Getting Your Finances Organized


Adapted from “Getting Organized – Learning how to focus, organize and prioritize”, by Chris Crouch, Dawson Publishing

The greatest obstacle to keeping on top of your finances is the obstacle of organization.  How do you organize? What should your organize? I like doing everything from the seat of my pants. Who should organize?

Chris Crouch in “Getting Organized”, lists five ways to get your personal life organized and four ways that disorganized people handle things.  On page 50, he says the four ways of disorganization are:

  1. Stacking
  2. Stuffing
  3. Spreading
  4. A combination of the above three

It would be funny if it were not so true.  The truth, the truth being painful, is if we were organized and on top of our personal financial lives and not so caught up in the frequent unimportant tasks and sometimes someone else’s tasks, we could very well organize our finances.  What might follow from that?  Financial well-being.  Walk with me through the five steps of getting organized.

Discard

This seems so easy and should come with no explanation, right?  In fact, the opposite is true.  We receive so much in life with little or no effort of our own.  We receive phone solicitations, emails, traditional mail, and even faxes all wanting our money.  Some are legitimate, I am sure, but how many are advertising ways to con-solidate our bills into one lower payment at a higher interest rate for a longer period of time?  How many make it seem their credit card offer is the only one you will ever need?  How many show you that you, too, can live like an emperor on the High Seas of life?

These are the items that must be discarded, shredded, and removed from your life.  Dave Ramsey even has a Credit Rebellion form that you can print and put into their self-addressed envelopes and send it back on their dime.

Crouch in relation to how much we get in:

If one new piece of paper comes into your life every day and you discard one piece of paper on the same day, your present clutter will remain in equilibrium.  However, if 10 new pieces of paper come into your life every day and you only discard one, you will have an additional 3,285 pieces of paper after one year.

He goes on to say that with all sources of input in our lives including emails, faxes, mail, etc. over the course of our lives, “…without good discarding habits, it’s easy to understand why things are a mess.”

We need to develop a good discarding habit to lighten the anxiety of not knowing what we have because we have so much “stuff” in our lives that we can’t see what is important.  Missed payments, late payments, and even just accepting an offer that is not good for us, occur because we do not discard.

Crouch suggests that we have a “discarding session.”  My advice on that is to develop the discarding habit for new or future inputs first and then set aside 5 minutes to start and then work your way to 15 minutes at a time for clearing out your current clutter.  Find the latest statements for each account and then discard the rest.  Find the last letter from the collections agency and throw away the rest.  And so on…  Do not try to discard everything in one sitting or even one day.

Delegate

When applied to personal finances, delegation is not to be defined by telling someone else to manage it and you will check back in later.  Delegation concerning personal money management is to work with either your spouse or an accountability partner.

The trouble my wife and I are in, is due to at one time or another only one of us managed the family books.  I, and I am sure my wife, said many times, “I wish she/he wouldn’t spend so much.”  The flip-side of that was always, “I’m not spending so much and if we didn’t have it, I’m sure they’d tell me.”

That “no-plan” plan never worked well.  Delegate responsibly by holding budget meetings and not keeping it all inside. Share.  Being a control freak with your home finances will ruin your marriage or relationship.

Also, Dave Ramsey might say, “Tell your money what to do.”  He would tell you that if you, “Don’t take care of business” your finances would spiral out of control and you would deserve what happened.  Stay on top of your money and what comes in.  See Discard above.

Crouch lists the reasons for not delegating in the workplace as follows:

They don’t know how (a form of managerial incompetence).

They are control freaks (they can’t let go of anything).

They don’t trust others (often because they feel they can’t personally be trusted).

They have an unhealthy need for power and domination.

They don’t know how to develop people (another version of incompetence).

They lack humility (they think they always can do things better than anyone).

Now substitute yourself or spouse or significant other and set the environment to home and your finances.  Not very flattering is it?  Keep those reasons in mind the next time you say cannot delegate or share responsibility for your home finances.

Take Immediate Action

Do not put it off any longer!  You know what I am referring to.  You have a task, a priority, a something that you just do not want to do, and it would only take a few seconds or minutes to do.  When you get your mail, open it and take care of each item immediately.  Discard it, file it, delegate it, initial it, but do something with it.  If you do not discard or delegate, you need to take action on it.  To increase your effectiveness with your finances you need to draw a line in the sand between clutter and productivity.  On page 59, Crouch’s list of keys to do this are:

The key to improving productivity is improving concentration.

The key to improving concentration is minimizing distraction.

Clutter is distracting.

The first key, concentration, is a difficult one for me.  We have five wonderful children that get very little one-on-one attention from either one of us and when we are home and all together, life is hectic and concentration comes at a premium.  One area that I personally am trying to improve is the time I have to concentrate.  I am trying to become an early riser.  It is only proving that I have no will-power, but I am sticking with the goal. Why an early riser?  I need the time alone and without mental and personal clutter so that I can focus on what is even more important at times than family, the family’s money.

Minimizing the distraction by becoming an early riser means that I have less mental and emotional clutter when trying to have personal devotions, speaking with the spouse (if she wakes up with me), and having a clear head when looking at the bank account online or processing payments and the like.

Crouch said, “Clutter is distracting.”  I have found that once I have an area clutter free, say a room, I enjoy that room more.  Now you would not say that you enjoy paying your bills more or budgeting your month more just because you cleaned out the pile of old statements or bills, but a smaller stack and a clean room can and will be less distracting than a room filled with the debris of an unfocused life.

What should you do with this?  You get a bill, you either pay it now or schedule it and discard it.  Once a month, do a budget with your spouse.

File for Follow-up

Or in the case for personal finance, you would add it to the budget as an item you need to save up to pay later.  You know of those items: license plates, income tax, property tax, car insurance, etc.

Add these to your budget so that you are not caught later having to raise $1,253.49.

Another area in relation to filing, is to keep records of accounts that you have paid off, whether it be for collections years down the road when they come back and say you did not pay, or for taxes.

Keep your files where you can get to them and only file what you need to.  I will let you determine those items.

Remember if you can’t Discard, Delegate It, or Take Immediate Action you should File for Follow-up.  Do not get “bogged” down going from step to step trying to determine what you should do.  If you can not do the first three, then you should do four.

Crouch offers these questions on page 62:

1. What is the next thing I need to do with this item?

2. When will I do it?

It is hard to answer the “when” question if you don’t know the answer to the “what” question.

A set of follow up questions for the above are:

1. Ask “What is the next step (in general, not in detail)?”

2. Ask “When will I work on the next step?”

3. Put it in the appropriate tickler file.

Sometimes the “what” is as simple as adding it to the budget, but in the case of collections or an error on an account you need to call or write.  Sit down and markdown a time and place that you will that action if it is not immediate, and do it.  That should take care of the “when”.

Put in a Reference File

A reference file does not include those pre-K coloring sheets your oldest did in the 1990’s.  A reference file is for the purpose of filing only those items you need to keep to prove you paid an account or for other legal items like taxes or insurance.

You need to have a clutter free reference file that is more of a permanent storage container than for the above follow-up or tickler file.  I will say it again, do not let your Reference File become clutter.  You will need to revisit this file and weed through it at least once a year.  If you have a filing system, but do not clean it out you will have an overflowing file in no time.  This file is for use when you need to find something quickly that you have not seen in a year, but needed to keep.

Crouch has this to say concerning your reference file,

…if you do not have a filing system that allows you to easily retrieve filed items, you are wasting your time and money hanging on to these items.

A few of his ideas on pages 66 and 67 are to “categorize into broad categories”, “use nouns as the lead word on labels”, think of how “will you find it in six months or a year” not how to label it now.

Dave Ramsey would add that you need a “Love Drawer” for you spouse or family member you might leave behind.  Get a sheet of paper or a form and list out all accounts, phone numbers, contacts, etc that your loved ones need in order to carry on without you.  It is not only bad for one of you to pass on or become incapacitated, but if the spouse cannot get to the accounts or do not even know what accounts there are, you are doing them a great disservice.

The Why?

You should try to apply these five steps into your personal finances to alleviate pressure, clutter, and the feeling of helplessness.  Read the short story “The Bridge,” by Edwin H. Friedman about the man on the bridge and you will see that if you always count on some one else to take care of you, you just might get dropped.  If you have help available, use that help to pull yourself up and get back on your own feet.

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