In the same way that you hit the gym to get physically fit, you should also strive to get financially fit.
What does “financially fit” even mean?
Swimming through gold coins like Uncle Scrooge, or doing bicep curls with wads of cash? Not quite.
In short, it means having good financial health – a steady income, bills paid, savings – so you are managing your money and not letting it manage you.
If one is not managing his finances efficiently by taking advantage of technology and time-saving tools, he is essentially wasting time that could have been better spent on something else like making more money – another smack to productivity. Having bad finances can affect your productivity, by increasing your anxiety and stress levels, causing sleepless nights, and could lead you to what is forbidden to try and alleviate the situation.
Now, let’s discuss some strategies to get your finances in order, manage your money more productively, and alleviate the stress that money problems can cause:
1. Calculate your tomorrows rather than predicting them
First and foremost, you need to have visibility of what’s coming in and what’s going out. Start by noting your take-home pay, not your pre-tax pay (the amount calculated before the deduction of taxes), and then begin recording all of your expenditures and breaking them out by category. Highlight the non-essential categories (i.e. entertainment) for later review.
2. Track your finances
You can use a spreadsheet to track finances or a free service such as Mint.com that will allow you to link all of your accounts and manage everything from one site; it will even categorize for you. If you don’t want or know how to use a spreadsheet to create a budget, Mint.com has a built-in budgeting tool. Another highly-rated option is YNAB (You Need a Budget). This one is not free, but YNAB does offer a free 34-day trial for new users, or 12 months free for students.
3. Plan and prepare annual and monthly budgets
Plan ahead for expenses by budgeting for them. If you know you have a big expense coming up in the near future, start planning for it now. Don’t just hope that you’ll have enough funds when the time comes or that you’ll “figure something out.” Estimate the cost and calculate how much you should save each month.
Create a budget to use as a guideline for expected spending in various categories (i.e. rent, groceries, car, etc). Periodically compare actual to expected expenses, and make adjustments in spending as needed.
4. Remember to save something, even if it’s a penny a day
As part of your budget, make sure that a portion of your income goes towards savings. This can come in handy for big-ticket items you plan to purchase, but also as an emergency fund in case something unexpected comes up.
5. Stick to the list while shopping
When you go shopping, go with a list and stick to it, as random purchases (like that pair of shoes that caught your eye) can add up throughout the year. An occasional impulse buy isn’t a big deal, but don’t make it a habit. Sticking to a list also improves your shopping efficiency, so you can be in and out like a ninja.
6. Supplement your primary income
Consider supplementing your primary income by launching a side business or by investing. A side business can be as simple as utilizing your talents and offering your services for a fee. Investing is beyond the scope of this article, but can involve stocks and sukuk (i.e. Islamic bonds), amongst other things.
7. List your ways to save money
Find ways to save money, either by shopping around or by using coupons or websites like RetailMeNot and Groupon. Additionally, do your research before making big purchases to ensure you are getting the best deal, or wait for sale seasons.
8. Audit your utility bills
Further to the above, perform an audit of your utility bills to see if certain costs are higher than anticipated. Some basic maintenance can help appliances run more efficiently, such as a furnace tune-up or cleaning the lint from your dryer. Switching to CFL or LED bulbs can cut electricity costs. Modifying certain habits can help, too, such as turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth or turning off lights when a room is not in use.
9. Make paying off your debts at the soonest your topmost priority
If you happen to have debt, prioritize paying it off. Adjust your budget so as much as reasonably possible goes towards the debt until it’s cleared. Perhaps see if a family member or relative can provide you with an interest-free loan so you can wipe out interest-bearing debt.
Of course, the best option is to avoid debt altogether. As stated in an ahadith by Prophet Muhammad :
“The believer’s soul is suspended by his debt until it is settled for him.” [Jami` at-Tirmidhi]
Likewise, we should seek Allah’s protection against debt. In another hadith, Prophet Muhammad gives us a dua:
“Allaahumma inni a’oodhi bika min al-ma’tham wa’l-maghram (O Allah, I seek refuge with You from sin and heavy debt).”
Someone said to him: “How often you seek refuge from heavy debt!” He said: ‘When a man gets into debt, he speak and tells lies, and he makes a promise and breaks it.'” [Sunan an-Nasa’i]
10. Look for new methods for payments
For recurring bills, set up automatic payments through your bank’s website. This will save you time and hassle, not to mention postage. No more writing checks, stuffing envelopes, and licking glue. Automatic payments will also ensure that you don’t delay paying essential bills. If merchants offer online billing statements, then opt in, as this helps save paper and means less snail mail to sort through.
11. Go for fewer accounts and cards
Where possible, simplify and consolidate. The fewer accounts and cards you have to keep track of, the easier it will be to manage your finances, and the less likely that something falls through the cracks. Review your memberships and consider canceling the ones you don’t use.
Applying these tips will not only help you manage your money more efficiently and leave you with more time for things you enjoy doing but also prevent or relieve money problems that can sap you of the physical and emotional energy needed to perform at your best and most productive. Less stress, and less time spent, over money means that greater attention can be placed on your work, projects, and most importantly, your ‘ibadah.
I hope you have found this article helpful to manage your finances more productively, in sha’ Allah. What are your tips to become financially fit? Share them with us in the comments to benefit others!