You push yourself hard, you drink lots of water, and you finally get to the top of that incredible climb. Wow! What an amazing view! Worth the climb!
Finances, to me, are a huge part of your “Life After AmeriCorps.” Finances can enable us to do great things- but they can also majorly limit where we go, what we do, and even where we live. People think financial planning is complicated and scary, but it’s truly not- it does take some time, but like that incredible mountaintop view, it’s worth it!
Last year as a Homeowner Services Coordinator, I was financially counseling families in the program, but I was also taking a look at my own personal budget and cutting expenses. It really astounds me that people don’t care for their finances the way they care for their teeth- you need regular check-ups to make sure you’re still healthy.
Here are my personal budgeting tips:
- Stop Hiding. Get real with yourself. Create a spreadsheet of all your financial accounts. Include your savings, your debt, and your goals. Include how much you want to pay in bills, for food, gas, etc. each month. Give yourself a reward when it’s finished. It might be painful, but it will be incredibly valuable. Own your finances, don’t let them own you.
- Stop Being Afraid. Set up automatic payments. Set an auto-pay into your savings account, EVERY MONTH, because you should always pay yourself first (without even thinking about it). If you’re afraid your balance will be too low, keep it simple. Set auto-pay at $5. Having an emergency fund is one of the very first steps to financial success, and you should have enough money to cover the basics.
- Think in Baby Steps. Think about what you want to accomplish, what it will cost, and then split that into daily amounts. Think about what you can pay each day towards your goals. Large costs can overwhelm us. A monthly payment of $350 is $12.50 each day. That doesn’t sound so bad, right? (By the way- that’s $4,200 per year.)
- Don’t Ignore Finances. They find you. They also have an unfortunate tendency to grow. Late fees, interest, debt collectors…you need to contact the financial institution and work out a plan. Financial institutions WANT to work with you to solve problems.
It’s a challenge, I’m not pretending it’s easy to live the #StipendLife. I have had to limit myself to only basics during the last 2 years. I have been paid in free t-shirts and claimed more free food than I care to admit. It is a challenge, but one that you can conquer. Keep your eye on the prize: I promise there’s a really beautiful view at the top.
About the Author Danielle is a 2nd year AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Habitat for Humanity. Last year, she served in Homeowner Services in Sacramento, California. This year, she is serving as the Store Development Coordinator for the two Habitat Stores in Seattle. She has a bachelors’ degree in psychology from UC Santa Cruz, and she plans to work in non-profit management. Danielle enjoys hiking, running, and reading on the docks of Lake Washington.