This post is about conquering your financial FOSO, or Fear of Starting Out. Many of us struggle to start out or make progress on our financial goals because we feel like we’re already behind, or do not trust that we will be able to make the progress we need to accomplish our goals. Here, I discuss ideas for setting a realistic financial goal. Then I offer six ideas for freeing up the money you need to succeed. Stop letting fear drive your financial behavior and let’s get started!
If you’re like most Americans, you know you should have more money in savings to cover emergencies. You should also increase the amount of money you’re putting away for retirement. And you will. Next month. Probably. Or next year. But yeah, you totally will. Either after you get that raise or when your partner starts their new job. Sometime anyway, you’ll definitely get to it.
Does this sound like you? I promise, I’m not judging. Saving is hard! I’ve been there. In some ways I’m still there. But I’m working on it and I’m starting to see results from my efforts. And you can too. Let’s start by admitting though that even starting to work on your finances is actually really hard for many of us. Building smart habits around saving and investing is not easy. If it were, most of us would already be doing it.
One of the issues is that a lot of us experience what I call Financial FOSO, or Fear of Starting Out. When you read online about people with a whole year of expenses saved up, it’s hard to feel good about the itty bitty amount you have in your own emergency fund. Additionally, when you hear a co-worker (who might be even younger than you) talk about how they have a million dollars in their retirement account and will soon be able to retire early, it’s natural to react by feeling bad about what’s in your own 401(k) or IRA. When other people are just so far ahead, it’s easy to conclude, what’s the point? It’s impossible for me to get to where that person is anyway. So why even try?
Here’s why. Even seemingly small financial steps can have big implications for your well-being and peace of mind. Finances take time. They take commitment. And they take consistency. Unless you have large amounts of money to work with, it’s virtually impossible to make big financial changes overnight. But many people have turned incremental and small contributions into big financial wins for themselves and for their families. That’s what we’re talking about here–small amounts of money and small changes. We’re talking about changes you can make today and sustain over time. It’s time to admit you know you’re never going to get anywhere until you get started. So let’s get started. It’s easy. Just two steps!
1. Identify a Reasonable New Financial Goal
I’m talking something modest here. A few years back when I was still in graduate school, I read about Roth IRAs and decided to open one. But as a student I was working on a research stipend of less than $20,000 a year. My contributions started small. I started at $50 a month and eventually increased that to $100 a month. I was not growing a large, comfy nest egg for my family at that rate. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that I opened the account and I got started.
Here are some ideas for what your own new financial goal might be:
Pay extra on one of your debts each month.
This could be a credit card, student loan, your car payment, or your mortgage. Pick your debt with the highest interest rate and commit to making more than the minimum payment each month. Depending on your circumstances we might be talking an extra $30 or $300. You know your financial situation, so I trust you on the amount. Don’t be too ambitious, but don’t be lazy here either. What can you reasonably come up with by making modest changes in your life? I’ll provide some ideas below.
Start an emergency fund.
If you don’t have any money saved away for unanticipated expenses like a car repair, a visit to the vet, or plumbing disaster, start saving. I recommend opening an account specifically for emergencies so you won’t dip into it when you decide you want to go away for a long weekend. Many online accounts will let you give a name the account, so earmark it specifically for emergencies. Add to your emergency fund each month until it can cover an emergency or even keep your family secure for a few months if you were to lose your job. You won’t save that much overnight, but each month you’ll get closer.
Make a recurring investment each month.
This can mean increasing your contribution percentage on your 401(k) with your employer if you have one, or opening up an individual retirement account like an IRA. There are many great online resources for learning about tax advantaged accounts like Roth IRAS that help you grow your money in smart ways. Start small like I did and then challenge yourself to increase your contributions down the road. It feels motivating as you make progress!
2. Fund Your New Goal
The money to accomplish this now goal has to come from somewhere, right? Here are just a few of the ways other people are doing it.
Eat out less.
Eating out is generally a lot more expensive than cooking at home. This one has been big for me. I consider myself a foodie and love to try new restaurants. I also love to cook though. Lately I’ve been opting to cook more, and go to restaurants less often. Of course I always want to go to the Thai place down the street. But I’ve also learned to make a pretty darn good curry myself. There are tons of great blogs and Pinterest boards about making meals on a budget. The options are virtually limitless.
Kick the expensive coffee habit.
On the radio the other morning I heard the announcer admit that he spends $5 on coffee each morning on his way into work. I love lattes. I’d love to do that too. But I now make my coffee at home each morning and bring a travel mug into work with me. The savings stack up.
Get a roommate.
If you live by yourself, you can save a lot money each month by choosing to live with a roommate. If you like having your own place, this might not be the most attractive idea in the world. But we’re also talking about freeing up potentially hundreds of dollars each month. The progress you can make on your finances is huge.
Downsize to a smaller space.
Americans like big — big cars and big homes. Or if you’re a young person living in an expensive city, you might just like having a real bedroom. When moving to Los Angeles last year, my fiancé and I realized we could save a few hundred dollars each month by living in a smaller apartment than we did when we lived in the Midwest. Downsizing has been more than worth it!
Do a side hustle in your community.
Busy families are often looking for help. There are likely plentiful opportunities around you for mowing lawns, blowing snow, or doing a bit of babysitting or pet sitting for families in your area. You could also look into side hustle options like tutoring students in your community or joining up with a ridesharing company. If you have a church community, parent group, or other local community group that you interact with, ask them for ideas.
Find a way that works for you.
The Internet is full of blog posts from creative people who have found all kinds of ways to come up with money each month for their financial goals. What matters is that you evaluate your life, set a goal, and make progress—even if it’s really small progress—every single month.
Don’t let yourself be ruled by your Fear of Starting Out anymore. Take control of your financial life! Your progress might be slow, but each choice you make to invest in your own (and your family’s) financial future, will add up to help contribute to a better financial life.
Good luck with your start. And be sure to let me know how you’re conquering your FOSO. I’d love to hear about it!
Mystery Money Man writes about financial freedom, often taking aim at the excess materialism in our consumer culture. He believes that all families can create better lives by resisting the pressure to “keep up with the Joneses’”
He lives in a small community with his wife, 3 kids and 2 dogs. Together they stay active, are very involved in music, and are always up for an epic road trip.