Ready to organize your finances and your life? Download our free printable habit tracker below.
As the lazy days of summer come to an end, a lot of us find ourselves being shoved back into the hustle and bustle a new school year can bring. Maybe you’re organizing lunchbox snacks in the pantry or scouring stores for a three-pronged folder in a specific color to complete your kid’s school supply list, but whatever is keeping you busy on the last days of summer is a sure-fire reminder that new routines are on the horizon.
A new school year means that it’s time to adjust sleep schedules, update wardrobes, and organize homework stations to give your kids the best start possible…but a new school year offers an opportunity to edit your own life a little, too.
We collectively consider January 1st as our official clean slate to start establishing new habits and routines and, in general, that makes perfect sense. Except sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. At the start of 2022, a lot of us felt unprepared to add to the growing list of things to-do; sometimes maintaining the status quo is enough of a challenge.
Although the new school year isn’t the same shiny fresh start for parents as it is for kids, it can be. The daily routine is going to change anyway; it’s as good a time as any to create some new habits with the intention of improving your life.
It’s also a great way to tame the impending stress of the back to school schedule.
The Back to School Burndown
Interestingly, our data here at YNAB reveals that a lot of people get back on the budgeting wagon at the start of the school year. While it probably comes as no surprise that the end of December and beginning of January are busy times for budgeting, September always shows a spike of interest, too. After all, the school year comes with new expenses and responsibilities—it can also feel slightly chaotic, and budgeting can help you feel like you’re in control of your finances, at the very least.
Jesse Mecham, YNAB founder and podcast host, recommends doing what he calls a budget burndown at least once a year. It’s where you take a higher-level look at your budget, with a fresh perspective and zero assumptions, to see if it still aligns with your financial goals and priorities. Basically, you reevaluate what you’re doing and why—are you doing things because it’s the way you’ve always done them? If so, is that still the best way?
It’s a good way to “start over” and could work in other areas of life too. What if you budgeted your time the same way you budget your money? The YNAB Method works for managing your money because it provides a flexible but effective structure to work from—could the same rules help you gain more control of your life? Let’s see:
Rule One: Give Every Dollar Hour a Job
Okay, not all of us are cut out for a highly scheduled life, but could you organize your time to better serve you? What if instead of feeling guilty about binge watching 90 Day Fiance, you scheduled time in your day to enjoy the things that you like to do so that it was a planned part of your routine instead of “wasted” time? Does the way you currently spend time align with your priorities? (And yes, it’s perfectly okay to make your guilty pleasures a priority.)
Consider using a weekly planner to loosely outline what your ideal day, week, and month would look like. You can still use a digital calendar app to get notifications about specific appointments and due dates, but there’s something about writing things down that’s good for goal setting.
Rule Two: Embrace Your True (Time) Expenses
There are certain responsibilities and obligations that are most likely not going to go away. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but barring a Mega Millions win and a full housekeeping staff, groceries, cleaning, laundry, budgeting, etc. are all going to continue. For most of forever.
I know—I hate it too.
What systems can you put into place to incorporate tedious tasks into your routine more seamlessly? How about meal planning? Delegating some chores? Implementing new habits? (We’ve got printable worksheets to help with all of that! Keep scrolling for our free printable habit tracker template.)
Make a list of your recurring projects, tasks, or chores and identify ways to streamline the work involved and/or tricks to add these items to your routine or schedule so they’re just an expected part of your life instead of another interruption.
A lot of YNABers like Todoist, a digital task management app, to help keep them on track. Check out this blog post they wrote about good budgeting habits.
Rule Three: Roll With the Punches
If there’s one certainty in life, it’s the uncertainty. We say it about budgeting all the time: There’s no such thing as a normal month. If you wait until “the perfect time” to start budgeting or building better habits, you’re going to keep waiting.
Also, something will mess up your plan, regardless of how good that plan is or how well you stick to it. When that happens, you have two choices: Give up, crawl into bed, and forever lament your failure as an adult or keep going.
And I’m not going to lie—the first option can be very tempting, but certainly won’t make life any easier.
So, if you fall off of the budgeting or meal planning or house cleaning wagon, brush yourself off and hop back on. You get unlimited attempts! This isn’t a game of Wordle!
Rule Four: Age Your Money Habits
It’s true that humans are creatures of habit. We can use that to our advantage! In budgeting, Age Your Money means that the longer you budget, the longer your money stays in your bank account. So you’re paying next month’s bills with last month’s money.
Routines work the same way! The effort you put into creating new habits and systems is cumulative—investing the time upfront leads to saving time later. Create a list of habits that you’re hoping to add to your life (like packing lunches the night before, drinking eight glasses of water a day, spending less time on social media, or reconciling your budget each morning) and start habit tracking.
Free Printable Habit Tracker
It’s a little ridiculous how checking a box (or getting a sticker!) can become a motivating factor when it comes to self improvement, but using a monthly habit tracker can create an outside source of accountability.
We’ve made tracking habits a little easier with a free habit tracker for you to download and print. Sure, you could go buy a fancy 30 day habit tracker on Amazon…or you could save time and money by printing it out and getting started on your good habits today. (You’ll never guess which we recommend…)
Need some help getting started? Here are some habit tracker ideas:
- Drink water
- Practice hobbies
- Healthy eating
- Take vitamins
- Specific household chores
- Eating at home
- No spend/Didn’t shop days
- Skin care
- Reconcile budget
- Goal tracker/breaking bad habits
- Lay out clothes/pack lunches the night before
- Check boxes with different colors/symbols so it doubles as a mood tracker
It’s like a back to school behavior chart, without the threat of detention.
Just keep checking those boxes.
And if you miss a box? There’s always tomorrow.
What changes are you ready to make? Celebrate the new (school) year by making a plan to prioritize your time, money, and effort to gain more control of your life. And don’t forget to budget!
Ready for a 30 day challenge to reset your spending and saving habits? Join the free YNAB More Money Challenge.