Trying to map out your financial future can be a confusing affair. It’s so easy to worry about conserving what you have, not spending too much and where the cash flow will come from. If you’re reading this you probably are already very responsible with your finances and want to improve them even more, or maybe you’re just having problem being a good financial planner of your own finances and need to get back on track.
Get a Handle on Your Expenses and Debt
It’s really important to get a handle on this. Whether you want to use budgeting software, financial planning forms or a spreadsheet that’s up to you – they all work in their own right. It really isn’t about how you do it as much as you do it at all, and most people avoid doing it. Set a system that works easily for you. For example I just use an Excel spreadsheet with a few fields in combination with financial planning forms – that works for me. And every day I enter my expenses or even throughout the day as I work, as I work for myself. However this may or may not work for you, so the best way is to make it easy and fun for yourself. Some even use “envelope accounting” which is they only allot a certain amount of cash in each envelope category for the month. As soon as the cash is gone from that particular envelope (say “entertainment”) – then no more spending for that month.
You’ll need to include all expenses – food, dining, entertainment, electricity, money you loaned a friend, student loans – down to every cent you have spent. Yes even that 5-hour energy drink you bought at the convenience store. Everything. Down to the last cent. What I’ve found is after a while I remember what I’ve spent for the day easily and enter it by memory. Actually I round up to make it overestimated, to help keep me in a more frugal mindset. However if you have a spouse then you’d have to train them which may or may not be possible, so collecting receipts is the best way – then enter them daily, weekly or monthly as you see fit.
Know Your Cash Flow
Just as important as knowing your expenses is to know all your sources of income. Again, I recommend starting with just a spreadsheet or financial forms package. This is cheap and simple and the way it’s always been done – think of the spreadsheet as the new-fangled accounting ledger book. Then once you get good at tracking both your expenses and cash flow, you can consider programs like Quicken, Quickbooks, or a really impressive, relative newcomer on the market called “You Need A Budget” (YNAB) – which I haven’t used – but I have heard stellar things about it. A popular online budgeting and account management platform is the ever-popular Mint.com.
Checking Your Credit Score & Report
Two different things – one is to see where you stand credit-wise in terms of FICO score, the other is to see if there are any “blemishes” on your credit record. Important to do yearly at least if you are concerned with borrowing money for a new home and are concerned about maintaining a good credit report & score. Often times there can be some marks that aren’t legitimate and can be easily removed. Credit Sesame is an excellent service for obtaining a free credit report every month.
Bank Accounts & Investments
Next take a look at all your bank accounts, their percentage rates so we can identify where you can do better. Also if you have any investments do the same. If you don’t having any investments, I won’t say it’s as important as the above two categories, though you should begin to consider some type of investments even if they are lower-risk like CDs and municipal bonds.
Calculate Your Monthly Net
Take your monthly cash flow each month and subtract from your monthly expenses. Are you in the red or the black? Strive for being in the black and think of ways to either further reduce your expenses and make more income. Perhaps you can start a side business or freelance to make some extra cash flow. Certainly cutting down on those things you don’t need, like extra meals out will help as well. But also know that if you take charge and earn more income, you can definitely enjoy the fruits of your labor and spend on what’s important to you whether it be a Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks or a new Android phone.
Your Will & Inheritance Planning
No one loves this subject but it’s important to think about and plan for will & inheritance planning, especially if you have children. I remember my parents didn’t really do this until I was about 8 years old. You can use life, will & inheritance planning forms from USLegalForms.com to start this process yourself – or you can of course always hire a lawyer. It’s up to you how comfortable you feel with this process, but inheritance planning is definitely something you should think about if you haven’t done it already.
Calculating your net worth is as simple as adding up of your current cash in accounts, investments, and assets like cars and your home and subtract . If you want to take it to the limit you can even add up things like clothes and jewelry that you could possible sell on eBay. But that’s for the extreme, and not really necessary. Are you happy with the number? If not, what would it take to get there?
Let’s talk about financial goals next.
Have a Financial Vision & Defined Set of Goals
One thing I think people don’t realize is that having a vision about something doesn’t just apply to art or overall life – it really can apply to your finances as well. The classic book “Think & Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill talks about having grand visions in terms of making money, and this can certainly be applied to your ideal financial life as well. This vision is turned into reality by writing down your goals and taking action, which involves all of the above steps.
Here at FPT we recommend the Annual Financial Checkup Package (choose the one for your state) from US Legal Forms because it covers everything we’ve talked about above here.
And…if you are interested in some amazing budgeting & personal financial planning software – check out You Need A Budget – there’s a reason it’s ranked #1 on Amazon above Quicken and Quickbooks! YNAB is based on the four rules of the YNAB Way. This methodology is fundamental to what makes YNAB such a great piece of software and stand out above all the rest.