How to help make financial planning as easy as meal planning
A meal plan helps you eat healthier and save money
One of the first things many adults learn to do when they live on their own is plan their meals. If we don’t plan ahead, we can find ourselves overspending on restaurant food—or eating foods that are convenient, but which might not contribute to a balanced, healthy diet.
So, many people learn to think ahead about what they’re going to eat every week. Health-conscious people may use cookbooks and online recipe websites to help plan meals that are nutritious, delicious, and lower in salt, cholesterol, sugar and other things that can contribute to medical issues. Many of us also think ahead about where to shop—which stores have the best prices on what we need—and about substituting a more affordable meal option when certain foods go up in price.
That need to shop smart is even more important if we’re shopping for a family. Because we care for our families, we want them to eat foods that are good for them. But feeding several mouths on a budget is easier if we think about what we’re going to cook and where we’re going to shop instead of just showing up at the nearest grocery store and “winging it.”
If some or all of these practices are familiar to you, you may already have some of the skills you need to make a financial plan.
A financial plan can help you spend healthier and save money
Like meal planning, financial planning has short term goals—helping save money or making it go further—and long-term goals—helping improve your financial health in the future.
One way to start is by asking yourself these basic questions:
- Are you just trying to control your spending so you have enough money to get through the week?
- Are you trying to improve your financial health by paying down high interest debt from things like credit cards?
- Are you trying to achieve a long-term goal, like putting money away for a car, a vacation or your family’s education?
Just as some people plan meals to improve their long-term health, you might choose to plan your finances to help with long-term security. In addition to cutting down or eliminating high interest payments on the money you borrow, that may include creating a rainy-day fund for emergencies, investing money in retirement accounts or buying insurance to help protect yourself and your family.
Once you know what you want to achieve with your plan, it’s time to sit down and crunch the numbers. It can be helpful to compare the amount of money you’re making to the amount of money you need to reach your goals.
You may find that by changing some of your spending habits, you can achieve your goals. Or you may find that having an additional source of income is necessary. In that case, it may be easier to work additional hours or a side job if you have a specific goal you’re striving for.
Manage your finances the way you manage your meals
As you can see, planning your finances can be similar to planning meals. Putting that plan into action also has similarities to the process of turning a meal plan into actual meals.
In the same way that you would have “grocery day,” you may decide to have a weekly or biweekly “savings day” when you “pay yourself” by putting money into savings before anything else. You might also choose to spend a little “savings day” time learning about ways to grow your savings through investments and retirement accounts. You probably won’t become an expert right away. But gaining financial knowledge is like saving money. If you do it a little at a time, and keep at it, it can add up.
Some people choose specific days to eat healthier, like “meatless Mondays” or “caffeine-free Fridays.” At first, this kind of discipline can feel like a chore and a challenge. But over time it often becomes easier. You may want to think the same way about paying bills. For example, you might decide to pay your insurance policy premiums—which may include auto insurance, homeowner’s or renters insurance, and life insurance, on a specific day of the week or month. Insurance helps to protect your hard-earned savings from misfortunes that could wipe them out, such as a fire or car accident.
As you can see, financial planning doesn’t have to be any harder than meal planning. In fact, it could be a little bit easier, because no lifting of heavy groceries is required. Financial planning simply requires goals, some careful planning, and a regular routine. If you can commit to meal planning, you may want to consider committing to improving your finances.