Part 3 of 6
Here are Actions 12-16
- Review last year’s expenditures – when it comes to managing your finances, it’s difficult to know where you’re going, when you don’t know where you’ve been. Tally up your spending activities from last year using records and statements. Which categories of spending ‘jump out’ at you? Where are opportunities to cut back? How much were you able to save? Don’t have any idea where your money went last year? Skip Immediately to #13 and get this year off to a good start!
- Track expenses – tracking expenses is essential for taking control of your finances and planning for future. Do you need to keep such meticulous records that you know where every penny went? Well, no. But the more accuracy, the better. Recording expenses can take many forms: a notepad or journal, a spreadsheet, online (mint.com, budgetpulse.com), a PC program (Quicken, Microsoft Money) or any number of smartphone apps (Mint, GoodBudget, Mvelopes). Personally, I’m old school and use Microsoft Money. It was discontinued years ago but copies are still available on ebay and, it works fine installed on modern PCs. It fits my needs. I am also a little bit leery about keeping financial records in the cloud, or apps such as Mint that directly access accounts,. However, Mint is well regarded.
- Set a budget – not to worry. Establishing a budget does not have to be as tedious and painful as you fear. Step one: begin by recording on-going, necessary monthly expenses: mortgages, loans, tuition, phone and internet. Step two: estimate variable expenses based on last year: auto repairs, gas, utilities, house maintenance. Step three: estimate necessities where there is leeway for spending, such as clothing and food – these are areas where spending can range from basic to lavish, from Mac’n’cheese to Porterhouse steaks. Step four: estimate spending for purely discretionary items: vacations, dining out, entertainment, hobbies. Add it all up and adjust the items in steps 3 and 4 to fit your income. Allow (plenty of) room for saving and giving.
- Set goals for big-ticket items – some goals may have a timeline of decades (saving for retirement, attaining financial independence). Some last a decade or so (kids’ college education). Others are a few years or even months (replacing a car or appliance, home renovation, down payment on a house, a vacation.) Dream a little, but then prioritize. Evaluate the viability of your goals and what it takes to achieve them.
- Set up automatic bill payment to save time and postage, avoid late fees – this action is as much about quality of life as it is about saving money. Life is simply too short to spend it writing checks and stuffing envelopes. Moreover, the cost of postage and stamps can really add up. Say you write 10 – 15 checks a month for recurring bills and donations. A first-class stamp is currently 47 cents. An individual check may cost 10 cents, or more. Altogether, you could needlessly be spending $60 – $100 on stamps and checks every year! Worse yet, what if you overlook or forget a payment and get socked with a late fee? Late payments can also adversely impact your credit score. Set up as many automatic payments as you can for (1) charitable donations, (2) utilities (3) internet and phone (4) credit cards (5) mortgages and loans (6) insurance (7) rent, (8) IRA and HSA contributions, and more.
All for now. Look for Actions 17 – 21 early next week. Cheers, Paul
© 2017 Paul J Reimold