When I was slaying $80K of graduate student loan debt between 2012-2015, I pushed myself to make more money (by working overtime and taking on side jobs) and reduce my expenses.
But those two factors didn't compare to the one thing that brought together all of my efforts, which was...
Yup. A household budget. But not just any type of budget, a zero-based budget.
(I know, I know...contain yourselves)...
A zero-based budget is a budget you draft (preferably on paper) before each month wherein all of your expenses (including savings and retirement contributions) line up to every dollar of your income(s). Nothing is left over (hence the zero). (If anything is left over, it has a tendency to go to Target, Amazon, etc.).
Doing this is a lot like making a list before going to the grocery store. When you make a list, you're relying on yourself to say "What do I need? What do I want?" and creating a plan ahead of time. When you're an intentional shopper, you're less likely to make
unconscious/impulse purchases and create less waste down the line (either in your kitchen or maybe even on your waistline). You keep your money in your pocket.
I was bad before I was good
But learning how to do this is not easy.
Our Western consumer culture thrives upon people's decreasing attention spans, need for convenience, and need for speed. Drafting (and living) by a unique budget month in and month out is countercultural; it forced me to look at my life with a bigger, monthly lens and plan accordingly.
It took me three months to get into this new way of thinking (with lots of mistakes made!), but once I got the hang of it, I was hooked. I redirected all of that wasted money towards bigger financial goals, and the positive feedback loop got me out of debt in record time. I've been budgeting for almost ten years now.
In my perfect world...
Everyone, especially women, would be on a budget (yes, I'm such a geek about this!). People would feel confident (and conscious) about their spending habits and hitting financial goals. No one would be in the dark about where their money is going, and there'd be peace in households.
But sadly, we're not taught this in schools. That's why a cornerstone of my financial coaching is teaching people the basics of building (and living by) a budget. It's a skill that can greatly improve your life and help you make financial traction.