When a person enters into recovery from addiction and/or alcoholism, they learn about self-care. The term, self-care can encompass a lot and it definitely includes finances. There is a lot more to recovery than just putting down the drink or drug.
Admission is only the first step.
If a person wants a lasting recovery, they are going to need to embrace self-care in all of its many facets:
- Reconciliation with the past
- New daily habits
- Mental health
- Professional Development
- Financial literacy and wellness
This post is geared at how to start with the basics of getting your financial life on track.
Adam Durnham, a freelance blogger, wrote a great guest post on the 1st step to financial independence after recovery. Adam had some great tips on getting started with employment, sticking to a budget, and building credit. I highly recommend you check out this article.
At the very foundation of financial literacy is knowing the inflow and outflow of money in your life. For many years, I never tracked this stuff which in hindsight is crazy. I lived paycheck to paycheck and always had scarcity.
If you’ve already got employment and are ready to get your financial ducks in a row, I recommend starting with tracking. Take a month or two to record every penny you spend over the month. And I mean every penny – if you stop and buy a pack of gum for $0.99 write it down.
The way you track can be as rudimentary as keeping it in a journal. Or if you prefer you can track it on excel or Google sheets
There are some things you already know like rent, mortgages and car payments. If you have bills that are the same amount (or relatively the same amount) every month, these are your fixed expenses. Record those first.
Groceries should technically be a fixed expense but don’t worry about knowing this one yet. Right now we are just trying to figure out what you currently spend so that you can identify where you can improve.
Everything else is variable expenses like going out to eat and/or entertainment.
Once you’ve tracked for a month or two you have an idea what your monthly expenses are, you are ready to lay the foundation of your budget. Before you do that, you’ll want to categorize your expenses. Here are some suggestions on categories:
- Charitable Gifts
Take every expense you’ve tracked and assign it to one of the above 9 categories.
If you’ve been keeping it in a journal, you can use different highlight colors for each category or use page marker tabs.
If you’ve been tracking in excel you can move things under the different category headers.
You may find that some categories have nothing in them, like savings. Don’t worry, you will someday so we’ll be keeping this category in your budget for future goals.
Creating a Budget
I created four Google sheet budget templates based on the 4 main ways people are paid:
- Weekly (52 paychecks a year)
- Bi-Weekly (26 paychecks a year)
- Bi-Monthly (14 paychecks a year)
- Monthly (12 paychecks a year)
You’ll need a Gmail account in order to access Google sheets so if you don’t have one you can create one for free here.
Once you identify which Google sheet will be appropriate for you, you’ll need to save your own copy. The links I’ve shared with you above cannot be edited but never fear!! Let me share how you can edit and use them for your own purposes:
- Go to “file” in the upper left corner of the sheet
- Click on file and then scroll down to, “make a copy” and click on it
- Name your new document (i.e. Jane’s Monthly Budget)
- It will save in your google drive
Now if you don’t know how to access your google drive, here are instructions:
- Log into your Gmail account
- In the upper right-hand corner click on the Rubix cube looking icon (image below)
Once you do that, you’ll be given a series of other choices (see below). Click on Google Drive which I’ve circled.
Once you click on your Google Drive you’ll have access to all of your Google documents and sheets and can organize them into folders.
If you’ve clicked on any of the budget template sheets I’ve shared with you above they will reside in the category, “shared with me.” However, once you’ve made a copy for yourself it will reside in your main google drive.
I share step-by-step instructions on setting up a budget in my article on zero-based budgeting. If you are ready to set up your budget, I recommend you read through that article first.
Not Enough Money at the End of the Month
If there is not enough money at the end of the month that means there is more money going out than coming in. That’s a problem.
Always pay for your necessities first and those are food, shelter, basic utilities, and transportation. If after taking care of your necessities you have nothing left to pay your creditors (i.e. credit card companies, student loan debt), you’ll need to reach out to them.
The worst thing to do is to not communicate. If you are generally making an effort to pay something and continue to communicate with your creditors, they will log that on your account.
Student loans can be put onto deferment until you are able to pay them. However, this will require a phone call and most likely an application for deferment. It’s easy, though.
The bottom line is you are going to need to communicate with all of your creditors. Trust me, it will bring peace of mind to face things head-on. I will be writing a future post on ways you can work to increase your income in the coming weeks.
Budgeting Takes Practice
Now that you have an idea of how much money you spend every month and, you can think about any changes you’d like to make. Even if you are able to take care of your necessities and pay your minimum payments, you’ll want to find ways to do better.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Am I spending too much on food?
- How can I reduce my grocery budget?
- What are some frivolous things that I can cut back on (i.e. fast food, stopping for snacks, going out to eat, shopping)?
By tracking you’ll know what you spend. Additionally, you’ll see things that can be cut out. Furthermore, you’ll be able to set monthly amounts for certain categories and hopefully stick to them.
However, don’t beat yourself up, if you find your budget needs tweaking the first several months. For example, I set my grocery budget too low and found myself borrowing money from other categories to eat. Eventually, I realized I needed to increase my monthly budget allotment for groceries.
The point is to keep trying and tweaking. If you do, I promise, you’ll settle in on a budget that works for you and it will become turnkey.
Once you start to gain control of your money, you might create margin and have extra money. What do you do with the extra money? Well, it depends on your debt situation. If you have debt, you’ll want to attack it by paying extra. I’m going to be writing a future post on paying off debt using a hybrid of the debt snowball and the debt avalanche so stay tuned.
Initially, it can be scary when you start to work on your finances. That is because you are shining a light on things you may have been hiding. However, once you can see clearly, you’ll be able to work on a plan.
I will confess that long before my debt was paid off and even in the midst of my house foreclosing, I had peace about my finances. That peace came from the fact that I knew the numbers and my situation. Additionally, I found a whole slew of other people who’d paid off their debt so I started to believe I could too.
The Dave Ramsey radio show and podcast has debt-free screams and testimonies daily. Those were a huge source of motivation for me. If you need it, check them out.
The key is to begin. Additionally, ask for help along the way. I can only speak from experience and that’s what worked for me.
I’ll continue to share posts that will hopefully be useful for you along your journey.