Checking in with your finances doesn’t have to take long, Grownups—see how Broke Millennial blogger Erin Lowry takes a quick break every Sunday to ensure she’s on track.
Fewer things relax me quite like balancing my budget. Granted, I’m not at Scrooge McDuck diving into piles of gold status—sounds painful—but I still find it therapeutic to spend 15 minutes each week ensuring my money is working for me. Keeping close tabs on money is empowering, even when I feel a bit strapped for cash.
Meditate on Money to Prevent Overspending (7 minutes)
Each Sunday I grab a pen and paper (because I’m old school like that) and open up my laptop.
Step 1: I log into my bank account to see my checking account balance. This gets written on the top of the page.
Step 2: Write down each of my six credit cards and then log into the associated accounts to write down the balances. Most of the time only three cards are getting used at a time, but I still check all six just in case there’s an unexpected automated charge (or a fraudster got my digits). Include any bills on the list such as phone, rent, or utilities, if they haven’t been paid yet this month.
Step 3: Pay off all the balances (unless it’s the week the credit card bill cycles).
The third step is what keeps me out of debt and helps me maintain a high credit score. By paying off the balances weekly, my checking account reflects what I have left to spend in a month. Otherwise, it’s easy to be lured into a false sense of financial security until those credit card bills come in and kaboom, I overspent without thinking!
It’s empowering to know you can spend what’s in your checking account because the money isn’t already spoken for. Please note: I partake in the almighty practice of paying myself first and don’t plan to stash away cash at the end of the month.
So why hold off paying the balance when the credit card bill cycles? Because one charge needs to be on the statement balance in order to report utilization to the credit bureaus. Zero percent utilization that comes from paying off the bill early is like telling the credit bureaus I don’t use the card at all. I keep my utilization low by having a small charge on at least one card when the statement cycles. Then I pay it off as soon as the bill comes, so I’m never carrying a balance and never paying interest to the credit card company.
Set up Alerts (3 minutes)
Setting up transaction alerts on my credit cards serve a two-fold purpose.
- I’m alerted each time I make a purchase and get daily total balance reminders.
- It helps prevent fraud.
Most credit cards now offer this feature, which can come in text or email form. Personally, I like getting the text messages each time I swipe my card. It tells me exactly how much I was charged, and once a day I’m sent a reminder about my total balance. This is a simple practice to help keep me from getting too comfortable swiping and then bamboozled by the credit card bill.
The greater reason I set up these alerts is to mitigate the risk of fraud. I’ve been hit with credit card fraud three times and had one case of debit card fraud. Let me tell you that nothing makes you change your behaviors quite like other people spending your money.
Text alerts about credit card activity is one of the fastest ways for me to detect a whiff of suspicious activity. The texts come within seconds after the card is charged, so I can call my bank immediately if I see someone is buying $700 worth of products in South Africa (wouldn’t be the first time) or a Jersey Mike’s sub in Georgia. (Never again!)
Setting up these alerts took me all of three minutes and only needs to be done once.
The credit card companies I use (including American Express, Discover, and MasterCard) gave me the option to set the threshold for alerts. Considering that some thieves do a test run of a card by making a small purchase, I get alerted about a transaction that’s more than a penny.
While I recognize there is no actual correlation, I will say that I haven’t been victim of credit card fraud since setting up these alerts.
Net Worth Health Check Up (5 minutes)
The final Sunday of each month brings one of my favorite financial practices (or aggravating, depending on the stock market): net worth health check-up.
I pull up my trusty spreadsheet and track all my investments and savings accounts. The spreadsheet tracks:
- Index funds
- IRAs (one Roth, one Traditional, and one SEP)
- An employer-matched 401k
- Four savings accounts.
The checking account gets left out because it fluctuates too frequently for me to really factor it into the overall net worth picture.
Doing a once-a-month check in of the net worth is a risky move for those with a low-risk tolerance. Seeing a 401k take a tumble or index funds bruised from a downturn in the market may induce panic.
Personally, it is encouraging to me—even in bear markets—to see how my net worth is progressing or evaluating where changes could be made. For example, if an index fund seems to be consistently underperforming, I’ll consider making a change.
Final Step to Financial Bliss: Bring Your Partner On-Board
The final step to financial bliss is openness with a partner. That’s assuming a partner is either a spouse or lives with you and shoulders some shared expenses. Personally, this isn’t a practice I partake in quite yet, even though I do often talk money with my long-time (but not cohabitating) boyfriend.
Sitting down for a monthly (or weekly if you aren’t a full-blown money nerd) meeting with a partner can help ease financial tension in a relationship and hopefully keep both people accountable for personal and shared goals.
Erin Lowry is the founder of BrokeMillennial.com,
where she uses sarcasm and humor to explain
basic financial concepts to her fellow Millennials.
Erin lives and works in New York City.