Your first task is two-fold:
- figure out where you are financially,
- track all of your expenses.
Where you are right now:
When we tally things up, an accurate picture of the present moment appears. For many of you, this will be a big stretch, but oh! So-worth-it.
You will find the financial inventory online. Filling it out will cause you to see exactly where you stand. Once you see, you will be able to start tweaking and improving different aspects of your financial life.
Then, you will have the privilege of coming back every month and updating it.
As I worked towards my own financial independence, this activity was truly revelatory: I saw where we were, and I imagined where we could go. The disciplined ritual of updating my financial inventory kept me motivated month after month as I marked our progress, measuring our forward movement, one penny at a time.
To this day, I faithfully fill out this form every single month and monitor our progress, penny by penny. There will never be a time when I don’t need to be aware of the state of my flock–this is God’s way, and it is good.
Track all your expenses
We cannot determine how much we need until we know (1) how much we have and (2) how much we spend. Now that you measured how much you have, it is time to get down to the nitty-gritty and figure out how much you spend, and where every penny goes.
You can set a note on your smart phone or find an app to track expenses, but I found that the simplest way to do this is to get a checkbook register from a bank–and while you are at it, get one for your mate and your teen-age kids.
This task will take you about 3 to 5 minutes each night, or you can do it as you go through your day, keeping your register with you. Start doing it on your own, and after a while, invite your family to join you.
What should you record? Everything! From the electric bill that you paid today to the quarter you spent on parking. From the boots you bought with your credit card to the coffee you purchased at lunch. Every single penny gets recorded. Rented a movie for tonight? Record it. Gave five bucks to a homeless guy? Write it down. Bought groceries? Record it. Bought a new app on your phone? Write it down. You get the picture. Nothing gets spent without writing it down; no exception. Record all monies that comes in as well. Every penny. Do this for 30 days. Just 30 days.
In the coming posts, we will work with the actual numbers you recorded in your register, but long before we begin to do so, you will discover a few immediate benefits to this tracking:
- The fact of recording our expenditures causes us to spend less. It’s like recording every bite we eat–it faces us with reality: do we really put stuff in our mouths that often? We are forced to think a bit as to whether we really want to fess up to eating the extra doughnut… is it really worth it? You will find the very same thinking process with spending. It’s an accountability thing, even if for your eyes only.
- This discipline forces us to focus on our money, and what we focus on grows.
When my children were little, two of them got poison ivy at the same time.
One of them decided to ignore the poison ivy because he was just too busy enjoying his summer to give it his attention. He had places to go, people to see, a life to live. The poison ivy ran its course on his skin, and within 10 days or so his body got rid of it.
My daughter, however, chose to focus on the ivy: how ugly the rash was on her skin, the itchiness, the way there were bubbles on her arms. She cried over it, touched it, looked at it, scratched it, babied it, talked about it… she focused on it with every waking moment. It became her very life.
We eventually had to take her to the ER because a secondary infection developed on her skin–all because she would not leave the little rash alone.
This is a negative example, yet it illustrates this powerful life principle: what we focus on grows. Focus calls for, and gets, energy.
- The data gathered as we track our spending gives our brain something to work with. And our brain is amazing: once we feed it the numbers–and the issues that the numbers reveal–it begins to work at finding a way to make it all work for us.
As we worked towards our own financial independence, the closer we got to the one million dollar mark, the harder our brains worked to make it happen. We discovered ways to save and invest that we had never considered before!
I am not sure exactly how this phenomenon works, and I certainly don’t claim to know the science behind it. I just know that I have observed it over and over again.
We are a group of women who are learning to OWN OUR LIVES with Joy! Right now, we are working on handling our finances and time in a godly way. You are very welcome to join us if you wish!