Today I’m going to share my tips for getting started with understanding your money. In my experience, knowing where you currently are is critical for determining how to get to where you want to be. Don’t worry, I’m not going to make you do a budget. But there are two main things you need to do: list your known monthly expenses and view all of your accounts in one place. Let’s get started…
List Your Known Monthly Expenses
As a base line for your understanding, write down your monthly fixed expenses. Don’t worry about variable spending (i.e. dining out, shopping, travel, etc.). We’ll tackle those expenses in the next post. Just write down the bills you pay each month. For example: rent, utilities, TV and internet service, insurance payments, loan payments, tithe (if that’s an every
month deal for you), etc.
To help you with this process of listing your expenses, I created a spreadsheet that you can use as a template. Read more about and download the spreadsheet.
If you prefer working with a much cooler, online calendar-based expense tracker, I encourage you to check out the online software, PocketSmith, and their free membership. Click to read my review of PocketSmith.
So what’s the point? Why do this? Doing this will help you:
- Understand your minimum monthly expense needs and how they compares to your income.
- Project your future spending needs.
- Avoid late payments.
- Determine which expenses you could reduce or eliminate.
Alright, now that you understand your monthly spending needs, you should review the balances in your banking, investing, and credit accounts…
View All of Your Accounts at the Same Time
In this new era of online financial account management, it’s easy to lose track of all the various banking, investing, and credit accounts in your name. In order for you to understand your financial situation, you need to be able to see all of those account balances at once, and check them periodically.
Just like the monthly tracker above, there is a manual and an online tool available to help you set this up. See this article where I discuss the free tool I built, the all-in-one financial dashboard. You can also download it there.
Not only will that dashboard help you determine your personal net worth, it also has a place to store your online account IDs and passwords.
There are many good online tools (called “financial aggregators”) that will also help you organize your accounts into one location. I prefer to use Mint.com for this purpose, but most budgeting tools will help you do this.
Does personal net worth matter? One of the benefits of seeing all your accounts at once is you get to determine your personal net worth (banking and investing balances minus your credit account balances). What makes this number important is not the number itself. You need to compare it over time.
What you want is a personal net worth that is trending in a positive direction. Calculate your current net worth, then revisit this exercise in a month and see how you’ve improved.
Alright, that should just about do it for today. You’ve listed your known expenses and have seen all your account balances in one place. You should have a good understanding of your current financial situation. To ensure you maintain a good level of understanding, be sure to schedule some time each month to re-perform these exercises. Set yourself a reminder. Check back tomorrow for the second key takeaway of personal finance.