What’s the state of your financial accountability?
Tax-preparation season is ending, if you file by April 15th. The season leading up to the filing date, during which we prepare and file and pay our taxes, calls us into account. How easy, or difficult, the process is is a way for you to measure the level of clarity around your finances (and by extension, as you will see, around every single area of your life). My personal journey from vagueness and fear to clarity and freedom started over twenty years ago and has changed my life in so many ways. Here’s where I started:
Letters from the IRS or creditors caused a paralyzing anxiety reaction in me (couldn’t open them). Bank statements also piled up unopened—and accounts were unreconciled—for years! I had no idea what the revolving credit line attached to my checking account was costing me (lots!). It didn’t matter if I had $11 or $111 in my pocket when I hit the streets on any given day, I would return home with 11¢ and have no clue where the money went. I used credit cards for many expenditures and was thousands of 1990s dollars in debt.
I began my financial turnaround by taking on one simple yet very powerful practice: tracking what I was spending. For years, I carried a little notebook and check registers with me so I could write down—right when the transaction happened—what I bought in cash, by check or by using a debit card. (Yes you read that right; I no longer use consumer credit—another element of my improved financial life.) That little notebook and those check registers have evolved. Now instead of carrying paper, I enter each transaction into a register app on my smart phone that allows me to enter the amount, the category, how purchased, etc. Balances are calculated on the spot, so I always have a clear picture of my current financial reality. Simpler, easier. Another part of the tracking practice: Four times a month I copy the previous week’s transactions and totals into a more robust program on my desktop computer, one that allows me to pull reports and compare my actual expenses to what I had planned to spend in every category. Just as I reconcile my bank statements every month, I compare the cash in my wallet with my records regularly. I know how much money I have, what I’ve spent and what I bought.
Planning? What’s that?
After a month or two of simply tracking what I was spending, I was able to begin planning—in advance—how much I was going to spend in each of the categories that make up my financial life. My categories today, in my personal spending plan, include (they’ve changed over time, and continue to reflect what’s current):
Personal care—clothing, cosmetics, haircare
Entertainment—dining out, theater/movies, travel, pinball
Family—children, elder care
The order in which these categories appear above is intentional. A real eye-opener for me, at the beginning, was the strong suggestion to put myself highest on the list and outside expenses, especially debt repayment, at the bottom. I no longer have debt to repay; I have retired or was forgiven every single cent of my debt in the first three years of taking on this practice. I want to tell you though that it was a pivotal, life-changing moment for me to move me to the top of my spending plan and my creditors the bottom.
As a business owner I’ve found it useful to keep separate records for personal finances and business finances. I know many business owners relegate this kind of work to others; I recommend all solopreneurs and small business owners do it themselves—it’s an invaluable empowering set of actions that don’t take much time and offer huge returns. All the tools I talk about are fully customizable and should be tweaked to suit each individual. Some people use paper and a calculator, some use computer programs, some create a hybrid that works for them.
What makes this so life-changing, anyway?
Let me count the ways.
Goodbye denial. Oh! I’m spending over $200 a month (1990s remember) on on-the-street coffees and more than the same amount on taxis? Just finding out what the truth was caused me to start brewing coffee at home and buying subway tokens and using the amazing bus and train system in New York. A rude awakening is an awakening nonetheless. I tore up my credit cards—all of them, and became a person who only spends the money that I have. What a concept!
A little bit of practice with tracking spending naturally expanded to include recording my income. What an eye-opener, to actually know how much I earn. The ripple effect: I transferred these skills to how I was managing my financial life to many other areas of my life. I now schedule my life and live my schedule, planning events in my calendar that reflect my bottom line of how I want to show up for all the rich variety in my life: work, play, art, family, friends, spirituality, gardening, dancing, travel, fun… I have learned how to manage my energy with money, with time, with clutter, with relationships, and it all started with a little notebook over 20 years ago.
I love working with others to develop these skills. A lot of my coaching work starts here, for once we are managing our own energy (instead of being buffeted about in chaos), we are empowered to step into our greatness and live into our most audacious goals and dreams. I’m offering a springtime Accountability Special. Three months of energy-management coaching at a 25% discount. That’s a one-hour call every week, with targeted assignments in between the calls that will speedily change the game for you—adding ease and empowerment, reducing challenge and fear. Get in touch (leave a comment here, or email me at Sue@MagnoliasWest.com). Offer expires May 15th.