Get Ready, Get Set, Go!

February 12th, 2013 posted by Jane Chidester

With the development of any new habit-and budgeting is just that-a habit, the standard advice is to start small. Take baby steps, push yourself forward to the next one, and praise yourself for the last one. Starting with some of these “periphery” money behaviors will provide the springboard you need to dive in!

Understand Where the Money Goes

Sift through your current records. Look through your checkbook, statements, and receipts. Start gathering information on where, and how much money you spend in various categories on a weekly or monthly basis.

Create some new records.

Now take a small pad of paper and jot down every penny you spend. Start with just making it through one day, if you have to. Carry this paper with you wherever you go. Graduate to making yourself do this for a week, then maybe a month or two. At least go through one full “cycle” of your money routine before you stop. Yes, this will be a tremendous pain! But, if you’ve never done this, please go through this exercise at least once in your life. Trust me, it will be an amazing eye-opening experience. You cannot gain the perspective of this “game” unless you play it. The pay-off is big. It will make a world of difference in your progression to controlling your money. Just knowing where your money goes is a terrific education in and of itself. You will be amazed, and learn things about yourself you didn’t realize. And right away, you’ll get some great ideas on how to improve your spending habits! This becomes the first building block of your customized budget!

Spring Clean…Anytime of Year!

Get organized.

Simple organization is key to financial success. Gather and begin to sort all of your financial records. Create a filing system if you don’t have one. Separate the important documents (stock certificates, wills, powers of attorney, etc.) from the routine statements (credit card, paycheck, utility, etc.). Make sure you know where everything is, and have it ready to access.

Balancing act.

If you are not in the habit already, get your checkbook balanced and reconciled. Get it up to date and ready to go!

Get Set: When to Start

As the old adage goes, there is no time like the present. Procrastination is your enemy! The sooner you begin a budgeting system, the sooner you can begin reaping all of its benefits. In his book The Pursuit of Wow, Dr. Tom Peters makes an emphatic, impressive point about change: beginning new habits, acquiring new skills, pushing yourself to excellence, and adopting new lifestyles. He says: “The first 99.9 percent of getting from here to there is the determination to do it and not to compromise, no matter what set of roadblocks those around you (including peers) erect. The last 99.9 percent (I know it adds up to more than 100 percent-that’s life) is working like the devil to (1) keep your spirits up through the inevitable storms, (2) learn something new every day, and (3) practice that something, awkward or not and no matter what, until it’s become part of your nature.” In short, if you want to have excellent money management skills, you can simply resolve right now to do just that. That decision will shape your actions, decisions, thought patterns, experiences, and successes for the rest of your life. All that said, there are certain “triggers” that offer inviting “clean breaks” and make excellent and natural starting points for a new budget:

  • A change in your marital status
  • A change in the number of people living in your household, such as the birth or adoption of a new family member, a child leaving the nest, or a parent coming to live with you
  • A new job, a promotion, or a raise
  • A new home
  • Retirement
  • A major purchase, such as a car or vacation home
  • January 1st (or the beginning of any month)
  • The beginning of a quarter or tax period (e.g., April 15th)

GO! Maintaining the Budget Habit; How to Make it Easier

Though this quotation from Sara Ban Breathnach, author of Simple Abundance, is directed at women, I believe both men and women can take understanding and inspiration from it: “Like success, money is an emotionally volatile issue for most women. It’s probably the most complicated relationship we have-and the one that most controls our lives because we let it.” I truly believe there is no greater life-changing experience than getting and maintaining control of your finances. The effects percolate to every aspect of your life. I leave you with a list of my favorite tips for weaving “money smarts” throughout your life. I’m sure many of these are familiar, but I hope you’ll pick up one or two new ideas.

General Budgeting Tips

  • Make impulse buying difficult (leave checkbook, credit cards at home)
  • Make savings an “expense” item
  • Have some fun money for each family member
  • Budget for a fun item (vacation, toy)
  • Don’t over categorize (don’t make too many “expense” categories)
  • Don’t divide couple’s paychecks functionally
  • Use an interest-bearing checking account
  • Create an “expense” item to pay off credit card balances
  • Pay off the highest-interest rate cards first
  • Don’t use credit cards again until balance is paid off
  • After a loan is paid off, keep paying the loan amount to yourself (make a vacation fund, or next car fund)
  • Set aside money monthly for bills that are due quarterly, semi-annually, or yearly
  • Reconcile your budget at least once a month when reconciling your checking statement
  • Make sure to mark your last reconcile point in your budget
  • Get utilities or banks to change due dates of bills to make your work easier
  • Remember, just the act of identifying your expenses is extremely valuable

Jane Chidester (5 Posts)

Jane Chidester is the author of BudgetYes! 21st Century Solutions for Taking Control of Your Money Now! She conducts seminars and is a published columnist on personal budgeting topics. Visit her website Budget Central: Personal Budgeting Information and Resources Repository of information and resources on personal budgeting, financial planning, and household money management -- a complete budgeting education.


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