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  • Jim Schroeder

Start the Year Right – Personal Finance

As the calendars turn to January, the days are short and the Reds' pitchers and catchers have yet to report it is a great time to take an evening or two to look at your finances.  Setting up a plan for 2020 will help you reach your goals, goals you may have given up on in 2019.  New Year, a new decade and with a plan a new financial picture.  These are suggestions you can do!

KEEP TRACK OF DAILY EXPENSES

My grandmother was widowed when my mom and aunt were in their late teens.  My grandfather was a blue-collar man who did not have life insurance.  She was a waitress until she could no longer lift the trays, then worked in a bakery and finally an antique shop until her third heart attack.  Every day she pulled out a marble notebook and wrote down the money she made and the money she spent.  This may be the most simple and powerful action a person can take to improve their finances (they tell me it works with exercise and food intake too).


I still use a paper journal for my daily expenses and income because it reminds me of grandmom and how she got by on way less than I did.  It is a huge accountability factor for me.  If you are a computer person you might want to create an excel spreadsheet or even an app like Clarity Money, Mint or Wally.  (Setup 1-2 hours – Daily 5-10 minutes)

TRACK YOUR FIXED AND DEBT EXPENSES

Along with your list of daily income and expenses make a chart of your monthly fixed expenses and annual expenses such as rent or your mortgage, electric, cable, phones, water/sewer, and car payments or insurance.  On another page make a list of your variable expenses such as credit cards, loans and other bills that are not the same every month.  I set up a chart where I check the box and put the date when I paid that specific bill for the month.  Some people find it helps to pay the bills the same day every week. I prefer trash day, it seems appropriate for some reason!  (Set up 1-2 hours – Weekly 20 minutes)

BALANCE YOUR CHECKBOOK

One of the biggest ways that money slips through your hands without working for you is through your checkbook.  Keep track of your money by reviewing each transaction in the monthly account statement.  You may find a mistake, a fraudulent transaction or a subscription you forgot about that has your account leaking money each month you could use.  This activity also helps you get a better sense of your income and expenses each month.


I don’t like writing in the small checkbook registers they give out with checks, so I print out full letter-sized pages and record transactions on them.  My checkbook never leaves my desk, so it works for me.  (Monthly 30-45 minutes)

PAY DEBT AND IDENTIFY OPPORTUNITIES TO DO BETTER

Some people preach the 50/30/20 rule, spending 50% on necessities or fixed expenses, 30% on wants like dining out, entertainment, gifts, vacations and saving 20%.  That, of course, is not practical for a lot of people.  Don’t let that stop you from doing what you can to move in that direction.  Having the information at hand from your journal, bill list and checking account transactions will make it easier to see where you stand with the 50/30/20 rule.  (Monthly 10 minutes)


If you have debt do your best to find money through whatever means you can think of to pay off the smallest of the debts, credit cards, medical bills or payday loans.  Once you have the first one paid off it will be a real boost.


For those who are looking for some additional tools and want to really make a change as to how they handle finances this year, I recommend Dave Ramsey’s catalog or finding a local church that is offering Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace classes. There are other similar programs, but I have seen first-hand how these resources have changed people’s lives.

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