Last week I wrote an article about getting your finances organized for 2006: I’m going to kick some personal-finance ass–yours.
Today we’re going to start 2006 off by getting your money organized. Here’s the deal: We’ll begin step-by-step, starting with your spending (where are you spending money?), getting your accounts straightened out (are you paying fees?), and getting ready to divide your money into different buckets (saving, investing, etc).
Getting your budget stuff will be hard, but it will be worth it. Once you do it for the first time, it’s infinitely easier afterwards.
Then, in the next few weeks, we’ll get into the growth mode, where you can take your discretionary money and start investing it. I’ll help you figure out what kind of investment vehicles make sense (stocks, bonds, retirement accounts, etc) depending on your situation.
Along the way, I hope you add comments to these posts, asking questions and telling us what other personal-finance stories you’ve heard about from your friends, etc. The cool thing is that everyone can see and learn from it.
1. Get all your investable money in one place (3 hours)
First, I want you to first figure out exactly how much you have to invest. This is money you want to put away for the short-term (1-3 years, maybe for a house or car), and money you don’t need for a long time (5+ years). Now, one of the biggest barriers to getting started is having money in 15 different places. You should also get this in one account so that it’s easy to reach. (Note: If your money is already in some place like a mutual fund, please don’t sell it just so you can get it in one place. You would think I wouldn’t have to say that, but…)
If you don’t think investing is important, just get your money in one place anyway. I’ll show you why it’s worth your time a little later.
Bottom line: Get all your investable money in one place.
2. Figure out how much you’re spending per week (4 hours)
Second, I want you to understand how much you’re spending per week–and what you’re spending it on. This is hard. If you already have a budget in Quicken/Money or something else, great! It’s just a few clicks to get the info. But since 99.99% of people don’t, you’ll have to reconstruct what you spent in December.
Here’s how to do it:
- Write down your current income.
- Write down what you currently spend in different categories like going out, clothes, food, car insurance, gas, etc. Keep it simple: Just include the stuff you spend money on, have a “Miscellaneous” category for stuff you don’t account for, and if you don’t know about your taxes, leave it blank. I have about 10 categories total. Here’s a sample budget.
- Write down what you want to be spending per week in these categories.
- Start crying.
Don’t worry. We’ll fix that.
3. Make sure you’re not paying fees on your bank account or credit card (1 hour)
- Credit cards: Call your credit-card company and make sure you have a card with no annual fee. (The only reason you should have a fee is that the cost of $65 or whatever is outweighed by the benefits you get, like tons of free miles, etc. This is hardly ever the case with the spending habits of our age group.) If your card has a fee, get a no-fee credit card. More information in my previous article, All About Credit Cards.
- Bank accounts: Call your bank and make sure you’re not paying any fees. If you’re a student, tell them that and politely but firmly ask to be switched to a no-fee, no-minimum account. If the bank says they can’t offer that, use my no-fee, no-minimum strategy.
4. Get your credit report. It’s free. (30 minutes)
Because of a new law, you’re entitled to get your free credit report once a year. Your credit report will show you what accounts you have open and your credit history. Check this for errors. They happen a lot and are very very bad. Get your credit report here: http://www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
(Note: This is not your credit score, which costs $30. I strongly encourage you to get your credit score, even though it costs a little money. This will tell you exactly what creditors are using to evaluate your loans and interest rates. Get your credit score here: http://www.transunion.com.)
5. Open a high-interest bank account (30 minutes)
Your bank’s interest rate is probably about 0.5% APY, which sucks. Open a high-interest savings account, which will get you a better rate.
FYI, here’s how I set up my financial accounts.
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