Take Control of Your Finances in 5 Easy Steps

Take Control of Your Finances in 5 Easy Steps

Written by Caitlin Wood
Last Updated September 3, 2015

Living paycheque to paycheque or feeling like you constantly have no money to do anything but eat and pay your rent is a pretty good indicator that you need to re-evaluate your current financial situation. Taking control of your finances is one of the best decisions you can make for yourself, you’ll benefit from having a solid financial life in more ways than you think of. When it comes to regaining control of your finances the most important thing you can do is be honest with yourself about how much income you have coming vs. how much you spend. After this created a functional budget and sticking to it will be much easier for you.

Here are the 5 easy steps you should take if you’re looking to take back control of your finances:

  1. Assess Your Income

You need to know exactly how much you bring in (after taxes) each month. This number is what you’ll build your entire budget on. Your monthly paycheques are probably your main source of income but don’t forget to include any other secondary income: a second job, alimony or miscellaneous cash you make from doing side job or helping out friends or family members. Make a list, add it all up and that’s your monthly income.

  1. Determine Your Expenses

Figuring out your expense and coming face to face with how much money you spend in a month is typically the most difficult part of creating a budget for most people. No one likes to see the exact numbers, especially if you already know they’re not great. To figure out how much money is going out, you should make the following lists:

Fixed Expenses

  • Housing costs (rent, mortgage payments, condo fees)
  • Car payments or public transportation costs
  • Insurance
  • Utilities
  • Cable, satellite, internet

Variable Expenses

  • Food
  • Gas
  • Property tax

Miscellaneous Expenses  

  • Car maintenance
  • Gifts
  • Entertainment

Now that you’ve made your lists and written down all your monthly expenses you need to add them up and then subtract that number from your monthly income. This will tell you whether or not you’re spending more than you bring in and will also show you where you either need to cut back or can afford to cut back.

  1. Trim the Fat

Now that you know exactly where all your money is going you can start to trim away the excess spending and figure out where you can afford to cut back. Some cut backs may be more obvious than others; if you’re currently buying an expensive coffee on your way to work every day of the week then you can probably count that as an unnecessary expense.

The best way to determine where you should cut back is by figuring out what monthly expenses are actual ‘needs’ and what expenses are just ‘wants’. Be as honest as possible with yourself, you might want to believe that your weekly dinner out with your friends is a ‘need’, but in reality it’s the social time that’s a ‘need’ while the expensive dinner is a ‘want’.

  1. Pay Yourself

Treat yourself as your own employee and make sure you pay yourself before you start spending on unnecessary things. Every paycheque, pay yourself enough to cover all your monthly expenses and then pay your savings account. After you’ve done that the money you have left over is yours to do with as you please.

How much you pay yourself every month is completely up to you and your bills. If your trying to pay down some debt you’ll probably only be able to save a small amount but that’s ok, saving $10 a week is better than nothing. Plus having a small financial cushion to deal with emergencies or unexpected expenses is one of the most important financial decisions you can make.

  1. Keep with it

While coming to terms with how many unnecessary expenses you have every month is not exactly the most fun thing you can do, keeping up with the budget you’ve created will probably be even less fun and potentially very difficult at times. The only person that you can be accountable to is you. You need to keep yourself in check and follow the spending guidelines you’ve created; the end reward of finally getting your finances back on track will be well worth your effort.

If you ever find yourself having trouble sticking with your budget set yourself a few small goals, taking control of your finances is a great goal but it might seem a little too general for you. Here are a few goals you might want to set for yourself to reignite your drive.

  • Save enough to live without an income for 3 months
  • Put aside enough for a weekend trip away with friends
  • Pay off your credit cards completely (click here for tips)
  • Go one week without charging anything to your credit card

Don’t be too Hard on Yourself

One final and extra step you can and should take is to not be too hard on yourself. Yes we all want to have financial freedom and achieve the goals we set out for yourself but getting down on yourself for every little slip up will only work against your greater plan.

Caitlin is a graduate of Dawson College and Concordia University and has been working in the personal finance industry for over eight years. She believes that education and knowledge are the two most important factors in the creation of healthy financial habits. She also believes that openly discussing money and credit, and the responsibilities that come with them can lead to better decisions and a greater sense of financial security. One of the main ways she’s built good financial habits is by budgeting and tracking her spending through the YNAB budgeting app. She also automates her savings so she never forgets to put aside a portion of her income into her TFSA. She believes investing and passive income is key to earning financial freedom. She also uses her Aeroplan TD credit card to collect Aeroplan points so that she can save money when she travels.

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