It’s a fun but trying time in my life right now. Every weekend from October through December is spoken for, with activities like weddings (and their associated parties), birthdays, the Trinity (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas), family vacations, family outings, and more.
That means everything that I used to get done on the weekends now gets done during the week, and everything that happened during the week, for the time being, simply doesn’t.
In years past, my money situation would have gone haywire. Transactions would go untracked, budgets would be blown, and bills would almost be missed (I’ve been lucky).
But this time, things feel different. I feel in control, like the basics of life are on autopilot and I can go about my business doing the most pressing things first. So the other day, I sat down to try to pinpoint why things are working now in areas where they didn’t before.
The Key to Overwhelmed Money Management
I came to the simple conclusion that the key to getting through busy times is not what you do while it’s happening, but how well you’ve prepared.
“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” — Alexander Graham Bell
Specifically, it’s about how well you deal with two things I touched on briefly in my rant on money systems–habits and systems.
This is my favorite definition of a habit:
an automatic pattern of behavior in reaction to a specific situation; may be inherited or acquired through frequent repetition;
The gold star here is “automatic”–for something to be a habit, it has to be so well-entrenched in my very being that I do it without thinking about it. Because remember–when you’re overwhelmed–you really won’t be thinking about it.
What are some money habits I’ve developed that are helping me through?
- Keeping the day’s receipts in my pocket and putting them in a “master inbox” for tracking later.
- Sitting down to review budgets (and envelope balances) at least at every paycheck. For the two weeks in between, I’m able to have a good feel for what’s left.
- Giving an overview of our money situation to my wife every 1st of the month.
- Using calendar reminders that email me when a bill is due.
I do these things without even thinking about them, and in turn I never question them or need to look for the time to get them done. They just happen because they need to.
The second key to success is a well-established system for money management. I’m not necessarily talking about Quicken or YNAB, for example. I like this definition better:
a procedure or process for obtaining an objective;
The habit gets you to the table and ready to work; the system gets you done and on your way quickly and successfully. A system, or procedure, tells your mind what things need to get done and in what order.
Here are a few examples of systems I’ve developed for handling our own money:
- Receipts go into a master inbox every day. About twice a week, I clear my inbox (which includes other items) and input my receipts, checking budget balances as I go.
- At every paycheck, I review our monthly income, allocate money to various envelopes, schedule bills for the next 15 days, and review our net worth.
- On the 1st of every month, my wife and I look at the expenses of the past month, the anticipated income and expenses for this month, special bills or expenses coming up, savings plans, and talk about larger money goals at the conclusion of our “session.”
All of these systems help to keep the time required to manage our money short and sweet, because we know what we have to do at a particular time.
Life is Phases
There are quiet times, and there are busy times. There are times of bounty, and times of thrift.
Sometimes, you can spend all day and plan money goals for the rest of your life. Other times, you might only have 15 minutes to make sure you’re on track.
Enjoy the freedoms, and prepare for the constraints. That’s the moral of my story for the day!
Photo by Sara. Nel