Decluttering your money.

Let’s chat a little more about a subject that’s plagued my stress levels for decades: m-o-n-e-y. It’s taken me hundreds--if not thousands--of false starts, budgeting attempts, app tryouts, and internal battles to finally feel like I have control of my dollar bills. So I wanted to share with you the three things that, since last fall, have completely altered my financial life for the way better...

1. YNAB (or, You Need A Budget)
This app’s homepage says it plainly: “Gain Total Control of Your Money.” And that’s exactly what it’s done for me. YNAB is a complete budgeting system that’s beautifully laid out and even (gulp) fun to use. I almost don’t want to give you too much more information about it, because I want you to go experience it for yourself. This company is incredible at educating its customers — offering loads of content and free classes -- but my advice is this: do not sign up for the free trial unless you are READY TO TAKE ACTION AND MAKE A POSITIVE, LASTING CHANGE. It may take you several hours over the course of several weeks to learn how YNAB works and get yourself into the habit of using it. I cumulatively spent about 4-6 hours watching the training videos, reading each email they sent and following the links, and personalizing the system to my needs. If that sounds like a lot of time to put into learning an app, consider that it's a mere half day’s work to completely change your financial life. I have already saved myself thousands of dollars — this is not an over-exaggeration — by using YNAB instead of my old budgeting system, which was…no system at all! ’Twas a veritable house of cards built on fear and anxiety! No more. With YNAB*, I feel sturdy as f*******k.

*[I’m a part of YNAB’s referral program, which means if you click on my referral link and sign up, you get a free month, and I do too (this kicks in if you continue your subscription after the free trial period). The subscription price stays the same for you whether or not you sign up through my link. Thanks for your support, and know that I only recommended apps + products I personally use and think are cool.]

2. The Spending Rest
Inspired by this book, I entered into a Spending Rest. After settling into YNAB and starting to make much more sound spending decisions, I found myself with a strong desire (and frankly, a need) to be saving even more money. I immediately loved the idea of something drastic, and so YNAB + Spending Rest became partners in crime. Some of the major bullet points of my personalized Rest are that I refrain from eating out with friends, going to coffee shops, paying for entertainment (with a few exceptions for special events), buying clothes, and buying gifts (for myself or others). The experience thus far has been about 92% revelatory, liberating as hell, and highly effective — as evidenced by two top markers — my happiness levels and my bank account levels, which are both higher than ever. Nearly everyone I tell about the Spending Rest is incredibly intrigued and lovingly supportive. Most of them remark that they should probably do something like that, too.

Within that 8% of struggle, I understandably miss certain parts of my old routine. Sure, I’d love to go “treat” myself to a spa day or that great pair of shoes that surely would "complete my closet”. (Yes, even as a decluttering pro, I bought into this concept for way too long.) Now, my whole outlook is changing so fundamentally, and I’m learning how to heal those impulses and needs in new ways. I go to more museums (on free days) than I ever did before. I choose to exercise more. I feel empowered in several small ways throughout the day, like when I make my own coffee or make someone a handmade card. And the best substitute for spending? My own creativity. When there are fewer choices of what you can do with your time, your life priorities quickly rise to the top of the pile! And making music is a huge priority for me right now. If time is money, then the not spending of it has given me back several “lost" hours. With many of those hours, I’ve been creating new tunes. And I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

Nonetheless, I worry sometimes that I won’t be able to sustain this new lifestyle for the entire year. On some days, it’s just plain hard. But then there’s another part of me that feels sooo much freer and happier, that I think maybe I’m hopping on the frugality train for the long haul…

3. Frugalwoods
Mr. and Mrs. Frugalwoods are in their 30s. They are self-proclaimed “frugal weirdos.” After saving shockingly-high percentages of their income (from what seems like normal jobs?), they are now financially independent and have mostly-retired to a homestead in Vermont. I am in awe of them, and this blog is a GOLD MINE. Even if you don’t see yourself becoming a frugal weirdo, per se, this blog is full of easy-to-digest articles that’ll make you think twice about all the things we regularly spend money on. Mrs. “FW” is the primary scribe for the blog, and she is a delightfully charming writer. I’m hooked.

A note on other parts of a financial life. / Other apps to consider.

One of my big AHA moments, was that I was trying to fit too many different types of money tasks into one app or one system. And because I’ve excelled at some aspects of money handling (client invoices and organized income records; tax records and financial paperwork and receipts) I tricked myself into thinking that I was 'organized with money.' But just because I can pull up any figure from 2010 right now or find an old medical bill in two seconds doesn’t mean I had organizational skills in the saving money or spending money departments. To this end, I’ve had to teach myself that it’s okay to use several different tools to accomplish different tasks. In fact, in some ways it’s necessary.

Many financial apps may have overlapping features, so it’s up to you to decide which features you’re using in which app — and then stick to your own guidelines. For instance, if you use YNAB for budgeting, then maybe you use Mint for its other features, and simply ignore its budgeting features. (And for goodness sake, turn off notifications for any of the features you aren’t using in any given app.)

So here are ALL the apps/features I use, for all money-related stuff on a regular basis. (This is to say nothing of financial records I hold onto for tax time — most of which get saved to Evernote or live in paper files. But that’s actually a whole other conversation — thankfully one I dig into in New Order!)

  • YNAB* ($83.99/yr) — complete budgeting picture — what income comes in and exactly how it’s going out in every single category, on a monthly/yearly basis (ie. groceries, car insurance, creative supplies, etc.). My North Star.

  • Wave (free) — client income tracking and client invoicing

  • Expensify (free) — tracks only my expenses, which I regularly categorize for both tax-deductible and non-deductible transactions

  • Mint (free) — because I don’t sync YNAB with my bank accounts (though they do offer that), I instead check in with my Mint app regularly, where all my transactions from both checking accounts and credit cards are listed in one place. I use it in concert with YNAB, to make sure I’m not forgetting to manually enter anything. I also use Mint as a secondary reminder to pay monthly bills on time. (If I did choose to sync YNAB to my accounts, I could feasibly delete Mint from my life. But as it stands, I prefer to use YNAB manually, as it keeps me extra-engaged with my financial life at a time when I’m ready to be fully in charge.)

There are other apps out there, too! I've heard wonderful things about Personal Capital, though I haven’t tried it myself. It seems to offer many of these features all in one. So feel free to check it out as well.

Look, I don’t care which app you use. For better or worse, there will never be a shortage of choices. Just do something. If your financial life needs help, try a little harder. I never thought I’d be able to properly budget — and now I just…can! Follow through on learning an app — even if you decide you like another one better later! (That's not wasted time, it’s empowerment time!) Believe you can. Believe you deserve to. Believe you’re free. And honor your dollar bills.

Free thinking (+ tips!) on Decluttering, Creativity, & Adulthood? Join up right here…

    Fay Wolf