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After years of practice, a rinse and repeat routine for my financial hygiene will prevent my finances from going foul.
Financial hygiene is … a set of habits that help you get and stay financially fit. When done properly, financial hygiene habits aren’t arduous or time consuming tasks. They’re quick ‘to dos’ that become part of your regular routine.My Budget
My financial hygiene routine is how I grow my net worth, keep spending low, and prevent credit from being someone else’s joy ride.
Like any small habit that is repeated into mind-numbing infinity, success is built over time with one 5-minute activity at a time.
Once, I was a girl who did many things. I had a job that demanded travel, learned to survive with little sleep, and no matter what the world thought, realized that an aircraft carrier is not a cruise ship.
Even if the gym equipment was very nice.
I was good at my job but poor at paying attention to my best asset: personal finances. My finances defined future possibilities, but I had let them stink like body odor after a long run. I refused to give them a brisk scrubbing and attention it needed.
Since I paid little attention to the comings and goings of my finances, I struggled to control it. The proof was in a frequently over-drafted checking account. It was annoying at best, embarrassing at worst.
I did nothing to change it. Instead, I drifted along in a smelly cloud of discontent.
Like scrubbing the sitting sweats out of a shirt, my bad financial hygiene changed gradually. I realized with a mild terror that my safety net of income, housing, and food was about to change because I was moving from the military to student life. Huge, lifestyle-blasting change has a way of forcing confrontation of uncomfortable realities, in this case it was my bad financial routine.
During college, I was on a fixed income which supercharged frugal habits. After graduation, I had a few rounds of unemployment which forced focus on my financial hygiene routine. This time with a budget. It felt painful to restrict my finances, but it seemed like the only way to control spending habits.
The budget bared my financial hygiene as a dump with piles of smelly confusion everywhere. I wanted a green park where finances could run around in a blissful savings state and meet fun friends like compound interest.
To get to that magical park of financial wisdom, I had to visit my budget frequently and start picking apart the dumping grounds. I accepted that my spending habits were destructive, I tried new things like no-spending sprees and intentional buying.
After years of rinse and repeat, I happily scrub my budget with month-long no-spending sprees.
My dump wasn’t all bad. I had a whiff of debt but nothing worthy of a power washer. I was fortunate to avoid personal loans and college loans, but I had a car loan. It took a while but eventually it was scrubbed free too.
As much as I enjoy public transportation or walking, it’s not feasible as a commute option. I enjoy winter but I also enjoy not spending two hours walking to work in a frozen tundra. Plus, the closest bus stop would still require an hour walk.
Transportation aside, having little to no debt is ideal for financial hygiene. I prefer when compound interest works in my favor. I could pick up a loan and try to get fancy with updating my car since it’s seven years old, but I’d rather not.
My car runs like a champ with 75k miles. I’m trying to hold on to her for another 15 years, which also happens to be when I plan on retiring. Avoiding a $300 a month car payment is a good way to scrub my finances clean and show off the pearly whites of debt freedom.
Emergency Fund: A Full Tub
With a cupboard full of soap, baby-sized toiletries, and white gold formerly known as toilet paper, having an emergency fund is how I had the confidence to tackle riskier financial escapades like investing.
After the 2020 dumpster fire, I was left with a fully-funded travel account with no place to travel. Instead of saving it, I decided to try a different layer of personal finances.
If my emergency fund was pitiful, I would have rolled over that hefty sum into that fund. But my emergency fund was living the luxe life with a years’ worth of savings. After reading about the many boons to investing, I convinced myself to give it a whirl, spin-cycle style!
I started small by opening an account. Then, I added a small bit of money and played around with bonds. It was very unfulfilling. So, I tried risker options like ETFs. I kept watching and playing around with the different options.
Eventually, I settled into index funds. I prefer a smooth ride and consistent growth over unpredictable company stocks. Unpredictable is not my middle name.
After six months of consistent chunks added to my index funds, it has become apart of my financial hygiene and has turned my finances into a green so clean it squeaks!
The Gift of Goals
Last year, I made some semi-specific goals: save $5,000 in 12 months, start investing, and increase my passive income.
I put time, effort, and energy into those goals, which seem to scrub them of doubt and give them an extra whiff of success. My current goals are harder because they are long-term commitments with little guarantee, but I have a financial hygiene routine. I feel confident that even if I don’t reach them – I will have a routine of clean that will give my finances an extra sheen.