White piggy bank.

Advent calendars are all about getting little prizes over the course of a few days or weeks with the end goal of celebrating a larger event on the last day. Your financial health should feel exactly like that. Taking small, intentional steps toward your larger goals will help you achieve them faster and feel good along the way. To help you get ready for those large goals, we’ve created an advent calendar of financial wellness upgrades to start you on the path to financial freedom.

Acknowledging your current finances

The first step to improving your financial health is recognizing how financially healthy you currently are and setting your goals. Assessing where you’re at and what you’d like your financial health to look like in the future is key to understanding what steps you need to take to get there.

Day 1: Decide your financial goals

Your goals should reflect where you want to be in the long- and short-term future. Whether your goal is to save $1,000 or invest enough for a healthy retirement, your goals should reflect what you want in life. When writing down your financial goals, try to have a mix of short- and long-term goals. Then, when you hit those smaller goals on your way to the larger ones, you can feel the burst of joy and accomplishment that propels you to keep pushing forward.

Pro-tip: use the SMART goal method to plan your financial future.

Day 2: Note how much money you have coming in each month and when

Day 2 is easy – write down your income each month and the date it comes in. This will play a significant factor in determining your budget in the coming days. Make sure to include items like paychecks, side hustle money, holiday and birthday gifts, investment dividends, recurring bonuses, etc.

Day 3: Write down how much money you have going out and when

Today is a bit tougher than yesterday. Here’s where you’ll make a note of how you spend your income when it leaves your account. Tracking your monthly expenses will give you a better view of where you have some budgetary wiggle room and where you absolutely don’t. Some of the things to write down for your monthly expenses include:

  • Housing (rent or mortgage)
  • Utilities
  • Subscriptions and memberships
  • Loan payments (cars, credit cards, student, etc.)
  • Healthcare/childcare
  • Insurance
  • Groceries
  • Gas
  • Dining out and entertainment

Day 4: Make a note of money habits you want to keep, change, or remove altogether

Now that your incoming and outgoing dollars are written down, it’s time to start noticing trends. Do you go out to eat multiple times a week? Are you paying for subscriptions you don’t use anymore? Maybe you buy too many groceries that you don’t end up using. Whatever habits you have or want to have, write them down. They don’t have to look perfect or organized right now; it’s just about taking notice of what financial habits you do have and what habits you want to change or get rid of.

Realizing your ideal financial situation

Okay, your notes may look a little chaotic right now, and that’s okay. The next four days of this advent calendar are all about cleaning that up and beginning to realize how you want your financial situation to look.

Day 5: Research different budgeting tactics

Now that you’ve researched where your money goes every month, it’s time to start deciding which budgeting method to use. Specific budgeting methods might work better than others depending on your goals and financial situation. Do some research into which will fit best for your personal situation.

Day 6: Choose your financial tool for Money Management

On day 6, it’s time to find a financial tool that will help you track your goals over time. This can be as simple as pen and paper or can be more complex, like using budgeting software. Choosing the right financial tool can help you stay on track and hold yourself accountable to meet your goals.

Day 7: Decide if you need all your subscriptions you spend money on

You’re halfway through your financial health advent calendar. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations; you’re well on your way to reaching your financial goals! Let’s celebrate today by putting some of the knowledge you’ve gained over the past week to work. Today’s the day to decide if you still need all your subscriptions and memberships. To help you decide what to keep and what to get rid of, here are some questions to keep in mind:

  • Do I need a subscription to every streaming platform? Which ones do I use the most?
  • Is there a cheaper version of my gym membership that would serve me better?
  • Do I read enough articles to warrant a subscription to XYZ news site?
  • Are there any subscriptions I haven’t used in 3-6 months? (if so, it’s definitely time to cancel them!)
  • How much am I really saving from the premium subscription of a food delivery service?

Day 8: Determine if any of your recurring payments can be reduced or eliminated

Like how you vetted out subscriptions, day 8 is the day to discover whether any recurring payments can be reduced or eliminated altogether. For high levels of debt, consolidation loans might be a good option if you have multiple loans with high-interest rates. Or maybe your phone or insurance bills can be reduced by setting up autopay and having electronic statements.

Your home is also a good place to find out if you’re losing money to things that can be fixed simply. For instance, cleaning your HVAC system can help it run more efficiently, saving you tons of money over the course of the year.

Implementing your new strategy

Now that you’ve cleaned up your notes page and have some strategies and tools in place, it’s time to start implementing some changes.

Day 9: Create and keep a living budget showing your financial progress

Day 9 is about setting up your new budget and tools. By now, you’ve already written down your budget and planned out which budgeting strategy and tools you plan on using, so setting up the living budget should be a breeze!

Day 10: Note how you’ll use extra income

Now that your living budget is set up, it’s time to decide how you’ll use any extra income that might come in. This includes things like tax refunds, bonuses, salary raises, gifts, etc. Making a plan for how you’ll use this extra money now will ensure you don’t spend it on unnecessary or undesired things when it does come in (or maybe you want some wiggle room for buying unnecessary things, which is totally fine too; we just want you to make a note of it). To help you decide where this extra money will go, here are some questions to consider:

  • What are your financial goals? If your goal includes paying down debt, maybe this money should go directly toward that.
  • Are you hoping to attend a concert or event that isn’t quite in your budget otherwise?
  • Could this money help build up your emergency savings account?
  • Is there a holiday or birthday coming up that warrants celebration?
  • Are you investing? Could this money help your investment portfolio?

Day 11: Cancel your unwanted subscriptions

Remember a couple of days ago when you wrote down all the subscriptions you don’t want anymore? Today’s the day to cancel them! Set some time aside to go through and cancel or update your subscriptions. Then, cross them off your monthly budget.

Day 12: Create a plan to check in on your budget quarterly

Today’s the last day of your financial improvement advent calendar! Congratulations for making it all the way to this point. You’re well on your way to financial freedom. Day 12 is the day to set a calendar reminder to check on your budget again in three months. You want enough time for your new plan to begin working, but you don’t want to forget to check in on your budget, so let’s settle for three months out.

What’s next on your Financial Planning journey?

Now that you’ve built a plan for your financial freedom, it’s time to set it into motion! With a new year, new tools, and new goals on the horizon, getting to your ideal financial life can be easier than ever.

While you’re going through these next few months with a new financial strategy in place, it’s important to remember that financial journeys aren’t always linear. Each phase of financial freedom can have its own difficulties and setbacks to give yourself a bit of grace as you’re getting started and focus on progress above all else.

If you’re not entirely confident in your goals or if you need new tools and tactics, our financial coaches can help you figure out the best path forward. Even if you want a second opinion on your new strategy, our team is here to help. And don’t worry; financial coaching at Rivermark is included in your membership and is always free!

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