5 Ways To Simplify Your Finances
If your bank account has ever been overdrawn, you know how frustrating it can be to keep track of your money. You may know how much you have in your bank account at this moment, but is there enough for everything you need, between now and when you get paid again?
To answer that question, you need to know when your bills are due, how much each bill costs and how much additional money you need for things like gas and groceries. This gets more complicated if you have auto bill pay or automatic transfers happening between bank accounts that you’re not aware of, or worse yet, add up to more money than you have in your accounts.
So, what can you do to stay on top of all this, and still pay off debt or save for the future?
One – Keep all your money in one account
Why not use multiple accounts to separate your money – one for bills, another for every day expenses and yet another for savings? This might work, if you commit to checking each account on a daily basis, to make sure there’s still money to spend, but it means making sure you know what has already been spent. Just because you buy groceries today doesn’t mean your bank will post that purchase today. The store may wait several days, before telling the bank about that purchase, which means the bank can’t tell you how much money you really have left.
Those with more than one debit card often make the mistake of using the wrong one for the wrong type of purchase, causing them to come up short and having to transfer money between accounts or risk being overdrawn and paying the fees. This is a vicious cycle that is costly, both financially and mentally, for a lot of people.
But if you only have one bank account, how can you separate your money? You could use the cash envelope method. This cuts out most of your bookkeeping tasks, because if you don’t have cash in the envelope, there’s nothing to spend! Now you know, and you didn’t have to keep track of anything. But the cash envelope method has its drawbacks, especially when it comes to paying bills, because most of that is done electronically now. Plus, a lot of us are not comfortable carrying around a lot of cash. So, what can we do instead?
Two – Create a budget that will separate the money for you
YNAB is great for this, because it’s basically a set of digital cash envelopes! You get to name each envelope, or category, whatever you wish. And you can have as many or as few as you need. Each time you get paid, tell YNAB how much money you received, then tell it how much to put in each category. Think about all the different things you need that money to do for you, before you get paid again, and budget accordingly. Have a list of bills and due dates handy and think about how often and how much you get paid. Think of each category as a savings account. All money is savings money and all money is spending money. Save now so you can spend later, whether later means later today or in retirement. Never spend what you haven’t saved and you’ll always be debt free!
Now that you’ve planned how your money will be spent, how do you execute that plan without making a career out of accounting?
Three – Pay bills once per paycheck
How do you do this, when all your bills have different due dates? You’ve already budgeted to cover everything between now and your next paycheck, including bills, so instead of waiting until the due date, pay them all now! If you’ve budgeted properly, you’ll still have enough left to buy groceries, gas and anything else you need until your next paycheck. Now you can stop thinking about bills until you get more money – and they’ll always be paid on time.
Four – Track your spending
This is the part most people dread, but it’s the most important thing you can do to simplify your finances. Tracking your spending simply means entering each transaction that goes through your bank account – whether it’s money coming in from your paycheck, or money going out to pay a bill, pay for groceries or buy a gift. Why is this important? Who cares where you spend your money? You may not care about that, but the important part is knowing what you have left. When you track your spending in YNAB, it asks you what category you want that money to be spent from. Then it does the math for you, so you know how much money is left in that category to spend.
Your bills are pretty much going to be a no-brainer. If your rent is $2000 per month, budget $2000 into your rent category and when you pay your rent, you’ll have nothing left in that category until next month, when you budget more money for rent. But think about groceries. If you shop every week, but get paid every two weeks, you won’t spend it all at once. But if you track your spending from the first week’s shopping trip, you’ll know how much you have left for the next week. This tells you exactly how much money you can spend on groceries, without having to worry about coming up short for gas money or anything else you need to spend.
Don’t forget to look before you spend! Before you hit the grocery store, check the grocery category in your budget to see how much you can spend. This cuts down on surprise overdraft fees, returned checks and late bills that come from overspending. The whole point to tracking your spending is so you always have an accurate view of what’s still available to you. Money surprises happen when we’re not paying attention, so pay attention.
Five – Follow a Weekly Budget Checklist
This is a budget review, to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and a look ahead, to make sure you have enough money for what’s coming next. If you’ve followed the other steps properly, this won’t take long, because you’re already on track. But this is a great way to assure nothing has been missed or forgotten about. For details on the weekly budget checklist, listen to the CentsAble Chat podcast “Budget Checklist.” You can also email me directly for a written checklist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time spent now saves time and stress later!
Like anything else, these tasks seem more complicated than simplified in the beginning. But, putting in a bit more time and effort now greatly reduces the long-term stress and time that goes into digging out of financial chaos over and over again.