I’ve received a lot of questions recently about how we manage 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.
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.
It has to be simple, otherwise, I’d be a complete and total mess. Like most people, we have a lot of accounts in 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 not well organized and embarrassed by the state of your accounts, it’s ok. There is a solution. And once you get it set up, managing money will be simple.
Step 1: Document your automatic flow
Here’s the gist of how we manage our cash flow each month:
- Money comes into our checking account via our paychecks
- Money is immediately transferred to savings and investment accounts
- Bills are paid automatically, as close to our payday as possible
- We can spend the remaining money how we choose
Need more info? Here’s the entire process, with a handy little flow chart.
Once you have that set up don’t accidentally forget the most important part: documenting this
There’s nothing worse than needing to make a change to your savings and having no idea what day payments are taken, what account they’re taken out of, and where they’re moved to.
This document doesn’t need to be anything fancy but trust me, you’ll want to have it. Jordan and I use our Ditching the Someday Budget template. Once you determine your savings acounts, you can add date of transfer, account from, account to, and amount to the budget template.
Any time we make a change, we change this budget spreadsheet.
Step 2: Catalogue your automatic payments
We have a lot of things that we’ve signed up for that we automatically get charged for monthly or annually. Utilities like our internet, cell phones, and electric bills as well as other spending like icloud storage, prime membership. We also have some important bills that we pay annually, automatically, like our life insurance.
Ask me off the top of my head, and I can’t remember what they are or when we pay them. That’s not great when you need to make changes.
For example, one of my credit cards expired and I needed to set up new automatic payments. The problem was, I couldn’t remember exactly what needed to be changed. Annoyingly, I had to look through old statements to make sure I changed everything.
That’s why on our master spreadsheet we have a second tab. On this tab, we have a list of everything that we pay automatically. Again, it’s not fancy. We have four columns set up: date, paid to, amount, and from what account or card.
Step 3: See it all in one place
The first two steps are really important, but this third step has been a game-changer in money communication between Jordan and me.
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.
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.
Now that everything is connected to Personal Capital, 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, it does something much more basic than that: it helps me stay organized. If you want to a full review and video tutorial for Personal Capital, you can get that here.
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.
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.
Erica Gellerman, CPA
Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and founder of The Worth Project: a weekly money newsletter you actually want to read. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Money, Business Insider, The Everygirl, The Everymom, and Lifehacker. When she's not writing about personal finance you can find Erica exploring Europe from her temporary home base in London.
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