The hardest part of staying on top of your personal or business finances is the set up. Realistically, initiating a new system to track and analyze your spending, saving, and earning can take up to ten hours or more depending on how thick the money fog is when you get started. After building the foundation, you’ll be ready to move forward on a new level of financial wellness with a few simple routines. You’ll also have more time, and money, to prioritize your true values and expand other areas of your life.
With a disciplined plan in place, managing your money can take as little as 30 minutes a month. In order to set myself up for lasting success, I’ve adopted two crucial practices: a sustainable bookkeeping system and an optimistic mindset about money. Here are nine ways to live a life of awareness and abundance.
1. Choose a process or program. This will depend on your learning style and personal preferences. Some people will opt for pen-to-paper tracking, others succeed with high-touch software, and others trust algorithms or bookkeepers to do it all for them. The more involved you are, the more accurate your data will be and you’ll experience a higher level of consciousness. Be wary of software with tons of automation, you’re handing over control and could be losing touch with your financial reality.
2. Practice, practice, practice. Watch video tutorials, read user manuals, chat with the help desk or hire a coach to guide you. Freedom comes from mastery.
3. Define your lifestyle. When you use financial planning software, you should be able to customize 100% of the spending, saving, and earning categories according to your values. Anything less can lead to frustration and ultimately make your commitment to financial wellness unsustainable.
4. Put everything in its place. Create a baseline budget and organize your periodic, non-monthly expenses separately.
5. Save. Maintain at least two regular cash savings accounts — one for periodics and one for at least six months of living expenses in case of fluctuating or interrupted income. Open a third savings account for taxes if you’re self-employed or tend to owe money each year. True financial and emotional security comes maintaining several buckets of savings at the same time including investments in long-term savings, such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, college savings, community investing, insurance, real estate, retirement accounts and more.
6. Simplify. One checking account per family is enough (mature children aside), and if you must, carry just one credit card.
7. Communicate. Be patient with the inevitable learning curve that comes with starting any new healthy habit. Ask for help and don’t give up — expect two or three months of trial and error before feeling comfortable and confident. If you’re married or living with someone and you share money, you must have at least two “money dates” every month (weekly is better). You can plan and make decisions together, follow up on financial housekeeping tasks, review your household budget, and help each other stay on track for your shared savings goals and lifestyle vision. Research shows that only 4% of families talk regularly about money, be an outlier!
8. Stay the course. Twice a month, review what’s happening with your tracking and budgeting system. Tweak anything that is askew and make sure all transactions are properly categorized. Mid-month, adjust your budget as needed to make sure it’s still balanced and to ensure you will end the month where you need to be. The end-of-month routine involves reflecting and planning ahead. Many people find it eases financial anxiety to look at their bank accounts several times a week to track cashed checks, monitor their balances, reduce surprises and remain connected.
9. Be optimistic. Go to any lengths to stay positive and expand your financial wellness. If limiting beliefs about money and self-destructive patterns continue to get in your way, help is available. There are money affirmations, financial coaches, fee-only financial planners, advisors, money related 12-step programs, financial literacy workshops, and even in-patient treatment centers for healing your relationship with money. Everyone needs at least one completely trustworthy financial confidant in their lives.
Lasting financial wellness comes from completing all parts of this set up process. Your relationship with money was not created overnight, so it will take time and energy, and sometimes even money, to shift it. There are infinite benefits to giving your money purpose rather than feeling like a victim of your financial situation. I promise the effort will be worth every penny.