Quick: When is your cable bill due? How much do you have in your checking, saving, investment, and retirement accounts? What is the interest rate on your credit card? Do you know your net worth? Relax. The answers to these questions don’t have to be on the tip of your tongue, though they should be easily and readily accessible. If finding out this information requires extensive detective work, you are probably too removed from your personal financial operations. To close the gap, simplify your system.
Choose a Household Money Manager
Multiple money managers can be like too many cooks in the kitchen. Pare down by choosing one person to be responsible for all or most of the household’s financial duties. To make it equitable, consider switching the position every six months. Make sure all relevant parties have immediate and stress-free access to the information (i.e., no one should have to ask six times for the balance of the brokerage account).
Make the Most of Your Computer
The Internet is not just for looking up baseball scores or movie reviews. If you have a home computer with Internet access, use it to its full capacity:
- Sign up for online bill-pay with your financial institution – it’s safe, in most cases free, and once set up could not be easier to useUse software that allows you to track spending and investment activity
- View checking, saving, and investment account statements online.
Develop a Budget
Nothing gets you in touch with your finances faster than hammering out a budget. List each of your expenses in detail, taking care to include periodic and annual expenses. For example, if you pay your car insurance twice a year, divide the amount you pay by six and add it to your monthly budget. Subtract the total of your expenses from the total of your net (post-tax) income. You’ll immediately know if you’re in the red or the black – knowledge that will enable you to make changes based on your needs and goals. Once you have a budget established, stay in touch by referring to it often.
Consolidate Your Credit
More than a few credit cards and it won’t be just your mailbox swelling out of control – varying due dates, keeping track of balances, and monitoring many statements can lead to credit confusion and debt overload. If you can, consolidate your balances by shifting as much debt as possible to those credit cards with the lowest interest rate and best features. Close accounts you don’t use or need.
Designate a Money Management Space
Find a safe place in the home where you can conduct all of your money management business in peace and privacy. If you have a home computer, the space around it is usually the ideal spot. Keep important paperwork nearby. Your tax records shouldn’t be in the bedroom, while your investment account information is in the kitchen. Irreplaceable documents that you need for immediate accounting purposes should be stored close by and in a fire-safe box.
Balance Your Checkbook
Many people bounce checks simply because they don’t know how much is in their account. To avoid this – and the astronomical fees associated with insufficient funds – always keep your checkbook balanced. Subtract every debit you make – including ATM withdrawals, debit card charges, and checks you write – from the beginning balance in your checkbook. Add in all credits and re-total. Keeping your checkbook balanced is a habit more than worth adopting.
Know Your Net Worth
One of the greatest ways to gain perfect clarity with your personal finances it to know your net worth – the total of what you own minus the total of what you owe. Once your financial records are organized, it is easy to figure out. Keeping track of your net worth is the best way to measure the progress you make toward your financial objectives.
Simplifying your household finances is really not hard; it just takes a bit of organization and prioritization. The peace of mind and awareness it brings is priceless.