For years, I was told to get organized. Apparently it was all I needed to control of the chaos that was my personal finances. One problem for many, including me, is they don’t exactly know what “organize your finances” means. Another problem is that the feelings of ignorance and frustration stops them in their tracks, paralyzing them from moving forward.
Sure, not knowing how to organize your finances is a barrier to improved financial health.
But unless you are reading this from a cardboard box, you probably have financial tools that you use everyday to buy groceries, pay the rent, get to work–in short, manage your finances. While “Organize Your Finances” seems to show up as the first step in so many financial advice books and blogs, I place it as the third step in my Profitable Life Roadmap (after Forgive and Imagine.) I did that because I truly believe that getting into a positive mindset is far more important.
As I’m still in the toddler stages of managing my finances, I know I have a lot to learn about organization but my home is chock full of common items that are helping me on a daily basis. By acknowledging them, I value them. By valuing them, I give them power. By empowering them, I empower myself. They stop becoming items and start becoming helpers.
Regardless of where you are in your financial journey, stop to smell the roses and start counting all your little financial helpers in your life. I looked around and found them everywhere.
An A-to-Z Guide To Organize Your Finances
Ok, my advisor isn’t in my house but I do feel like she’s available to me at anytime. I don’t need her very often but when I do it is good to know she’s there. Find one that “gets” you and doesn’t push products that you aren’t familiar with.
For a Lady who used to misplace her wallet and keys almost every day, “The Bowl” is a super simple way to keep track of the all-mighty wallet. It might be the super-duh of organizational basics but that wooden bowl is simply genius to me.
C: Capital One 360
Tucked away in my I (see below) or my M (also below), Capital One 360 savings accounts have truly revolutionized how I save my money. I have lots of different accounts, all with different goals attached and automatic deposits scheduled. When I feel frustrated or blue, I sneak a peek at my balances and instantly I feel more organized and empowered.
It might seemed far-fetched that a 9-year old child could help a grown woman organize her finances but she does. She understands the value of money. She even goes so far to remind me if my spending gets impulsive. “We went out last night, mom. Let’s just have dinner at home.” How amazing is THAT? She’s also a very physical and present reminder of what’s at stake and why I need to improve my financial future.
I built my own budget spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel. Since I went on a fully automated billing system, the Excel sheet acts more as a tracking checklist to confirm that payments are paid accurately. There are tons of budgeting spreadsheets out there. I’m a classicist.
File folders, you say? Could I be more obvious? Well, what if I told you I use color-coded file folders that align with my Traffic Light model of organization. Check out my blog for more about that but try adding a little color into your finances by color-coding your filing system.
G: Green Folder
I carry this beat-up green folder around in my bag pretty much every day. It holds all my non-automated paper bills and some miscellaneous financial papers, like payment schedules, goals, etc. It ain’t pretty and it’s not innovative but all my outstanding bills are in one place.
It turns out I carry my head around everywhere I go. And lucky for me it has one of those nifty brains inside it. I know I don’t know much about personal finances but I do know I can learn. I’m smart, like Mensa smart. My head is my most important financial asset. It’s also my most valuable financial tool.
I: iPhone 4s
What?!?! Ya. This Lady kicks it old school with a vintage Smartphone. I’m not willing to upgrade quite yet as the dang thing is still working and is paid off. Plus, it holds other organizational tools including my financial apps: Sprig, Capital One 360, Tip Yourself, podcasts, and social media.
Everyone should have one. A savings jar. Mine holds my daughter’s allowance money and some extra cash. It’s not going to buy my dream house but it saves me. I don’t carry cash very often so I dip into the jar on occasion. Don’t worry. I always pay it back. I mean, who steals from their kid?
K: Kleenex Box
Not everything in this house is perfectly organized (understatement of the year.) My smaller, loose receipts get shoved into a lovely little tissue box. When it gets to be tax season, I dump it out and sort appropriately. Not exactly organized but organized-ish.
L: Loyalty Program Keytags
You probably have them, too. Those little buggers save you more money each year than you realize. If you don’t have one from your favorite stores, you should. If you don’t know how to maximize the savings available to you, do a little research. Load ’em up on your keychain and badaboom. Organized savings.
M: MacBook Air
Mine is provided by work but I use it A LOT–for everything. I blog on it. I check my bank account, my savings, my social networks. A good computer is not necessary to organize your finances but it damn sure helps.
Wanna hear a secret? My nightstand has a secret built-in drawer. What?!?! I know. I’m so cool. I store my more important financial papers in there. They are organized and out of the way! The bookend on the nightstand also holds some pretty powerful financial motivation mojo. Keep symbols of your dreams out where you can see them and valuables tucked away.
O: Open Mind
This relates strongly to H. I have to keep an open mind because what I’ve been doing in the past doesn’t work. Do I take every shred of financial advice that floats my way? No, of course not. However, if I trust the source than I’m willing to give anything genuine consideration.
P: Piggy Bank
A piggy bank is similar to the jar…except that it’s a pig. And pigs are cute. I actually have a mini-collection of piggy banks. They help save me money. Plus, what’s more awesome than the animal that brings us both moeny and bacon? Nothing, my friends. Nothing is more awesome than that.
I place little inspirational quotes everywhere; some in plain sight, some hidden away. As a writer, I find that words have power. Inspiration surely can be found anywhere, as they say. But it’s a lot more organized if inspiration is staring you in the face. Just sayin’.
R: Refrigerator Magnets
These little beauties help organize my coupons, gift certificates, invitations, etc. I put these things where I can’t miss them because no one like an expired coupon for a free cupcake. No. One.
S: Sticky Notes
Oh good Lord. I could write a book about the importance and influence of sticky notes in my life. But how do they help organize my finances? I mark pages in books about personal finances with them. They hang from my doorway reminding me of important financial tasks. One is on the front of my green folder, tracking my unpaid invoice amounts. They hold inspirational quotes. They hold ideas for blogs. Oh, I love sticky notes. Oh, how I love them so. (And I know I’m not alone. I’m looking at you, Financial Muse.)
T: Traffic Light
I think one of the most paradigm-shifting ideas I’ve come up with lately is my Traffic Light model of organizational finance. I cover it in depth in another blog but I’ll just say that it has helped me think about my finances (and my life) in a way that clearly delineates priorities. It trickles down into other things, too, like how I color-code my files.
I have an invisible unicorn in my bedroom that I feed quarters. He magically poops out dollar bills in return. He’s awesome. (What. I was brainstorming with my kid and we couldn’t think of a U word. Hence, unicorn. Oh, she designed the graphic as well.) Lesson here? I’m sharing this experience with her, talking about money, sharing my ideas and encouraging her own ideas about finances. But a money-shitting unicorn would totally rock, right?
V: Vision Board
The one in the picture is my personal vision board. It sits prominently on display in my bedroom. If you’ve spent some time imagining your dream, see if you can find a way to visually represent it. Most of us are visual learners, gaining cues from our environment. I know my environment looks better with views of lakeside cabins and gorgeous wooden boats.
I started the blog for one reason. To hold myself accountable to my financial self-improvement efforts. Since then, it has grown to be so much more than that. And I have WordPress to thank for it. If you are even considering blogging as a way to help yourself, in any aspect of life, I strongly encourage it. There is so much to discover and so much to share.
X: Xceptional Boundaries
You try to come up with an X word! Seriously, boundaries are important. Not only the ability to say no to impulse buying and overspending but also the ability to say yes to the things that stretch you into new areas. Boundaries can be firm or they can be fluid. Just make sure they are helping to organize your best interests.
Y: Yard Sales
I know the frugal folks love a good yard sale. I do, too. You can find lots of cool things to help organize your finances–all at reduced prices. My super-spy nightstand was purchased from a sale app and I bought a large lot of colored file folders from a social media sale page.
I have a mystical zebra in my bedroom…oh, never mind. Z is for Zebra. Any idiot knows that. And zebras are black and white…but not much about personal finances is. It’s ok to have your own process, your own way to organize your finances. The point is to find anything that works for you and continue to build on it.
Learning how to organize your finances doesn’t need to be intimidating or overwhelming. Look around. You already have little helpers all around you. Identify them and give them value. Appreciate the work they do for you everyday. Just make sure those little fuckers aren’t slacking off.
What did I miss? What are some everyday, ordinary things you use as financial tools? Do you have gratitude for the little things in your life that help you stay organized? Does anyone know where I could find a unicorn?