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Ever splurged on takeaway with still some leftover food in the kitchen? Or suddenly decided to buy drinking rounds for everyone? Or even been surprised with an unexpected bill (it’s-a-me Amazon Prime)?
It’s not hard to be have a ‘just another drink’ attitude when it comes to spending money as a student, and although fine in moderation, doing it too often can have some effect on our already thin wallet. Quite understandable in university: we finally have some freedom with our $$$ and so we want to spend. It’s great, but it’s also dangerous. And a big part of financial education is learning how to take control of money and not let it control you.
Financial discipline is all about controlling your emotions when it comes to money. It’s not falling for the big company marketing tactics, it’s controlling the urge to spend needlessly and it’s about taking responsibility for your money. Discipline is what will hep you achieve your financial goals. And the best part? If you’re disciplined with money, you’ll learn to be disciplined with your studies (wouldn’t mind an A now and then).
From personal experience, financial discipline takes practice and it’s not easy. But it’s simple and very effective. Here are some steps so that you > $$.
Get to know yourself
What are some bad habits that affect your finances? When do you feel you lose control of your money? This is where I say: get to know yourself. Whenever you go out, whenever you go shopping, take a moment to consciously take note of your spending habits. Do you feel you need more financial discipline? This could be cigarettes, going out, shopping or even buying lottery tickets. We all have a weak spending spot.
The hardest for me was controlling money on a night out. I kept saying ‘one more drink’ until oops there was nothing left in my bank account (did happen one time no kidding). Now I’ve become the lone observer who watches people go back to the bar for more and more drinks, and cringe when I think ‘that’s £12 right there. A meal at a good Indian restaurant’. A bit crazy? Maybe, but my wallet stays full (or at least ‘not empty’).
The big picture
This basically means creating a budget. (I’ve written and dealt with this word so many times now that it physically pains me to see the word ‘budget’). So you want to have a budget for each area you spend your money on. And not only create a budget, but also write down and keep track of your credit cards, debit cards, loans and any entity that involves your money. You want to get the big picture of your finances, just to understand where your money is coming and going.
Organisation is essential to building any kind of discipline, since it makes it much easier to track progress and less overwhelming when you’re getting started. Once you have your big picture of the cash flow, you can carefully choose what needs to be adjusted and re-assessed. Imagine you are the God of a little village where money is transferred from one source to another. And you get to choose where most of it goes. Pretty cool, wouldn’t you say?
I realised I was spending way too much when I went out, and drinks are bloody expensive. So what did I do? I basically stopped drinking when we went out and honestly I didn’t feel much of a change. If my budget allowed it I would have a drink or two, but my rule was to drink as little as possible (with large endorsements to do some flat drinking instead).
The ground rules
Something that really helps for me when trying to take back the reins of my money spending is setting some strong rules. For example, I will never buy a coffee which is more than £2.35 (the price of a Costa coffee). Nowadays I literally will do anything to not spend more than the £2.35, just because of this rule I instilled in my brain. Call it absurd, but it keeps my finances in check (as well as my discipline lol).
Set a rule for every area of your finances that might need more controlling. Whether it’s transport, takeaway, or shopping, setting rules means you don’t have to think ‘am I spending too much?’ as often. If it doesn’t follow the rule, then forget it (although there are exceptions of course). This really helps build discipline because you have to condition yourself to really stick to the rule; which is why they need to be created intelligently. It slowly gets easier, even to a point where where you get uncomfortable if you break the rule (£15.5 for groceries oh damn).
Habits, habits, habits
Similar to the rules, these habits will help you take control of those shady money spending moments. What are some habits you feel could help the money flow? One of mine was to record everything I spent in an app, whether it was 70p or £20. I did find it a bit tedious in the end and decided to move to another app which syncs with my bank account (love you Money DB).
Another habit could be to evaluate your budget every Sunday. What you spent, what you made, what went well and what went wrong. You can even force yourself out of a habit you feel impacts your finances negatively.
As you start to build these habits, keeping close to your spending won’t seem like such an effort anymore. The habits will make the process of discipline so much easier, since you’ll be doing good without even thinking anymore.
Discipline isn’t something boring or mundane, it’s really about finding harmony between your brain and your feelings. It trains you to control compulsive emotions, to always be conscious of what you’re spending and to keep track of your financial situation, whether in college or not.
And if you start with financial discipline, you’ll notice how it trickles down. Discipline means less procrastinating, less unhealthy eating, less being rude to person X. You learn to listen more to your rational side, to rely less on your emotions or ‘being in the moment’. Motivation won’t help you reach your goals, discipline will. As you keep practicing and improving those habits, your mindset will start to change in regards to getting things done. Suddenly watching TV is a waste of time, going to the gym is not so hard and your commute is a good time to read/listen to podcasts. You literally become productive.
By practicing the steps above, you’ll learn that discipline puts everything into perspective: it helps you to achieve. And something else: for me personally, discipline has brought me closer to myself. My mind and emotions are more in sync, as I now know in which circumstances to use my more rational or emotional side. It’s interesting and it’s improved my overall life as well as my finances, giving me energy to reach my goals. I’m currently writing this blog post on a bus on the way to the airport after 6 days on the road and with only one wish: to sleep. But by practicing discipline I am able to find the energy and motivation to do some writing on this bouncy bus as the rest of the passengers snore away. Try it out for yourself, you’ll be surprised with the results.