Welcome to the 31-Day Money Challenge.
The focus of the 31-Day Money Challenge is to give you a positive money focus. For the next 31 days, we'll post 31 blog posts that show you exactly what 'financial freedom' means and how you can achieve it.
Make sure you scroll down to see any days you've missed.
Please keep in mind: This post features the first 5 Days of the challenge. After that, we will have separate posts that you can access separately as well as find links to them here.
Day #5: How do you save money when you live paycheck to paycheck?
This is a very important question. Because many people today - 49% percent - are living paycheck to paycheck.
While you might hear that the economy is 'booming' and assume you're the exception and not the rule, it's simply not the case for most Americans. Half of us are really struggling eight years after the Great Recession.
Here are some ways you can make an immediate change in your financial life. They may seem small but these items add up quickly. If you look at them differently - as burdens on your financial freedom rather than a path towards wealth - you may find you don't miss them at all.
5 easy things you can give up right now:
1. Expensive coffees. Just don't do it. No more triple vent iced no-whop mochas. No more. Brew coffee at home. It's not only much, much cheaper, it's healthier for you, too.
2. Impulse buys. You're at the grocery store checkout and suddenly: 'Ooooh! That candy bar or soda looks yummy, or that looks like a magazine I should read.' Nope. They know you're weak at this moment. Don't succumb. The $5 you don't spend is $5 you've saved.
3. Buying lunch every day. It seems innocent enough, right? You go out with coworkers. You socialize. It's only a few bucks. Wrong. It's a massive waste of money. It seems like nothing but it's a lot. Invest in some reusable containers, make your lunch at home the night before and bring it to work. Your wallet (and your waistline!) will thank you.
4. Bottled water. Again, this is just a massive waste of money over time. It is also bad for the environment. Adding more plastic to landfills and the oceans is not a good idea. Buy reusable water bottles and fill up every day. Your work probably has fresh, filtered water for you to drink. Take advantage of it. It's FREE.
5. Use cash only. Ditch your credit cards. If you can't afford to pay cash, you can't afford it. Period. When you get used to this strategy, you won't be tempted to just put it on the credit card and pay it later.
Day #4: Save 3 to 6 months in emergency savings
If something happens - you lose your job, you get into an accident or you have to take care of someone else - you're going to be glad you have this kind of savings.
Here's the kicker - and it's a big one:
57 million Americans have no emergency savings.
So if you're one of them, you're definitely not alone. It can be daunting to even think about saving 3-6 months of emergency cash. That's where the #1 most important thing you can do to get financial freedom is set up an automatic direct deposit savings account. (We covered this in Day #2 - if you want to scroll down for more details about this).
How much you can save depends on your monthly expenses and the amount of debt you have right now, too.
If you have debt - especially high interest debt - pay it off as soon as you can. And then start an aggressive savings plan. This takes discipline and focus. But it can be done.
And it's especially easy if you funnel off a steady amount every pay period to a direct deposit savings account.
Start thinking long term. If something unexpected happened tomorrow - like if you lost your job - how much money would you need to make it through until you got a new one?
Start thinking ahead. It can make the unexpected a lot easier to manage.
Day #3: Break up with your cable company.
As Americans, we love our TVs. And not much in life beats a cozy night cuddled up with your favorite show and a pizza. But do you really want to keep throwing hundreds of dollars away every month when you could keep more of it for yourself?
The average American household is paying over $100 a month for cable. And that’s just the average household. Many more are paying $200 and up.
Leichtman Research Group releases the results of its survey of TV households, including what people actually pay every year. And every year is a new record. Bills rose 39% from 2011 to 2015, almost eight times the rate of inflation.
Wow. Unless your salary is going up that fast (if it is, please let us know how that works!), you might want to consider pressing pause on your overpriced cable bill.
It’s actually pretty easy.
First, call them and try to break up. What typically happens in this scenario is that they will be terrified to lose your business, keep you on the line and attempt to bribe you with a lower rate, often a much lower rate. You’ll wonder: why didn’t I call them before?
Then you can decide if the lowered rate - which is usually for a finite period of time - is low enough for you to keep them. If it is, hey, you just saved more money than you would have this weekend anyway. You - 1 point. Cable - 0. Score! You’re ahead.
If not, here are your other options. And they’re really good, too.
In addition to the usual suspects, Netflix and Amazon Prime (which a lot of us already have), here’s how to access a lot of the regular and popular channels usually found on cable:
Hulu TV As of May 2017, Hulu now offers live TV at $39.99 a month. You get live streaming broadcasts from ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, plus 50 additional popular cable channels like ESPN, Food Network, Fox News, Disney Channel, History, Lifetime, National Geographic and more. The $39.99 price includes two simultaneous streams per account along with 50 hours of cloud DVR.
YouTube TV For $35 a month, YouTube TV undercuts the Hulu service by $5 with a very comparable package. You’ll get live streaming broadcasts from 40 broadcast and cable channels including ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and ESPN, among others. YouTube TV also offers cloud DVR capability — just like Hulu TV. And the $35 a month price point covers six accounts, but only three streams can be watched at once.
Sling TV Dish’s streaming product is called Sling.com and it doesn’t require a satellite dish either. Just an Internet connection! For just $20 a month, you’ll get a limited number of channels including ESPN - which is very rare! Many people keep their cable JUST for that channel!
Day #2: The number one thing you should do right now
This is what the top economists recommend you do to start getting financially ahead.
Day #1: What is 'financial freedom'?
Financial freedom isn't just having money. It's much more than that. Financial freedom is the freedom of having time, being able to spend it as you see fit. It's the freedom to live your life exactly the way you want to live it.
It's basically going back to how you felt when you were a kid. Remember what that was like?
The way society works, though, is that we often sacrifice what we truly want - or even who we truly are - to take care of others or to play a societal role such as wife, mother, husband, partner, caregiver and so on. That's normal and natural but it doesn't have to define your life indefinitely.
So what's the secret to becoming financially free? First of all, you have to CHANGE. And change is really, really hard. You have to become a completely different person from the one you are today.
You're thinking: what? Come on! How can I possibly do that?
Like I said, it's HARD.
But if you really, truly want financial freedom - and who doesn't? - you have to make a decision.
Right now. Today.
Money is fraught with emotion.
Some good, some bad. Excitement and pride but also guilt and anxiety. Many people identify and quantify themselves in terms of how much money they earn. But we are human beings and so much more valuable than a simple paycheck. Remember that.
In order to change our perception about money, we have to go deeper, we have to go practically to the cellular level and root out the negative thoughts and cut away at the stuff that's holding us back from being truly happy.
Are you ready for a change?
You might not be. And that's ok. But by making a small shift in your mind - today - you can begin to launch a brand new vision for yourself that is successful, happy and empowered, living your life as you want to live it.
That's what financial freedom really is.
And yes, it's really that simple. It's how change happens. It's because we decide to change.
So will you make that decision today?
Are you ready to make that change?
This is the first day of our 31-Day Money Challenge.