I’ve received a lot of questions recently about how we organize our money and all the different bank, investment, credit card accounts we have. I’m kind of flattered that people assume I’m organized.

But to be totally truthful, I am the most disorganized organized person you’ll ever meet. I always wanted to be that woman with the perfectly neat desk, beautifully arranged drawers, and expertly styled bookshelf. But I am not her.

I remember in my first job out of college, a client walked in and saw my desk and nearly doubled over with disdain as she told me,”a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind.” Thanks for that.

The majority of my house is clean and organized (including my exceptionally well-organized closet!), but my office is a sight. At any one time, I have 15 post-its scattered around my desk reminding me of various to-do list items. I have piles of paper everywhere. Right now I have 8 flash drives sitting on my desk and I have no idea what’s on them.

But don’t worry. I’ve written on one of those post-it note to-dos that I need to look through them.

Jordan, a meticulous organizer who has folders for receipt type and year, is often dismayed by my hanging file folder system. I have one folder. It’s labeled: important. And most things in that bulging file are probably important. Or were important. Or maybe important in the future.

The only thing that keeps me from being a total mess is having a simple system.

Every Friday I throw away pieces of paper I don’t need. I have stacks of items in my office within reach of my chair, each organized by order of importance.

And money?

It has to be simple, otherwise, I’d be a complete and total mess. Like most people, we have a lot of accounts at a lot of different places and I really don’t want to spend much time keeping it all in order. I took some time to get it set up well, so I could then forget it.

If you’re a less than perfectly organized person who is embarrassed by the state of your accounts, it’s ok. There is a solution. And the answer is not on one of the 8 flash drives sitting in the corner of my desk.

Dreaming big, with numbers

How we set up our money is partly based on ease (see below) and partly based on life goals. We decide what accounts to use and where to put our money based on asking ourselves the simple question of: “how do I want to live my life?”

You can read more on that goal setting question and how it has transformed the way we approach money here.

We sit down and come up with some ballpark dollar values for goals and include them on sheet 1 of the spreadsheet that you can download here.

Creating the automatic flow

We then keep track of all of the monthly transfers that we have going on by using this spreadsheet.

While the transfers are automatic, and we don’t really have to check in on them at all, it’s nice to have them listed in one place so when we make changes, we can easily see what transfers need to be updated and by when.

We probably update these transfers once a year – maybe twice a year if we’re feeling really ambitious. Because we’ve automated our spending we really don’t have to spend any time thinking about where our money is going. You’ll find the automatic flow tracker listed on sheet 2 of the spreadsheet.

And a full description of the automatic budget in this workbook. If you hate budgeting, you’ll like this workbook.

Money have you feeling like a mess?

A simple spreadsheet solution that’ll take you from “wtf?” to “ah. money is simple.”

Getting the full picture

Soon after we got married, we knew we needed to have the full picture of our money in one place. With dreams to buy a house, travel, and you know, retire someday, knowing what we had – and what we owed – was really important.

Knowing your full financial picture is something that everyone should do, regardless of their relationship status. But honestly, I didn’t prioritize it. I pretty much knew where everything was and I had a rough idea of the balance.

Up until getting married, I had been keeping track of everything that wasn’t a checking or savings account in my head. I had a few retirement accounts with my old employer (whoops), I had 2 other retirement accounts with 2 different brokerages. I had a taxable investment account. I had my student loan. And 2 credit cards.

I had financial breadcrumbs spread all over the place. I knew where they were, but they weren’t organized (let alone optimized).

Jordan, being the extremely meticulous, organized person that he is, had a spreadsheet where he would track our net worth quarterly. When we got married he asked me to add my accounts to the list.

Each time Jordan would sit down to update his spreadsheet, I’d somehow remember to tell him about one more account that I’d previously forgotten to mention.

I sound like a mess, but I knew where everything was. I just didn’t have it written down and I didn’t have the attention span to sit with him and catalog everything into his spreadsheet.

(As I write this I can’t help but think, poor Jordan. He’s so patient with me.)

But if you are great with meticulously tracking things and you love a good spreadsheet, his style is probably right up your alley. You can find his tracker on page 3 of the spreadsheet.

I, clearly, was not down with the spreadsheet, so I had to find a different way to help make sure we stayed organized.

Our new automated process

I could sense his frustration with me a few months ago when I remembered to tell him about another account I’d failed to mention in our last 5 years of marriage (it was really small, to be fair).

When looking around for an option to make life easier, I stumbled upon Personal Capital. They have a free tool that was designed to make you more knowledgeable about the overall picture of your money. (note: that is an affiliate link, but it’s a free tool I use and love and really wanted to share. For more information on affiliate links, see this disclaimer.)

I signed up for an account, connected all of our bank, investment, retirement, and mortgage accounts, as well as our credit cards. It was simple, other than the fact I had to track down all of the passwords I’d forgotten. It’s amazing how quickly you can amass so many accounts.

Once that was connected, either one of us can log in and get an instant snapshot of our accounts and balances, all in one place.

I honestly really like being able to log in and see how much is left on our mortgage and remind myself of what’s in our retirement accounts. It’s kind of like a Mint, but for your overall financial health, not just your monthly budget.

While this is an extremely powerful website with tools to help you analyze your investments (which I totally love and I will share more about), it does something much more basic than that: it helps me stay organized.

Jordan was able to ditch his spreadsheet and we connected all of our accounts to this: all bank accounts, retirement and investment accounts, credit cards, and our mortgage accounts. (ok fine, I still have one more to connect, but I promise I’ll do it soon).

It’s cleared away so much mental clutter for me (desk clutter, not so much).

And since the tool itself is free, it was an easy decision for me to create an account and set it up.

*Note: while the tool is free, they do offer additional investing and advisory services which are not free. I’ve only used the free tools like the net-worth calculator, fee analyzer, and retirement calculator. I haven’t used other services, so I can’t speak to whether I’d recommend those.

To be honest, I think Jordan will still probably update his spreadsheet quarterly because old habits die hard. But now he’ll be able to log right into Personal Capital to get a list of all of our accounts and the balances as of that day, without having to try to get me to participate.

Have you found a simple way to organize things? I’d love to hear!

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

Money have you feeling like a mess?

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