In Part I, we talked about organizing a cash flow system to track your income and spending according to your values and goals, while minimizing time spent doing so.
In Part II, I shared my own system for organizing financial paperwork and documents. I highly recommend using a digital system and shared some of my favorite tools.
Part III covered optimizing your financial accounts. Simplifying both the number of accounts and financial institutions you deal with helps you to keep transparency in your finances and be more efficient in managing your resources.
Now that we have all that covered, it’s time to talk about putting processes in place to get this all done! The better methods you have, the more likely everything else will fall into place.
After all, everyone knows that the key to financial success is to widen the gap between income and spending (through earning more, spending less, or both). But still, the majority of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.
Something needs to change here.
If you want to change your financial life, you can’t keep doing things the same way you’ve always done them and expect things to turn out differently.
BUDGETING & CASH FLOW PROCESSES
Setting aside time to manage your cash flow will pay off, literally. In dollars. But there is a lot to manage.
So how are you going to get all this done? Unless you really enjoy manual data entry and paying bills, the answer is automation. Really, you can automate a lot of finance-related tasks. This includes:
- Direct depositing your salary (you probably already do this!)
- Setting up autopay for mortgages and other loans, credit cards, utilities, and subscriptions
- Setting up automatic monthly transfers to IRA’s, savings, or other investment accounts (pay yourself first!)
If you don’t already have these things automated, that’s definitely the first step. Just spend the hour or two it takes to get done to save many times that in the future.
You should also be using a budgeting software that automatically imports your data from your accounts. I personally use YNAB for personal budgeting and Tiller (the Excel beta version) for my business, rental property and to automatically pull my current account balances into my master spreadsheet.
Most personal finance software has the ability to automatically categorize your expenses based on previous transactions, which saves a lot of time as well!
See how automation is KEY for managing your cash flow?
Once all of this is set up, you can instead spend your time and energy focusing on being intentional with your money. This includes determining annual and monthly spending plans and tracking your money to determine whether your spending is in line with your values.
Daily: Input cash expenses as they occur, check your budget before purchasing any large ticket items
Weekly: Import and categorize transactions and reconcile bank accounts, make sure that there are sufficient funds in accounts to cover automatic transactions for the upcoming week, review month-to-date spending to ensure you’re on track
Monthly: Review your monthly income and spending and set the next month’s budget (be sure to include in your budget expenses for that month’s holidays, birthdays, special occasions, etc.)
Quarterly: Determine your savings rate (optional, but recommended!)
Annually: Review your annual income and spending and set the next year’s budget.
DEBT MANAGEMENT PROCESSES
Many people simply just ignore their debt as much as possible, make the minimum payments and hope it will go away. Especially if you have credit card debt, this just isn’t a good plan.
In fact, ignoring your financial situation could be why you’re in debt in the first place.
The first step is to figure out EXACTLY how much you owe right now. This is part of figuring out your net worth. There are lots of tools out there to then help you make a plan to eliminate the debt, but you have to first face the facts of the debt.
In addition to knowing your current debt balances, you will also need to gather all the terms of your debt (interest rates, minimum payments, starting date, etc).
After you put together the initial plan, it’s mostly a matter of staying motivated and keeping yourself on track.
Monthly: Keep and update a debt chart that tracks your progress toward paying off your debt.
Quarterly: Record your debt balances as a part of tracking your net worth.
Annually: Specifically address your debt and any possible additional payments when you set your annual budget.
Eliminating frustration around taxes could be the biggest benefit to organizing your finances.
There’s been a lot of uncertainty this year due to the next tax reform. Recent studies have found that tax refunds are down significantly and more people are ending up actually owing tax than in prior years. Tax surprises aren’t any fun at all. They might be the worst kind of surprise(!) when it comes to money.
We talked about organizing documents year-round to make tax time easier in Part II. That’s huge! I’ve also optimized my budget categories so that it makes it effortless to estimate and determine my taxes. I have a free printable in my shop with my tax-optimized budget categories that you can download here.
The key to organizing your tax processes is to keep up on it all year-round and not just wait until April. If you are self-employed this is that much more important.
Quarterly: Pay in estimated quarterly taxes if you are self-employed (based on your business profit)
Semi-Annually: In January and then around October or November each year, you should estimate your taxes and adjust withholding as necessary.
Annually: Start gathering your tax forms in a digital folder and prepare your tax returns (or send to your accountant to prepare). Determine the benefit of contributing to an IRA or HSA (must be funded by April 15th).
The truth about investing is that it really doesn’t have to require much of your time at all. It intimidates most people, but it can be very simple, especially if you invest in index funds.
When it comes to your investments such as Traditional and IRA accounts, brokerage accounts and 401(k)’s (or other retirement accounts), the real focus should be on the amounts you’re saving rather than trying to get the highest short-term return.
Monthly: If you have automatic transfers set up, there’s not much to do other than to just record the transaction with your cash flow. If you have extra money at the end of the month, it’s a good idea to make additional transfers to your investing account so that the money doesn’t just get spent.
Semi-Annual: Determine your current portfolio allocation and rebalance, if necessary.
Annually: Determine your rate(s) of return for the year, review your investing goals and Investment Policy Statement.
Reviewing insurance coverage is something most people skip. Probably because it’s an annoying task (at least I think so!). But this is also an important task not to be ignored.
Not only do you save money by getting insurance quotes, but it also gives you a chance to review your policies and make sure that you still have the appropriate amount and types of coverage.
Here we’re referring to homeowner’s, auto and personal umbrella liability coverage, but there are also other insurance policies that should be reviewed from time to time (such as life insurance policies).
Annually: Get updated insurance quotes and review whether there have been any changes in assets, home values, etc. that require you to update your coverage.
In addition, there are a couple of other tasks as well that you should complete regularly. These generally relate to your overall financial wellbeing and tracking your financial progress.
I’m sure there are other things to add to this list, depending on your own financial situation and stage in life.
Quarterly: Calculate your net worth, savings rate, and review your financial goals.
Annually: Make a list of accomplishments for the year (and celebrate them!) and a separate list of improvements you want to make in the upcoming year.
Hopefully, this list isn’t overwhelming, but encouraging. Everyone does things differently, but if you find that certain things aren’t working for you, the key is to stop and figure out a better way.
Consider this when creating your own financial tasks:
- How can you incorporate tasks you are already doing into your process?
- What areas of personal finance do you struggle with (hint: focus on these!)?
- What are the few things that you can do that will help make other parts of money management easier?
Good luck! Feel free to share any other personal finance tasks that you’d add to this list in the comments!