Starting the new year right means setting goals, and they should always include some dedicated to your finances. Whether you’re working on paying down debt or saving for something big, money concerns are constant. That’s probably why January is Financial Wellness Month.
Very loosely defined, financial wellness is a person’s ability to live a healthy financial life – properly managing bills and expenses, paying debts, handling unexpected financial emergencies and planning for long-term goals such as building college funds and saving for retirement. And having financial wellness can actually impact your mental and physical well-being too. It’s better not being stressed all the time, right?
According to Annuity.org, the four principles of financial wellness are:
- Budgeting – Creating and sticking to a budget lays a foundation to build your financial well-being. It provides a roadmap to manage day-to-day finances, prepare for financial emergencies and plan for your future.
Country Culture tip: If you’ve never budgeted before, ease into it. First, just take note of all your expenses for a month or two, as well as all your income. I use a basic spreadsheet that lists all my bills in the order they are due, what the minimum payments are and what my overall debt load is. It’s insanely pleasing to watch the overall amount owed go down each month. Once you’ve figured out what is going where, you can find and fix the areas causing you the most trouble.
- Debt – Managing long-term debt (and eliminating consumer debt) can reduce barriers to saving, investing and long-term financial planning. Knowing how to carefully manage credit can also build your credit score, giving you access to better borrowing rates for mortgages, auto loans and other large purchases.
Country Culture tip: This is a “do what you can, when you can” situation. Always pay your bills on time, as late fees are very detrimental. But if you have a little bit left over after the budgeted items are accounted for, make a second, smaller payment. I had a great week at my side hustle, so I put an extra $50 toward my student loans. It’s not a lot, but it helps.
- Savings & Investments – Long-term savings and investments can provide financial security and peace of mind for retirement planning. Short-term savings can leave you with cash on hand to cover home repairs, vacations or other planned expenses without having to increase your debt.
Country Culture tip: I am very Great Depression in this regard. I have little pockets of money stashed everywhere – both physically in my house and with different financial institutions. It’s not a bad way to be, as over the past few months when emergencies arose, I had cash available. Personally, I’d recommend one of the many micro-investing apps available that automatically take small amounts from your checking accounts and invest them for you. I typically put in between $5 and $10 a week, and with my moderate portfolio, I’m almost always making money.
- Protection & Insurance – Insurance or emergency funds can protect you financially from unexpected emergencies. Insurance can cover losses due to fires, floods or health emergencies. An emergency fund, on the other hand, covers other crises. Both can help prevent you from using long-term savings or going into debt.
Country Culture tip: Don’t become so focused on paying down debt that you save nothing for emergencies! Again, a little can go a long way. Putting $10 a week in a savings account is better than nothing. The general rule is to have enough in savings to cover three months of expenses, which may not be possible for everyone. I’d recommend aiming for one month, because you never know what’s going to happen. As for insurance, a little bit of coverage is better than none. That’s not what a financial advisor would tell you, but I’m speaking from personal experience.
Buying land, purchasing equipment, raising kids – it’s all very expensive in 2023. Just remember that quote from Desmond Tutu: “There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” Ambitious goals are nice, but only bite off what you can chew.
by Courtney Llewellyn, editor-in-chief