You know how all the parenting books and blogs suggest that you have to let some things go after you have children? Usually, they suggest not cleaning as a place to start. Well, after my second child was born prematurely several years ago, I decided to abandon not only cleaning but my car and my personal finances too. I mean, I still put gas in, and my husband made sure the bills got paid, but things were not exactly humming along seamlessly. But our baby was thriving, and I knew we’d get it together eventually.
Last year, I decided that 2012 would be The Year In Which I Would Take Back My Personal Finances. I began working with a financial planner to make sure we had enough insurance and appropriate savings goals.
However, we still used too many paper checks for our bills each month, and we didn’t really have a clear budget or plan.
In November, with six weeks to go before the end of the year, I decided to see how much change I could effect in this area of our life in my very limited free time. Here’s what I did, and what you can do too to take back your personal finances:
1. Get your paycheck and take a good hard look at what you are spending. I opened an account at Mint.com. This allows you to see what you are currently spending in various areas and set budgets within categories, such as food or gifts. Because you see everything at a glance, it is easier to notice unintentional spending—for example, my husband bought our nephew a subscription to Sports Illustrated a year ago for Christmas, but I realized he had accidently set it up for automatic renewal. It also allows you to see any late fees or finance charges you have incurred unintentionally.
2. Set percentages for each goal. For example, if your fixed costs (like rent or mortgage, utilities and food) comprise 60% of your after-tax income, you could invest 10%, save 10%, spend guilt-free 10%, and give 10% to charity. When I say investing, I mean for retirement or college, and when I say saving, I mean for a vacation, house, or emergencies.
3. Make it all happen automatically. I found this part amazing, because with some rigorous up-front work, it actually took less time each month to have a better idea of what was happening with our finances. Make sure your paycheck is automatically deposited into your checking account. All your monthly bills get paid automatically by your credit card. Your credit card gets paid automatically from your checking account. Although your retirement may come directly out of your paycheck, any other investing should come out of your checking account. Keep over one month’s expenses is checking—maybe 1.5 to 2 months’ expenses. Anything over that goes to into savings. Even within savings, it is nice to have separate sub-goals, because it is easier to save when you have a specific idea of what you are saving for.
Image Credit: Obenauf Law Group