Are you where you want to be with your personal finances? Do you know what your net worth is? Do you have any idea whether you have a positive or negative monthly cash flow? If you answered “no” to any of these questions this article is going to help you better manage your money to get where you want to be!
Learning how to manage finances takes time and effort! If you are reading articles like this you have already started the process.
There are 10 steps in organizing your personal finance. After following these 9 steps, you should have a very clear picture of what your personal finance looks like. From there you can make the necessary changes to achieve the financial freedom you desire.
How To Manage Money Effectively
Before you dive in and get started with the nitty-gritty side of starting to manage finances, there are a few things I want to discuss about how to manage money wisely, first.
Know your financial goals.
The very first thing to consider when getting started with managing your finances is your financial goals. We can give you all the quick financial tips you could want, but if you don’t have your goals clearly defined it won’t matter because you won’t know which tips might apply to you and which would send you in the wrong direction.
Do you want to retire early? Do you have debts to pay off? Are you a parent who intends to pay for your kid’s college degree, or are you wondering if that’s even remotely possible? The specifics for how to manage money in your 20s are far different than in your 60s.
Both your action steps along the way as well as your specific math results will differ depending on your exact scenario.
Have a rough path forward.
The specifics of your next action steps for your specific personal finance strategy will depend on the results of the steps outlined later in this article.
Generally speaking though, you’ll want to go into all these steps and any calculations knowing the big picture of how you want to proceed, which in turn tells you which financial planning tips you need.
Do you want to pay off debts first, then save for retirement, then pay off your mortgage (following the advice from the wise Dave Ramsey)? Do you want to chip away at debts while saving for a down payment for your first home, then worry about retirement?
If you’re like most people and need to pay off debts as a big part of your financial management strategy, you’ve got to be prepared for some rough times and sometimes a long road ahead of you.
Try to remember that every step you take and every milestone you can check off (even if it’s just one $300 credit card balance) is still progress and another step in the right direction!
Having motivation is really all it takes to manage finances effectively!
Know when you’re out of your element and don’t be afraid of asking for help or advice.
Not all of us are born to be accountants, investment bankers, or stock traders, and that’s ok.
When it comes to something as important as doing your taxes or saving for retirement, the majority of us are going to need some help along the way.
If you truly are struggling to figure something out for yourself, consider hiring a professional to help you manage your finances and learn for yourself, and also look into some “DIY” options, such as robo-investors like Betterment or even Acorns.
The last thing you want to do is stay proud and try to struggle through something on your own, only to realize much later that you’ve made a huge mistake!
Use the tools you need, and find new ones as necessary.
Just like you can cut wood with a number of different tools, you’ll need to find the budgeting and financial tools that work best for you.
If you’re looking for a simple pen and paper solution, try some of these budget templates. If you want a paper tool that’s a little more thorough/complete, you’ll definitely want to check out our Budgeting Binder, to cover just about all of your financial needs!
Some things really do need to be done a little more particularly. While pen and paper work just fine for budgeting, if you’re the type to be a little less strict about actually using the paper, you might find that you need a budget app, purely for the purpose of having it on your smartphone, always in front of you, and even notifying you of changes in your accounts.
If you choose not to work with a professional for some of your personal financial management needs, you’ll definitely want to consider investing in some quality money management software, such as Quickbooks.
How To Manage Your Finances
Now that you’ve got your head in the right place to be ready to dive in, it’s time to share our personal finance strategy that will help you manage your finances like a pro with a simple straightforward approach that’s easy to follow.
1. Collect and Write Down Your Assets and Liabilities
Assets: Write down everything that has value to you. These include checkings, savings, retirement, IRA’s, vehicles, stocks, bonds, annuities, and home equity.
Liabilities: Write down all of your debt. This includes student loans, mortgage, cars loans, personal loans, credit card balances, and any other debt you might have.
If you are just getting started organizing your personal finance, using a pen and paper works great. Keep it simple write everything down with a name and dollar amount. Other options include excel spreadsheet or using a free website like Mint.
2. Calculate Your Net Worth
Many people believe that calculating your net worth is difficult. In actuality, it’s probably the simplest step in starting or learning to manage your finances. To calculate your net worth subtract your total debt from your total assets (Assets – Debt = Net Worth).
Again you can do this with a pen and paper, it works great. Excel is another great option because you can easily enter a formula to complete the calculation for you.
If you are looking to organize your finances digitally, as we do, check out Personal Capital.
3. Create Your Monthly Budget: Income vs. Expenses
The first 2 steps provide a great overall picture of your personal finance. They show how you are doing financially as a whole, which is very important. Equally as important is understanding your monthly cash flow.
Income: List all the income you receive in a month. This includes your hourly wage, salary, bonus, side hustles, side business, etc.
Expenses: Write down all of your monthly expenses. Start with all of your fixed monthly expenses. These include rent, mortgage, insurance, student loan payment, cell phone bill, internet, gym membership, etc. These are the easiest to figure out because they are the same amount each month. Next, write down all of your variable expenses (change from month to month). These include utilities, groceries, discretionary money, donations, gas, etc.
Some expenses might be difficult to gauge how much they are every month. Look back a few months and take the average. You want to have a very clear picture of your monthly cash flow. Figuring out your cash flow and creating a budget is critical in getting your finances organized
4. Calculate Your Overall Cash Flow
This is also a simple equation. To calculate your monthly cash flow take your income and subtract your expenses (Income – Expenses = Monthly Cash Flow). To think of this in simple terms your cash flow is basically your “money in and money out”.
Your overall cash flow is probably the most useful tool in your efforts to manage your finances because it gives you a constant checkpoint to see how effective your various financial strategies are. As your income goes up and expenses go down, this calculation will show you concrete proof that you’re moving in the right direction.
5. Get a Hold of Your Credit Scores and Reports
You know your overall net worth (Assets – Liabilities) and your monthly cash flow (Income – Expenses). That’s a great start!
The next step in organizing your personal finance is getting a hold of your credit score. You have lots of free options here. Companies like Credit Sesame will provide you with a free credit score (you can learn more about what Credit Sesame offers, in this post).
Your credit score is extremely important in getting the very best rates on loans. Having a good credit score can literally save you hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime. Think of your credit score as an insurance policy to lenders.
6. Evaluate Your Personal Finance
Now that you have your net worth, cash flow, credit reports, and credits scores it’s time to start evaluating. Having the information is great, but understanding it is a different story. It’s now time to start evaluating your personal finance in detail.
Your goal with your net worth should always be in the positive. If you have more assets than liabilities you have a positive net worth; congrats! If your net worth is negative, it’s a good wake-up call to get your finances in check. Knowledge is power. Now that you know your net worth, set some obtainable goals to increase it.
Your cash flow should be a positive number, this is very important. If you have a negative cash flow you are bleeding money from your accounts. From time to time, you will have a bad month where your expenses out weight your income. If your goal is financial freedom you can’t let this happen very often.
Always aim to have a positive cash flow every month. Be sure to include any money you are investing or putting into retirement accounts as an expense. This is money that is not liquid and you will not be able to use in the near future.
The entire premise of knowing your cash flow is maintaining a budget and grasp on your financial situation. In tracking your expenses you will have a clear picture of what your biggest monthly expenses are. You will also see where you are overspending and be able to adjust, helping you fine tune and better manage finances before things get out of control.
Do you have an emergency fund? If you answered “no” then you need to get on it. Life is unpredictable and things are going to happen. Things like car repairs, surgeries, and death’s in the family are going to happen. Having an emergency fund prepares you to deal with those situations financially. The last thing you want to worry about in an emergency is “how am I going to pay for this”.
How much of an emergency fund you need varies. The typical rule of thumb is at least 3 months of living expenses. Ideally, you would have more than 6 months of living expenses saved up.
Go through your credit reports thoroughly. Understand what is being reported and why. Errors do happen in credit reports and correcting those are important. Contact the credit bureau directly to make them aware of the error so they can get started in correcting it.
Negative entries on your credit report will stay active for up to 7 years. After the 7 years are up the negative entries will be removed from your credit report.
Compare your credit score to the graph below from Cafe Credit. If your credit score is lower than you like, don’t fret! It’s easier than you may think to increase your credit score to excellent.
7. Create Monthly and Yearly Budgets
Once you have gotten this far you should know exactly where you stand with your personal finance. Now that you know where you are you can start planning on where you want to be.
This seems to be the hardest step for most people. If you truly want to get your finances organized a budget is a must. A budget is a plan for your money. You either have to tell your money what to do or it will leave rapidly.
Since you already took a look at a monthly budget in the early steps, expand on it to span the entire year. For example, you know that Christmas happens every year, so make sure that you start saving a “Christmas fund” at least a few months in advance. Add it into the budget for a given month, as applicable, to make purchases you know are coming such as birthday gifts, back-to-school supplies, or even oil changes.
Once you’ve set up a recurring but slightly customized budget for each month of the year, you’ve got a chance to see the entire year-at-a-glance. Make a note of things like the total amount needed for those here-and-there birthday gifts, any party costs, etc. As the year moves on you may find yourself able to save for an entire budget item that spans months in a shorter amount of time, freeing up cash in later months to be applied elsewhere.
Always remember that budgets should be followed pretty strictly, but they should also have room for change if absolutely necessary.
8. Get Motivated
Ask yourself the honest question “why do you want to organize your finances?” What is your purpose and motivation behind learning more about your personal finance?
Figure out the real reason why getting your personal finance organized is important to you, such as attaining financial freedom. Once you have your purpose getting motivated will become much easier. Set goals, stick to your plan, and go after it!
9. Ongoing Review
After completing steps 1-8 it’s important to continue to review. Set a time each month to check on your finances. If revisions need to be made, make them. Continue to stay informed on what is going on in your financial life.
Don’t fall back into your old ways after learning your financial situation. Mistakes will be made and that’s okay, get back up and start over again. It might be frustrating at first, but once you get a system in place it’s extremely rewarding.
It’s also a great habit of doing a thorough review of your financial situation on a yearly basis. Compare your net worth from one year to the next, hopefully, you are seeing it grow. Compare your monthly budget from year to year as well. This is a great way to make sure you are always living under your means.
As silly as it may sound, it really is important to stop and take a deep breath once in a while as you’re going through your financial journey. Managing finances can be truly stressful!
Don’t forget to stop every so often and take some time out to recharge as needed. It’s totally reasonable to budget for an occasional (read: infrequent) break, sort of like taking a little “vacation day” from all your financial work. Go see a movie, order takeout, or plan a little weekend getaway. Just make sure you don’t undo all your hard work!
Final Thoughts on Learning How to Manage Your Money
We have gotten where we are today by having a clear plan and always reviewing our situation monthly. It’s actually really hard for us to imagine not being financially organized, it’s scary.
If you are looking for a digital way to track and organize your finances try out Personal Capital! We LOVE our free account and highly recommend them. If you’re not as tech-savvy a pen and paper always works wonders.
Now that you have the knowledge, it’s time to take action! Get your personal finances organized today!