3 Steps to Organize and Track Your Finances Without the Hassle
When it comes to money, there's a lot to track, especially if you're doing all the right things. It starts out simple enough, with a checking account and maybe one for savings, too. But pretty soon you've got a credit card or two (or three or ten!), retirement investment accounts, other investment accounts, savings accounts for different goals, school loans, home loans, and more! It gives me a headache just thinking about it.
But doing the right things with your money doesn't have to be overwhelming. You can simplify your financial life just like you can simplify any other aspect of your life: by removing clutter, imposing order, and consistently putting things back where they belong.
Remove the Clutter
Money clutters our lives in a million ways. From the statements that fill our mailboxes and inboxes to the myriad of choices we have for each sort of account, it's amazing that we all don't just give up and walk away. If we're going to know where our money is and how it's working for is, we need to eliminate some of this fluff so we can see the true state of things.
To declutter your money:
- Choose whether paper or electronic statements work best for you and sign up for only one method of delivery
- Choose one time every week or month to spend on "money stuff." Don't look at anything financial, whether it's a statement, bill, or something else, until then.
- Pick one or two credit cards that work best for you. Consider interest rates, perks, and where you can use your different cards. Whether you cancel the other cards or not, stop using them unless there's an emergency.
- Consolidate locations as much as possible. If you can have all your checking and savings accounts in one place, that will be easier. The same goes for your investment and retirement accounts. Even if you don't consolidate entirely, having some accounts together is better than having each one with a separate institution.
Now that you've gotten rid of some of the extra clutter in your finances, things should look a little clearer. To help keep them that way, set up some structures in your life that will help keep your finances in line.
To impose order:
- Track your money one way. Whether you use an online tool, like Mint.com, or software like Quicken, or you have a pen and paper way that works for you, do it. But try to avoid having more than one system going at a time. Make sure that the system you set up can handle all of your balances AND is something you're comfortable with.
- Keep all of your money stuff in one place. This can include receipts, bills, statements, your checkbook, a calculator, and anything else you need to track your finances. Get your whole family used to depositing their receipts or any financial mail that comes in this place, so it will be there when you're ready to look at it.
- Consolidate your due dates. Many credit cards, lenders, and other companies that bill you, can be flexible with when your bill comes due. If your due dates are scattered all over the place, talk to these companies to see what you can do about making them all come due at once, or a couple of times a month, so you're not constantly trying to figure out what needs to be paid next.
- Find a method. Decide whether you're going to pay bills once or twice a month, whether you need to track spending weekly or if monthly is acceptable, etc. Write down your plan, and stick to it. Don't look at your money the rest of the time.
Now that you're rid of the clutter and what's left is in order, all you have to do is maintenance work to keep it that way. If your efforts at decluttering were successful and your structures are good, this work should be minimal.
To tidy up:
- Follow your plan. If you say you'll sit down for 30 minutes every week to assess your current financial situation, do it. Set up some reminders for yourself, whether it's time scheduled in your calendar to alarms on your phone.
- Make sure your tracking is working. Be sure that all your important transactions are, in fact, getting tracked and that everything is consistently working the way it should. After the first couple of months, you won't have to do as much of this, but it's especially important at first.
- Evaluate your method. After you've worked with your new structure for couple of months, decide if it's good for you as is or if there are some things you want to change. You can tinker with the details as much as you want until you find what works for you.
- Make anything new fit into the plan. If you open a new investment account, try to use a company you're already working with. If you have a new bill, try to make it due at the same time each month as your current ones. Don't let new things take you back to that place of clutter and disorganization
Money doesn't have to be difficult and frustrating to tackle. If you can get your financial affairs simplified, organization is easy and you'll always know where your money is.