Money is tight for many individuals and businesses right now, with inflation at historic highs and pressures on the economy coming from several directions at once, from the lingering effects of the pandemic to shipping hangups and the Ukraine war.
In spite of the challenges, there’s good news: it’s possible to make your money and resources work for you. Even if your budget is tight.
Money can be a powerful tool whether it’s coming your way in a flood or a trickle. Quality is superior to quantity when it comes to how you direct that flow. Think of a garden hose: even a modest stream can be turned into an arcing spray and reach much farther if you place your thumb in just the right spot over the nozzle.
When things are more challenging financially, you have the opportunity to carefully evaluate what works and what doesn’t – to adjust your approach and apply pressure where it’s needed to maximize the power of your cashflow. This is true for personal finance as well as for business. And the hard work you do now can continue to benefit you even after things improve.
There are several steps you can take to ensure you are maximizing the quality of your personal and/or business life, often simply by making adjustments.
Take the time to evaluate how your money is working
Before you begin adjusting your cashflow or making significant changes to your financial strategy, it’s important to take time to put together a comprehensive financial picture.
Whether you are assessing business or personal finances, the first step in making your money work for you is to get a clear sense of what it is already doing. Is it running into a financial drain instead of nurturing growth in your life?
The answer to that question could look very different for different individuals or companies. We don’t all share the same goals and values.
Once we identify the answers relative to our situation, it’s important to evaluate how to make adjustments to change outcomes that need changing. As LifestyleInvestor, Justin Donald says, “Whatever you do – take action. If it’s the wrong thing, pivot and do something else, but don’t just do nothing.”
It is frighteningly easy to let inertia get the better of financial health. This is why periodic audits can be helpful: they illuminate drains so that we can take action to stop them. Try to schedule the into your annual or monthly routine: good habits can lead to health and wealth.
Here are a few areas to consider for possible savings when doing a financial -evaluation:
1. Subscription services
Have you ever realized you haven’t used your streaming subscription in months? Take some time to decide what volume of use for a streaming or magazine subscription makes the cost worthwhile, and then evaluate how much time you spend actually reading those articles or watching your favorite shows. If you have stacks of unread issues on one corner of your table or haven’t tuned into a show in weeks, it might be time to consider ending your subscription.
2. Software and advertising spending
This is slightly more applicable to businesses than to individuals, but even an individual budget can be hit hard by an unnecessary Adobe Cloud subscription you got to complete a project last year and then forgot about. As a business owner, you can periodically evaluate SaaS products to determine if the cost is justified by time savings and increased productivity. If not, you might want to consider alternatives.
It’s also wise to have your marketing team assess where your advertising dollars are going. Are you taking out regular ads in newspapers with reduced readership, or on websites with firewalls that might prevent impressions? Maybe it’s time to redirect those funds to more effective alternatives.
3. Interest rates
Are interest rates working for you or against you? Take a look at your investments and your debts to decide whether there’s room for improvement. With debts like loans and credit cards, check rates periodically to see whether yours have gone up. With credit cards, your best bet is paying off your balance in full each month and avoiding interest charges entirely, but if you ever need to finance an emergency purchase, it’s important to know how much it will cost you ahead of time.
Similarly, if you’re already carrying a balance, you might find a lower-interest loan or balance transfer card that could save you significant amounts of money. Now might not be the time to refinance a mortgage, but if you have other loans – like small business loans or private student loans – you might consider shopping around for a better deal. Just be sure to read the fine print to avoid hidden fees.
You can do the same with your investments. If you have more than $1,000 in a savings account, it might be time to find a home with higher earnings potential for that cash. That’s a somewhat extreme example, but do keep an eye on your investments and look for higher-growth opportunities (depending on your tolerance for risk) periodically. Just be sure not to make panic-based decisions. This is where a good financial advisor can help.
4. Cutting corners
Part of your financial health assessment should include a list of needs vs. wants. Your ten-person team may not need an enterprise edition of project management or email software. You might not need the most expensive version of Zoom or Dropbox. Are there alternatives to some of these more costly programs that your team can get by on? If so, the dollars you save can support your team or raise production.
You can use a similar strategy for personal finance as well. Maybe you enjoy a glass of red wine each night for dinner. Finding a good quality $10 bottle instead of your usual $50 wine could add up to enormous savings over time. You might be a cinephile. Instead of a $15 movie ticket at the theater, you could find something to rent online for $5. You could put the dollars you save each month into a vacation fund or an investment portfolio.
When you trim the fat, don’t throw away the muscle too
Evaluating your finances and looking for ways to adjust your spending to save money is a critical aspect of improving your financial well-being. But you can take it too far. Economy, even in a business, is not always about a simple equation of dollars and cents. Sometimes spending a little extra in the right sphere, while painful at the moment, will lead to increased wealth down the road.
Most of us are familiar with this principle. We know if we buy the cheap hiking boots, we’re going to end up with blisters, and we’ll likely walk the soles off after just a few outings. And then we’re back to buying hiking boots and ultimately spending more than we would have if we had done some research, saved up, and purchased the more expensive, well-made product.
This can be less obvious in business. Frequently when cutting corners, we begin to eye employee salary and benefits packages and start by laying off personnel. Sometimes, this is necessary. But it can also lead to unintended consequences.
Employees are more than business elements, and they can add value in unexpected ways – particularly when they feel valued by and committed to their employer. They hold institutional knowledge and build relationships for your business. It is worth the extra time to evaluate other types of spending before laying off people. Overhead high? Consider ditching the office and going fully remote, or working out a hybrid schedule to reduce heating and cooling costs.
Invest in team members with solid skills, and continue to invest in them through training and wellbeing programs. They will in turn contribute to the well-being of your company and can mean the difference between feast or famine in hard times. Remember that some forms of productivity are difficult to measure and don’t translate to spreadsheets and charts.
Some tips for improving your business and personal financial literacy and lifestyle:
- Purchase durable, high-quality items when you can, and check warranties and whether a company stands behind the product it produces
- Try not to make purchases with revolving credit. Save before buying, or find a way to make an investment that yields enough interest to make your payments
- Consider passive income options like real estate investments to give yourself a financial cushion
- Educate yourself on investments, the products you buy, and about the economy — your economy — and make financial decisions carefully rather than impulsively
- Invest in people. Treat your employees well with the understanding that their value goes beyond simple task-based productivity
- On a personal level, cultivate friendships with people who are smart with money
When you think about how you spend money, think of quality, not quantity. Invest in the best quality you can, when you can. Look at warranties and upgrade capabilities: try to buy once and enjoy items for years.
Do your homework, and do periodic evaluations. Note what was a great decision last year and admit if a great decision last year is not a wise choice for you today. Don’t impulse buy, and don’t make impulsive investment decisions. Reflect your values in your work, your life, and your business — and these choices will begin to pay you back in spades.
Spending a little extra time and a little extra cash upfront can make all the difference for your financial well-being and your lifestyle.