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Budget Whisperer: Resolving to pay myself first

Susan Russell
by Susan Russell, Dimespring 30

A new year is quickly approaching, which can only mean one thing: time to come up with a resolution that somehow won’t be forgotten before the calendar turns its page to February. I went with diet goals last year, so I thought I’d go with something financial this year. Sounds reasonable enough. My true wish is that I’ll find a job with a great salary and amazing benefits, but I’ve come to terms that it’s just not going to happen regardless of how hard I try (I’ll blame the economy). So while that’s my overall goal, I would rather stick with a New Year’s resolution that won’t end in complete disappointment. Instead, I’m going to hold myself more accountable for something I’ve already been attempting to do.

READ: Young & Reckless: The wonderful world of budgeting 

I never met my grandfather, but my mom has passed along his words of wisdom: Pay yourself first. At first it sounds like something a high-up executive would use to justify a large income. A selfish mindset. For those with a simpler income, though, it might be the healthiest piece of advice there is. Essentially what this suggests is that while obligations and necessities are important and need to be tended to, you can’t put yourself on the backburner. You are the most important person in your financial equation, so make yourself top priority.

But how can I pay myself when I can barely pay the power bill? This can be a constant struggle. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a grandiose amount that get puts aside (though that would be lovely). Every little bit counts when it comes to savings and back-up plans, but making it a priority is crucial.  It’s easy to put it off when unexpected expenses come up, but that is precisely why you need to save in the first place. Minimizing the smaller, random expenses will allow for larger surprises later.

READ: Why do some budgets fail (especially during the holidays)?

Now, I’ve heard these words since I was a child, long before I had the means to follow their guidance, so I’ve always had the idea playing around in my head. I know it’s important and I’m familiar with why it’s a good habit to get into. Most of the time I do well to make my grandpa proud, but then there are times that I let other things get the best of me. This time of the year certainly doesn’t help. Sure, I have a savings line in my budget, and generally put money from my first paycheck of the month directly into my savings account, which is made easy by my linked checking/savings accounts where I can transfer money back and forth with their phone app. As long as I think about the connection as a one way street as often as possible (checking-to-savings and not vice versa), it’s a great convenience.

This month, however, I knew I’d be spending more than my allotted budget on gifts for family, travel expenses and other holiday costs, so I forwent it at first, assuring myself I’d just wait until my second paycheck. And then my second paycheck came, and guess what didn’t happen. Money didn’t get transferred to my rainy day fund.

So, starting next week, I am going to pledge to not let that happen anymore. I am going to make saving my top priority; I am going to pay myself first. With any luck by making this decree public it may even last through the year, but let’s get through January first.

 

Susan Russell, aka the Budget Whisperer, is a member of the Dimespring 30, a community of bloggers sharing their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on personal finance.