I especially wanted to look at groceries, dining and stuff (clothing, books, electronics) because I do have some ability to plan around those. I pulled out the other categories just so I could see what the bottom line on “life” was. (expensive is the answer there!)
If you don’t use a credit card significantly, it may be more meaningful for you to analyze the activity from your checking account. If you use Quicken or mint.com or something similar, you can get to the data just be sure you are not in so much detail that it isn’t helpful for setting your goals and plans for next year. You can export the data to excel to move it around to meet your needs.
The main point is to see where your money is going and then decide how you feel about that. I feel that we spend way too much on groceries. Yes, I have 2 teenage boys at home but I know that I can cut that back. Dining out wasn’t that bad. I don’t love eating out so that was reasonable, but if that is a problem area for you, consider setting a limit and then only spending cash for eating out. When your monthly allowance is gone, it’s gone. I have other indulgences that I plan to pare back to make more available to throw at those loans.
The bottom line is that what we focus on expands in our lives. I want to focus on eating delicious, healthy “clean” food and on channeling every penny possible toward that debt. What will you be focusing on for 2017? What can you do now, mentally, physically, energetically to set yourself up for success?
To your (2017) financial success!