Thursday, March 26, 2009

To make it work, make money management personal

A couple posts related to money and behavior stood out in this week's Carnival of Personal Finance at Four Pillars. As JT at The Smarter Wallet and NCN at No Credit Needed point out, the first step to changing poor financial habits is learning what works for you.

JT tried different budgeting software with lots of categories, which worked okay. In the end, though, he found his own three-category system more effective for living within his means.

NCN, on the other hand, realized just seeing his credit cards increased his temptation to overspend. Simply moving his cards from the front of his wallet to the back increased his willpower and curbed his spending appetite.

Our "checkbook register" system
M and I struggled to manage our money until we went "old school"--using a paper checkbook register to track expenses. The register has no connection to our checking account (which I balance using Quicken). Instead, M simply uses it to log our non-fixed expenditures (groceries, gas, eating out, etc.) each month, which were the biggest culprit in getting us off track.

The register works well because it's the same method M used to manage her money years ago as a single mom. Back then she didn't necessarily balance her checkbook, but she used her register to figure exactly how much "extra money" she had beyond her rent, utilities, etc. to spend.

To M's credit, when we got married, she had little credit card debt and had even started saving for her daughter's college. And today our non-fixed expenses are far less than we ever thought they could be, helping us as we save toward our goal of someday buying a larger home.

The right method will stick
If your previous attempts at money management have crashed and burned, don't give up hope. You just haven't found the right method yet. Keep trying. If spreadsheets or software don't work, try paper, or vice versa. Experiment with different methods. Think "out of the box." An effective money management system is as personal as you are. When you find the right one, it will stick.


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Manage your monet do not let yoir money manage you.