Keep That Money in the Bank! Simple Ways to Get a Hold of Your Finances

Everyone wants to be better about managing their money, but between hectic work schedules and long to-do lists, sitting down to figure out your finances can easily fall to the bottom of the priorities pile. Fortunately, we’ve brought the research to you, asking money management pros for their top tips on how to save more, pay down debt and bring in a little cash. Here’s what they recommend:

Know Where Your Money Goes

Before you start planning how to save, it’s essential to track your spending. Take a look at how much it costs to run your household each month, then see how much money you have left for discretionary spending, says Sophia Bera, CFP and founder of Gen Y Planning. If you notice any unnecessary debts or spending, try to pare down those expenses. 

Got a pile of debt? Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP and founder of Workable Wealth, suggests either paying off the debts with the highest interest rate first, or tackling your smallest debts first and then, once they’re paid, moving on to the bigger ones. Websites like Mint and You Need a Budget can help you put together a monthly budget and track your spending.

Start Your Emergency Cushion Now

Storjohann suggests storing up an emergency fund equivalent to three to six months of living expenses that you can draw from in case of an emergency. “Having that cushion protects you from having to take on debt if something goes wrong,” says Storjohann.

Saving 10 percent of your income (if you can) is a good place to start, Storjohann adds. It’ll seem less daunting if you treat your fund like a bill payment, setting aside the money every month.

Take Advantage of Employer Matches

If your employer matches up to a certain percentage of your 401k or retirement investment, make sure you’re contributing that minimum. “If you’re not, you’re basically leaving free money on the table,” says Storjohann. Don’t have a 401k or employer investment plan? Storjohann suggests saving for retirement by investing in things like a mutual or exchange-traded fund, which will give you greater diversification of assets.

Avoid the “Facebook Trap”

When friends and former coworkers post pictures of their fabulous vacations or new houses, it’s easy to feel as though you’re falling behind both personally and financially. “People are not putting their true selves forward on social media,” says Storjohann. “It’s best to focus on what really matters to you when organizing yourself financially.” Remind yourself of the non-material blessings you have before you go online.

Learn How Much You Should Be Making

Wish you had a bigger paycheck? You could be entitled to one. Do some research at websites like PayScale to determine an accurate salary for your position. If your salary doesn’t match up, talk to your boss. “Women in general are underpaid and should look to increase their income through their employer,” says Storjohann.

Get Creative to Earn Extra Income

Do you make awesome brownies or homemade jewelry? Baking, crafting or any type of “side hustle” can help pad your personal income and create additional investment opportunities, says Storjohann. Ask local stores, consignment shops and flea markets to sell your wares, or try setting up a website for orders. An even easier way to get extra cash a few times a year: Clean out your garage, basement and attic and hold garage or tag sales. You’ll be rewarded both with a neater home and a bigger bank balance.

Have a Case of the Motherhood Blues?

Motherhood is supposed to be a joy-filled journey -- or so the ads and Facebook memes tell us. So why does it seem as though our days are largely about nagging, supervising homework, changing diapers and shuttling kids to and from their activities? What’s wrong with this picture?

“Today’s mothers are stressed out, overworked and pulled in so many directions that it can be hard to find the pleasure in parenting,” says Barbara Siergiewicz, a certified parent coach and child development specialist based in Rockport, Mass. “But if you remember how happy you were when you got pregnant and what you appreciate about your children, instead of the challenges of parenting, you’re making a choice to be joyful.”

Follow this roadmap to restore the pleasure of parenting:

Make a Heart Connection

Set aside time every day to have a meaningful conversation with your child -- one that’s focused on feelings, not homework or chores. “Ask open-ended questions to find out what’s going on in your child’s life,” advises Siergiewicz. “For example, ‘What was the best thing that happened today?’ or ‘What was the funniest thing that happened?’” No matter where the conversation takes place -- whether over dinner or in the car -- stay in the moment by listening intently. This will create a more relaxed, closer parent-child relationship and will foster what Siergiewicz calls the “heart connection.”

Stop the Gripe Sessions

Sure, it feels good to vent to your BFFs about your kids’ picky eating or to send a Twitter feed about your mom meltdown. But making it a habit is a big mistake -- and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. “If you concentrate on the negative of parenting, it’s like pouring kerosene on the fire,” says Siergiewicz. “Negativity begets negativity -- and that will keep you from rediscovering the joy of being a mom.” Try sharing the good things -- photos of your child playing in the snow or news of a school concert -- and you’ll be rewarded with a glow of pride.

Catch Them Being Good

“Many parents expect adult-level performance from their kids, and they’re not capable of delivering it,” says Siergiewicz. This sets up a lose-lose situation, with the child falling short and the parents feeling perpetually disappointed. Rather than focusing on what your 10-year-old does wrong and nagging him about it (which isn’t very joyful), accept that he’ll make mistakes and praise him for what he does right. Saying “Thanks for putting away your toys” or “Thanks for clearing your plate without being asked” reinforces good behavior. As Siergiewicz notes, “Positive feedback will boost your child’s self esteem and lead to more of the positive behavior you want to see.” And the better the behavior, the less nagging you’ll need to do.

Clear the Calendar

Jam-packed schedules are a recipe for cranky kids and exhausted parents. Limit your child to just two extracurricular activities each week -- say, basketball and guitar lessons -- so everyone will have a chance to relax, recharge and reconnect. The less time you spend racing from one activity to another, the more time you’ll have to be in the moment with your children and simply enjoy their company. 

Create Family Rituals

Families need regular fun time, whether it’s watching a movie together on Friday night or going out for breakfast on Saturday morning. Having something that everyone can look forward to helps increase the joy. “Family rituals that are positive, loving and nurturing -- where parents and children are focused on each other -- create lasting memories that sustain us through hard times,” says Siergiewicz. (Like those days when you’re busy carpooling!)

Are You Addicted to Being “Too Busy”?

Are you crazy-busy? Of course! Who isn’t? These days, having a crammed work, kids and activities schedule has almost become a status symbol. Why, just look at all the women who post Facebook updates of everything they’ve accomplished during the day!

But being super-busy isn’t always a sign of a fulfilling life, according to Dr. Jaime Kulaga, who holds a doctorate in mental health counseling, and is the author of Type ‘S’uperWoman -- Finding the Work-Life Balance: A Self-Searching Book for Women. It actually can become a bad habit -- and a stressful sense that you need to stay busy in order to be a good wife, mom or worker.

Where does this pressure come from? Fear! “Fear is false evidence appearing real,” says Kulaga. “It can be the fear of guilt, such as, ‘I have to write long notes in the Christmas cards I send to 45 friends because I haven’t talked to them in so long.’ Or it can be fear of loss, such as, ‘I have to respond to a client’s email at 11 p.m. when I’d rather be reading a book because if I don’t, she might not give me a referral.’”

Here’s how to rid yourself of that fear and kick the busy addiction.

Ban the “Musts”
“We use the words should, must, ought and have to all the time, and psychologically speaking, they are words that will fill you with anxiety,” says Kulaga. “80 percent of our thoughts are ‘habit’ thoughts. If you say, ‘I must drop that off’ or ‘I must clean that closet,’ you’re keeping yourself in the habit of staying busy and expanding your to-do list, even if it’s not essential for you to do those things right away.” By taking the “shoulds” out of your vocabulary, you will tell your brain that it’s okay to be a human being, not a human doing.

Become a Delegator
Think you’re the only one in the house who can make the bed and fold clean clothes the “right way”? Accept the idea that there’s more than one way to get the job done -- and then assign those tasks to the rest of your family so your day isn’t totally taken up by housework. “Your husband might not do the grocery shopping perfectly, but get over it -- nothing is perfect,” says Kulaga.

Stop Being a “Yes” Woman
If you’re asked to lead a project at school or chair a committee at church, don’t cave in to pressure to make a quick decision. Instead, take a time-out with this standard answer: “I’ll need to think about this and get back to you.” As Kulaga points out, “When you say ‘yes’ immediately, you’re rewarded with a warm and fuzzy feeling, but you may come to regret it if you’ve got a full plate. Saying ‘no’ pays off later, when you actually have more free time.”

Dump the Drama Queens
Surrounded by peeps who expect you to be available 24/7 so they can vent about bad bosses and homework wars? Or pals who constantly ask you to drive the carpool and watch their kids? “Needy people will suck the last two drops of energy out of you if you let them,” warns Kulaga. “They deplete you emotionally, so you don’t have the energy to take care of yourself.” The solution: If you can’t avoid the drama queens completely, set tighter boundaries. For instance, you could agree to carpool just once a week instead of four days, or let the voicemail answer your cell phone after 7 p.m. so you can enjoy a quiet evening with your family.

Schedule “Me” Time
Make a daily appointment to do something fun that’s totally unrelated to your family or job -- and stick to it. Go to the gym, catch up on “Downton Abbey,” read a book, meditate or phone a friend. It doesn’t matter what the activity is or how long it lasts, as long as it brings you pleasure and lets you step off the “too busy” treadmill.

How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution!

Perhaps you made a resolution last January to exercise every day. It’s just as likely that you stopped doing daily workouts somewhere in early February. Turns out, it’s really tough to stick with a New Year’s resolution, and the research bears this out. In a recent study conducted by the University of Scranton, experts revealed that fewer than half of those who make New Year’s resolutions have kept them six months later.

So why do we still try setting goals for the new year? “I think people like a marker during the year,” says Karen Elizaga, an executive coach in New York City. “And January is a big catalyst if you want to make changes.”

Here are five tips for following through with your resolutions.

1. Connect to the ‘Big Why’

Before saying “I want to lose 10 pounds this year,” focus on the deeper reason for your goal -- or what certified health coach Chanelle White calls the “Big Why.” “Connect to your emotions and identify your biggest motivating factor,” suggests White, who works in West Cape May, N.J. “So, instead of wanting to lose 10 pounds to fit into a pair of jeans, the ‘Big Why’ might be that you want to feel confident and reignite intimacy with your spouse or partner. By connecting your intention to something meaningful, you’re more likely to stick with it.”

2. Write it Down

Once you know why you want to make these resolutions, write down your plan of action. “By writing it down, you’ll see it regularly and can reflect upon it,” says Elizaga. Consider jotting down your resolution in a two-column grid. The first column should be your goal (“Spend more time with my best friend”); the second should be a list of ways to make it happen (“See a movie once a month; plan a girlfriend getaway”). Once you’ve met your goals, be sure to check them off the list.

3. Start Small (Ridiculously Small)

Instead of going global with your resolutions, pare them down, suggests Maria Brilaki, a certified personal trainer in San Francisco. “Most people start with a lofty goal like exercising five times a week or going to yoga three times a week,” she says. “Instead of starting big right away, start small. Then connect this small activity to something specific in your daily routine.” For example, you could do two pushups after getting out of bed, three squats while brewing your morning coffee and go up and down the stairs five times after you send your kids off to school.

“The beauty of starting small is that you’re likelier to keep adding more and more exercise, not because someone is pressuring you, but because you feel like doing more,” says Brilaki. “Remember: The exact activity you do isn’t as important as actually getting started. Before long, you’ll look forward to it.”

4. Make Sure Your Resolution Has Legs

Before kicking off your goal, ask yourself whether your resolution is something you can do in the short-term and over the long haul. “Create a goal with a specific action that can be done consistently,” suggests Jenny Westerkamp, a registered dietitian-nutritionist at CJK Foods, a Chicago-based prepared healthy meal delivery service. “For example, doing a juice cleanse for three days is short-term. A better goal would be to have a fresh-pressed juice every morning, which can be done every day, is sustainable, and has no end date.”

5. Be Your Best Cheerleader

Sounds elementary, but for any resolution to stick, you have to develop your own internal strength. “I use this strategy with my executives,” Elizaga says. “I urge them to be their own best support system. And, by finding love for yourself, you’ll be more productive, happier within yourself and more apt to keep your resolutions.”

Keeping Friendships Strong

Good friends. They pick us up when we’re down, and rely on them to keep us honest and happy. Why, then, is it so hard to sustain strong friendships as the years go by?

“Life transitions tend to get in the way,” says Dr. Andrea Bonior, psychologist, author of The Friendship Fix and a professor of psychology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. “A job change, relocation, birth of a child or divorce can spell the death blow for friendships, especially if they were based on proximity and shared experiences. When people are no longer a part of your daily life, it takes effort to make the friendship last.”

Here, four common challenges good friends face and Bonior’s “fixes” to help your friendships thrive.

Challenge: No time to get together.

Solution: Make pals a priority.

The laundry pile is two feet high, the kitchen sink is filled with dirty dishes and bills are begging to be paid. But don’t let that to-do list (or the exhaustion of getting it done) keep you from a coffee date or Girls’ Night Out. “Half the battle of sustaining healthy friendships is making them a priority,” Bonior says. “Commit to spending quality time with friends, just as you’d commit to being with your family or exercising to stay healthy.”

Challenge: You live far away.

Solution: Commit to real connection.

When the miles separate you and a good pal, it’s easy to fall into the rut of trading occasional emails and calling each other on birthdays -- but that’s not enough to keep your bond tight. Nurture long-distance friendships by thinking outside the box and using technology to your favor. “Send your friend a little package of her favorite candy or a funny greeting card to let her know she’s on your mind,” Bonior suggests.

Don’t confuse memes and “LOL” comments online with real connection. “You may feel like you have interaction because you’re always texting or commenting on each other’s Facebook posts, but that’s neither quality nor quantity,” says Bonior. Schedule regular phone calls so you can catch up in a real conversation, not sound bites. Connect through Skype or video conferencing, rather than email or texts. Consider vacationing together or paying a visit to enjoy each other’s company and create new memories.

Challenge: You’re not sure how to help.

Solution: Tune up your listening skills.

When a friend is struggling with a problem, you may drift apart because you feel you don’t know how to be supportive. But most of the time, the best way to help is to be a good listener; sometimes people just need to vent and feel emotionally heard. Encourage your friend to talk, and stay in the moment by interjecting neutral comments (“Wow!”) and asking open-ended questions (“What do you think about that?”). Then check in with a “how are you doing?” call the next day to show her that you truly listened. What’s more, avoid passing judgment (“Oh, that stinks”) and giving unsolicited advice (“Here’s what you should do…”). If you think your friend is creating her own troubles, test the waters by saying, “Do you have any idea why this seems to keep happening?” rather than pointing out the obvious.

Challenge: Your gang of pals hasn’t met in months.

Solution: Plan group time.

Do you and your friends always promise to get together, but put it off because you can’t find a day that works for everyone? Solve the problem by setting a standing date with plenty of advance notice -- say, brunch the first Sunday of every other month or lunch the third Friday of the month. “A get-together is more likely to happen if people can plan their calendars around it,” Bonior says. And once you’re F2F, make it a tech-free time. One way to make this happen: Put your phones in the middle of the table, and agree that the first person who reaches for her phone to text must foot the bill for the group. After all, the whole point of getting together is to connect -- so do it!