There’s an ‘a ha’ moment for many people when they decide to get serious about their finances. It may come after years of drowning in debt or after reaching a milestone like marriage or having children. If now is your moment, here are five ways to take control of your money:
Get going: Step one is to decide what needs to change. For singles, that means some serious thinking about your goals and what you want to accomplish. Couples will need to get on the same financial page and decide what’s important to them.
You can’t accomplish every goal at once and so you’ll need to prioritize. Start with a net worth statement and list everything you own and owe.
This is the yardstick used to measure your progress over time. Your net worth may be small, but your objective should be to grow it each and every year.
You need a budget: Before you decide how much to save and allocate toward your goals you have to know much you spend and how much is left over at the end of the month. To do this – there’s no way around it – you need to track every dollar you spend.
There are apps and software to automate the budgeting process but, as Carl Richards, author of The Behavior Gap said, when you automate you miss the chance to understand what the numbers mean.
“The act of looking at each receipt and adding those numbers mimics the act of hearing something and then putting it in our own words. We know where the money went, and, hopefully, we know why,” he said in a recent New York Times column.
That’s why Richards is a big proponent of manually tracking and recording your monthly spending with an Excel spreadsheet.
Watch where the cash goes: Once you’ve tracked your expenses for three months you’ll have an idea where your money is going. Now is a good time to make changes in areas that don’t align with your goals and values.
If there’s not enough left over to meet your objectives, you need to go back to your spending report and find additional areas to save (or earn) more money.
Match your spending to your goals and use any extra savings to fund your top two or three objectives. For example, that could mean paying off credit card debt, saving for a down payment, or starting an RESP.
Review your insurance coverage: Do you have enough insurance to protect yourself and your family in case of disaster?
Some employers provide group life coverage that tops-out at around 2.5 times your salary. That may not be adequate if you have young children and a sizeable mortgage. Research your options for term insurance. A 30-year-old non-smoking male living in Ontario can expect to pay about $50 per month for a 25-year term with a $750,000 face amount.
As for disability insurance, you’ll want enough to replace at least 60 percent of your income in case you get sick or injured. Most workplace benefit plans include disability insurance but review your coverage.
An emergency is no time to be scrambling for cash. Devise a strategy to deal with short and long term needs whether a cash buffer, an untapped line of credit, or stocks inside your tax free savings account.
What type of investor are you?: Your goals will likely include some type of long term savings plan.
Whether you go it alone as an investor or use an advisor, it’s important to know what type of investor you want to be and to stick with your plan for the long term. The point is to understand who you are, how much time you want to spend on your investments, and how much risk you’re willing to accept.
It’s prudent to check-in from time-to-time to review your progress and make any necessary adjustments along the way. Try to predict what your finances might look like a year from now, or five years from now. What’s on the horizon?
Keep score by updating your net worth statement. You’d be surprised how quickly you can move the needle forward once you’ve taken control of your finances.