It’s 2021 y’all! Whoop Whoop! The beginning of the year is a great time to get yourself organized. Getting financially organized has a number of benefits including saving you money (think late fees and overdraft fees) and providing you with crucial peace of mind as you stay on top of your finances. So important during these volatile and ever-changing times we are currently living in.
These actions will help set you on the right course for the rest of the year (and beyond!) Take a deep breath and let’s go…!
CREATE YOUR BUDGET
Ugh. Really? Do I have to? Answer. Yes. Creating a budget is as simple as listing your monthly INCOME and EXPENSES. Start by writing down your expenses the way you expect them to unfold. Create two buckets – one for your FIXED expenses (i.e., rent/mortgage, utilities, phone/cable/internet, etc.) And the second for your VARIABLE expenses (i.e., meals/entertainment, tickets to movies/theaters/concerts, purchasing that new “must have” item, etc.) Then, at the end of the month, tweak the budget by recording your REAL expenses- what actually spent. This process alone could surprise you and suggest ways you can use your money smarter.
A number of us spend impulsively if the cash is available and, if it isn't, that credit card with the $2,500 credit limit can be used by simply overlooking the ultimate cost of the $249.99 Cuisinart. (Ah, right. Forgot about the 26.99% interest on the card.) Once you gain a better understanding of where your money is going each month, you will be more aware of where you spend it.
In order to have a successful budget that shows an improved financial picture, it’s important to review your budget monthly.
There are a number of ways to create your budget. You can use desktop software such as Quickbooks or an Excel spreadsheet. Also check out Mint, Pocketguard, PersonalCapital and mobile budgeting apps such as Wally, You Need A Budget (YNAB) and EveryDollar.
Personal budgets are extremely useful in managing an individual's or family's finances over both the short and long term horizon.
USE A CHECKLIST TO TRACK YOUR BILLS
I use my iCalendar to keep track of when my bills are due. I also keep track of those that are paid online via the creditor's website and those that are set on AutoPay (i.e., mortgage, common charges, car payments, insurance). This helps me to pay my bills on time avoiding those annoying late fees (they add up!) You can also create a checklist at the beginning of the month listing every bill you are expecting. Keep it on your desk, bill-paying area or a file on your computer.
Pay attention to paper bills that you usually pay electronically. You don't want to pay a bill twice because you got a duplicate by mail. Always call the creditor or check your account online when a paper bill arrives if you think you have an automatic payment scheduled.
KEEP YOUR BILLS IN ONE PLACE
Keep your bills in one place, on your desk or in a file folder or binder where you usually pay your monthly bills. I use the binder method - creating tabs for each bill (whether I pay it online or by mail) and I always print out the confirmation page after I pay a bill or record the confirmation number on a spreadsheet. I like to have a hard copy of the bill to refer to easily. Of course, you can do this online as well but since I deal with several clients, reaching for their binder is quick and efficient. Property tax and homeowners' insurance bills typically are paid on an annual or quarterly basis, so they generally arrive by mail. An occasional expense like a medical test may be billed and delivered via snail mail as well.
You may want to shred paper statements and rely on online records. However, if you prefer to keep paper records for tax purposes or for security, file them in your binder or filing system stored in a safe and secure place. I recommend a password manager to store your passwords securely. They can generate passwords for you, store them and automatically log you into accounts. Some apps for both desktop and phone are Dashlane, RoboForm, iPassworder. Many offer free trials and then a monthly or yearly fee. A really good investment IMO - and don't forget to add the expense to your expense bucket if you purchase one!
Whatever works for you is the right way to keep to track of your bills and pay them on time!
USE TWO BANK ACCOUNTS
This may seem like a lot of work but it will actually save you money in the long run and provide you with a better handle on your finances.
Use one bank account as an account for discretionary spending and the other account for your fixed monthly expenses. This will allow you to stick to your budget - and prevent you from using the rent money to pay for a weekend getaway.
I also encourage my clients to establish an “Emergency Savings" account. This is a separate savings or bank account used to cover any expenses incurred by an unforseen situation. This account serves as a safety net, only to be tapped when a financial crisis occurs. An interest-earning bank account, such as a money market or interest-earning savings account is best as it can be easily accessed without incurring taxes or penalties as you would with a CD or IRA.
Generally, the rule of thumb is to put away at least three to six months’ worth of expenses. This amount can seem daunting but if you put away a small amount weekly or bi-monthly, you will build up to your goal quickly. In order to build up your ES account, take a look at your bills, debt, family needs and other factors to help you reach your goal.
PRIORITIZE YOUR DEBT AND PAY WITH CASH WHEN YOU CAN
List your credit card and loan debt and aim to pay these off as quickly as you can. The interest will grow and grow if you neglect to do this. And why give the banks your hard earned money when that interest can go towards your Emergency Fund or Discretionary bucket?
It may be painful at first to cut back in order to pay off your debts but if you consider the money you will be saving in the long run and the awareness you will have gained by knowing where your money is going leading to greater empowerment and control over your finances, isn't it worth it?
Start by paying off cards with the highest interest rates and pay them off by paying what you can and not just the minimum due. Once card is paid off, go on to the next.
And finally, pay cash or use your debit card linked to your checking account to pay for things. You just have so much cash in your pocket at any one time, which make it easier to only spend what you have.
I hope these active solutions help you as you move towards a better relationship to money and your overall financial picture. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, there are solutions to every challenge. Once you find them and apply them, the world is yours!