The other day was the first day of spring — which seems to always rush past me in a caffeine-soaked blur. As you may understand, we’re a little “busy” this time of year!
(This year, by the way, has been very encouraging on a variety of fronts — mostly because I’ve been excited to see some wonderful developments in the lives of many of our clients.)
Despite the fact that it seems to have hit us hard and fast this year, I do hope you and your family will pause a little and enjoy some “spring” this year — in the more figurative sense; whether or not it’s in the next couple of months. The winter always seems hard to get through, but now that we’re officially through it, I’m reminded of why I appreciate it.
You see, like the lifecycle of an economy, I still believe that it’s a *good* thing to experience a time of dormancy. Speaking biologically, plants and flowers often need that time of “being withdrawn” to survive the “facts on the ground” (really cold temps!).
They’re a classic picture of a healthy cycle — pull back a little when it’s harsh, but look for the warmer temps and be ready to bloom.
I don’t know all the details of your personal situation. But I do know that you and I have a choice about how we’re gonna weather our different financial seasons. Keep acting like it’s summer (when it’s really winter out there), and you’ll wither, and suffer for it.
But the opposite is also true — keep staying “shut down” and dormant when the weather is turning up … and, well, you’ll miss your chance to really grow up and blossom.
Fine — I’m a tax accountant, not a poet, but you get the point. Don’t be afraid to step out again, even if it’s been cold for awhile out there.
Lastly — one of the ways that you can grow in confidence to take new financial steps is to have clarity about where you are. Especially if you’re in a marriage partnership (or really, any kind of partnership venture).
“Real World” Personal Strategy Note
An Open Accounting With Your Partner
“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” -James Thurber
Do you get a knot in your gut when your spouse asks you how the finances are looking? Do you practice a policy of “Don’t ask, Don’t tell”?
One of the best tools I’ve seen to keep your spouse or partner in the loop about your finances is the simple concept of the monthly report. If you find it useful, and once you’ve established the format, you can also do it twice a month to take a look at how you’re meeting your goals.
Why You Should Do This
While there are many benefits to the monthly report that are outside the scope of this discussion, some of the major ones that apply to most families are:
* You keep each other accountable. Neither one of you can step too far outside the artificial boundaries you set up for yourselves (budgets, investments, etc.), because you know that you have to answer to the other every (15 or) 30 days. This helps you avoid making major financial mistakes.
* Awareness of your financial situation. Each one of you is fully aware of your current financial situation at all times, including your account balances and other major metrics.
* An opportunity to discuss goals and progress. Your meetings to review and discuss the report give you the opportunity to talk about your major financial goals, how you’re progressing toward meeting those goals, challenges that lie ahead, and potential changes you might have to make in your financial management to meet those goals.
* You can celebrate successes. Seeing your progress on paper allows you to look back and celebrate how far you’ve come, and encourages you to know you’re moving in the right direction.
What Should You Include?
The great thing about setting up a template like this, is that you’ll likely not change it very much at all after the first month or two. I would include the following:
* The Date (and whether the report is a mid-month check-in or an end-of-month summary).
* Money In: All income and transfers into your accounts.
* Money Out: All expenses and transfers out, categorized by bills, other expenses, investments/savings, and loans. I also recommend breaking down the biggest expenses within each of these major categories.
* In Minus Out: Cash flow for the month, and the plan for the resulting shortfall or surplus.
* Net Worth: A quick overview of all assets and liabilities to determine your month-to-month net worth.
* Credit Score: Update of your credit score from a monitoring service, and a comparison to last month’s score.
* Goal Monitoring: If you set up any special savings or financial goals at the beginning of the year, this is the place where you track them and keep each other accountable.
* Notes: This is where you can explain any unusual activity, or make notes on upcoming expenses or issues. This is also where you can make notes as to important milestones and successes you’ve made, particularly when year-to-year comparisons are important to make.
In particular when one partner is primarily in charge of handling the finances, this kind of reporting can make a huge difference in your peace of mind — and your relationship!
YNAB.com (one of my favorite budgeting tools) can make this extremely efficient, as can other free online software out there.
But the most important thing I want to communicate? Have that open conversation. And if you need a referee, let me know — I’m always glad to be a neutral sounding board.
Valerie McLaughlin, EA