There is nothing more crucial to your finances than keeping good records. For the first seven years of our marriage my husband handled the finances almost completely. He had the time and the expertise and I didn’t. I found the whole concept overwhelming. But once I got started, about 8 months ago, I’ve actually enjoyed it. Just trying to avoid seeing my Excel spreadsheet show amounts high lighted in red helps me to curb my spending. While it can be tedious to evaluate the budget every month, it takes me less time each month. By January I hope it will be second nature. One of the hardest parts about keeping poor finances records is that it allows you to create your own false image of your finances. This can be a positive or negative image. I always imagined things were better than they were because my husband said everything was fine. But then I would be irritated when we couldn’t buy things because he said we couldn’t afford it. Now all it takes on a given day is to glance at my spreadsheet to see where we are for the month. I figure out how much I have to spend at the grocery store before I go. When there isn’t any money to spend on clothing, I don’t shop for it. I realize it sounds simplistic, but keeping the family financial stats straight really saves us from unnecessary expenditures. At times the cold hard numbers can be depressing, but better to be depressed by reality than live in a rose colored dream world. Reality always breaks in eventually.
As part of this particular step, Trent also points out the importance of keeping your records organized. Paper filing has been a serious struggle in my house. There was a point when we actually had three year’s worth of paper work in crates waiting to be filed. Finally I just made it happen and it took a long time, especially while trying to keep my toddler from strewing my carefully stacked papers. I swore I would never let it happen again. But slowly the papers are piling up again. Certainly not to previous levels, but it is still getting unwieldy. Since our filing drawers are in the back of an unused upstairs bedroom, I try to file papers once a week. Now it’s more like once a month. Perhaps in the future I need to find a place to store my files on the first floor so I can quickly tuck them away before they become a file. Plus we have gone paperless with as many bills as possible to avoid unnecessary paperwork and all of our financial tracking is done electronically. Most people don’t enjoy filing and regular number crunching but it has the potential to save you money by preventing unnecessary expenditures and financial errors due to lost paper work.