“Real World” Personal Strategy Blog

Spring Means Hope!

The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.

– Dolly Parton

I don’t know about you, but I get pretty excited about the spring. When the snow is gone, and the trees don’t seem so desolate…and am I right that the angle of the sun is a bit less harsh?

I hope you and your family will have some “spring” this year–whether or not it’s in the next couple months, or it’s in the more figurative sense. The winter always seems longer than it really is (even when it really *is* long!), but I’m reminded of how necessary it really is.

You see, like the lifecycle of an economy, it’s a *good* thing to experience a time of dormancy for a while. Speaking biologically, plants and flowers often need that time of “being withdrawn” to survive the “facts on the ground” (really cold temps!).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–pull back a little when it’s harsh, but constantly 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 the different financial seasons. Keep acting like it’s summer (when it’s really winter out there!) and you’ll wither and die. 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.

Ok–I’m an accountant, not a poet, but you get the point. Don’t be afraid to step out again, just because it’s been cold for a while out there.

Yes, there IS some good news in our economy out there. Despite this week’s rough start, don’t forget that home sales are up, durable goods demand is up, and we did have a nice little 2-week rally in the stock market.

(see: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090325/ap_on_bi_ge/economy )

Speaking of delivering good (or bad) news, this week I thought I would take up the topic of how you and your spouse (or significant other) can get on the same page when it comes to finances. I think you’ll enjoy, and as always–post your feedback!

“Real World” Personal Strategy

Talking Finances With Your Spouse?

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”?

Well, despite the fact that we’re in the thick of tax season, I thought this topic was important enough to give you some real world strategy!

One of the best tools I’ve seen to keep your spouse 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.

Benefits of a Monthly Report

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–and by the way, I’m trying to hold off on the accountant-jargon to keep things simple 🙂 …

· 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 break 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 have any special savings or financial goals set up 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 spouse is primarily in charge of handling the finances, this kind of reporting can make a huge difference in your peace of mind–and your marriage!

What kinds of tools have worked for you?

To more of your money in your wallet!

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