Keeping track of our finances can sound about as much fun as digging a hole (AKA: no fun at all). And a lot of this comes down to the fact that many of us don't have a solid organizational system for our money to make it easy on ourselves.
I spent the majority of my 20s burying my head in the sand when it came to my finances. I didn't have a budget, wasn't keeping track of my spending, and waited to open bills until the last possible moment. I was one of those people who often got warnings that my cable or internet would be turned off because I was overdo on my payments, and it was genuinely because I was so disorganized that I often lost mail.
However, I reached a point where this "system" simply became unsustainable. At 28, I underwent several not-so-insignificant medical procedures, which meant I was suddenly swimming in hospital bills, insurance claims, and important paper work that I needed to keep track of lest I really screw things up for myself. The fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants finance method that had (barely) worked for me for several years needed to be updated, and it was at this time that I took on a serious financial organization overhaul.
If you're starting to feel overwhelmed by your own finances and aren't sure where to begin when it comes to getting a handle on things, here are 11 organizational hacks that should majorly help.
1. Invest In A Filing Cabinet
3-Drawer Metal File Cabinet, $88.83, HomeDepot.com
This first tip was an absolute game changer when I first started organizing my finances. I bought a basic model and a stack of file folders, and proceeded to make files for different bank accounts, insurance information, medical records, cable and electric bills — anything and everything that had to do with finances or general life paperwork. This one step alone made me feel a thousand times lighter in terms of stress and anxiety.
2. Get A "Follow Up" Box
Aqua Letter Trays, $24, Poppin.com
This second easy tip — which I actually wrote about in a piece geared towards organizing paper clutter — reaps giant results. Get a paper tray, put it somewhere easily visible, and designate it your "follow up" box. When you sort through your mail each day, toss anything that you don't want to lose in the tray. For me this is usually bills, invites, or things I want to shred before throwing away. This doesn't necessarily mean I get to everything super promptly (after all, I'm still a procrastinator at heart), but it means when I actually sit down to get organized I don't have to worry that I've lost something important.
3. Tally How Much Money Comes In Each Month
According to GoodBudget.com, after getting paper work in order we should figure out how much money comes in after taxes each month. This includes everything from a salary, to freelance work, to any other income sources you may have in your life.
4. Figure Out Your Necessary Expenses
After you know how much money you have to work with, GoodBudget.com said to calculate how much you spend on necessities each month, like rent, loan payments, and cell phone bills. Be extremely meticulous with this step, as it will effect later parts of your budgeting process.
5. Track Your Spending For A Week
According to a piece on Forbes by personal finance writer Rob Berger, the next step is figuring out how much you spend on non-essentials, like eating out, movies, and morning coffee. He noted that one of the most effective ways to do this is by tracking your spending for at least a week. This allows you to notice spending habits of which you might not even be aware.
6. Choose Three Areas To Save On
Now that you have an idea of where your money is going, Berger recommended choosing three areas to save on. Maybe it's groceries or alcohol, or how much you spend on coffee. Sticking to three concrete things as opposed to just, "saving more," will make it easier to act on.
7. Save First
Another piece on Forbes stressed the importance of paying yourself first. This means that putting money into savings — money that goes towards your future — should be step one after all necessary expenditures. The money you have after that is what you should consider what you have to play with.
8. Use The 50-20-30 Rule
According to Mint.com, a good rule of thumb for how to organize your spending is the 50-20-30 rule. This basically means that 50 percent of your income should go to necessities, 20 percent should go into savings, and the remaining 30 percent can be divided up as you see fit, like on cable, take-out, or travel funds.
9. Consider Using A Tracking App
This is a personal tip that I know has worked wonders for friends. If you have trouble keeping track of where exactly your money is going, even after the above steps, consider downloading a money tracking app on your phone. This usually entails logging what you spend when you spend it, but you can often link them to your credit cards and the app will do this automatically. There are a ton of different apps for this purpose in both the iphone and Droid market place suited to a ton of different needs.
10. Consider Having Two Bank Accounts
A piece for Investopedia.com on organizing your finances suggested having two different bank accounts, one where you keep money for all bills, and another for everything else. This will help you get a much better sense of the amount of money you have for flexible spending in any given month and week.
11. Set A Clear Goal
And finally, About.coms Frugal Living section stressed the importance of having clear goals when you think about your finances. Do you want to have a lot of money in the bank for retirement? Is your dream to take one international trip every single year? Do you want to buy a house in five years? Let this overarching goal guide you when you decide how you want to organize your money today.
Organizing your finances absolutely does not have to be a nightmare. A ton of it just comes down to implementing a few simple systems and sticking to them. I promise!