Take Control of Your Money – A 12 Step Guide to Financial Fitness

When was the last time you balanced your checkbook?

Do you manage your money by checking your online balance multiple times a week, hoping you have enough for groceries?

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s time for a financial intervention. In true self-help style, we’re giving you a twelve-step guide to organizing your finances. Each month we’ll give you one step to tackle, so the program won’t be overwhelming or take too much time. The program begins this month, so by this time next year, you’ll have it all under control.

STEP 1.  AUDIT YOUR SPENDING HABITS

We’ll give it to you straight: this is not going to be fun. Step One is probably the most difficult to accomplish, because it requires perseverance. And if your bank account is a mess, chances are good that perseverance is not your strong suit. BUT, this step is crucial to making the other eleven steps productive, so you just have to commit. You’ll thank yourself later.

Give yourself a pat on the back, because you are still reading. You didn’t give up when we said Step One will be hard. That’s a good sign.

Objective:

This month you are going to take a good, long look at your spending habits. You need to understand how much you make, the amount of your fixed costs, and what you choose to do with the rest of your income. If nothing else, you will learn what takes priority in your life.

You’ll need to categorize your expenses so you can see where your money goes. That means you’ll be organizing some stuff. Don’t panic – this does not mean you have to clear out a bedroom and create an office (unless you want to, of course!) You can make this exercise simple or complex – it’s up to you. We suggest you choose one of the following methods: envelopes or accordion file.

You can find 9×11 mailing envelopes at your local office supply, dollar store, or Target/Wal-Mart. You’ll probably need about a dozen envelopes. If you prefer to file your receipts in one place, you can accomplish that with an accordion file, found at the same retailers previously mentioned.

What to Do:

Start by gathering all the receipts and bills you can find, and sort them into categories. Again, you can make this simple or complex. Suggested categories:

Income

Fixed expense (rent, car payment, child support, student loans)

Auto (gas, repairs)

Dining/entertainment

Groceries

Household expenses

Recreation/hobbies

Utilities

You will need to adjust the categories to reflect your personal situation. Eliminate categories that don’t pertain to you, and add categories as necessary. Label envelopes or filing sections appropriately, and begin adding the bills and receipts you’ve categorized. Make your envelopes or accordion file accessible, and place your receipts and paid bills in the envelopes as the month progresses. Look at that – you’re getting organized!

Notice which categories incur a lot of spending, and which don’t. This information will become important in Step Two.

Good job! You’ve done enough for the first month. Congratulate yourself for taking important actions in managing your finances. If you continue each month, you will be on track to master your money.

NEXT MONTH:  CREATE A BUDGET

Series NavigationStep 2: Set Up a Budget >>

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