Many Right Ways

to get clarity around your money’s movement

Sometimes I procrastinate on doing important things.

My mind tells me, maybe several times a day, I should really do that (whatever good idea that I don’t yet feel like doing).

Sometimes I’m procrastinating because I’m scared of what I’ll discover. And/or I’m putting pressure on myself to do it perfectly or not at all.

I encourage people to just begin using a system to track their spending and their financial goals. You can always adjust the system as you go.

Doing a little something is highly preferable to doing nothing at all because you believe your efforts won’t be perfect.

Suggested Menu of Good-Enough Ways to Organize Personal Finances

YNAB…You Need A Budget

Before I moved to San Francisco, I could tell it was going to be marvelous from the blissful looks on peoples’ faces when they heard, “San Francisco”. Guess what, YNAB users make the “San Francisco” face of bliss when they hear “YNAB” mentioned!

I am now one of those folks. (***look of bliss…YNAB…ahhhhh***) I really don’t think I could love a money tracking system more than I love YNAB. And I got a lotta love to give. It is fabulous, in my opinion. Add on top of the easy, flexible, sensible software, their community forum and free online tutorials, and we’re in financial organizing heaven.

I recommend this system for people who are willing and able to sit down with their numbers for at least 20-30 minutes per week. As YNAB says, they are not a “set it and forget it” method. You download the software for a one-time fee of $60 after the free 34-day trial. There is a free app associated with it, as well, for recording those on-the-go purchases.

A friend of mine recently starting using YNAB and had this to say about it (unsolicited!): “You know what I’ve noticed? I started using YNAB after my second paycheck of the month, so as usual everything was in flux and I had payments coming and going. The end result is that once again I am left with about $30 to tide me over until I get paid again (something I hope will not be usual going forward). Unlike other months, though, I’m not panicked about it. Instead of being stressed about possible bills coming due that I’ve forgotten about and trying to figure out what my bank balance REALLY is with charges not having yet hit my balance, I know exactly how much I have sitting in the bank. I’ve been checking my bank balance every day to make sure, and it doesn’t move beyond what I’ve projected. It’s amazing the difference in peace of mind when I’m tracking every dollar, even though I’m literally in the same situation as I am at the end of previous, panicky months.”



Low-tech still works, believe it or not! There are people who either don’t feel comfortable with using a computer, or feel they spend enough time on a computer already and don’t want it to leak any further into their lives.

You don’t have to go Granny in every category. Many bills are just fixed and they are what they are. For the discretionary items, though, those items that you purchase on the go…I promise you that spending cash that has a capped amount for the week or month WILL make a difference. Before the month begins, plan out what seems workable for the month in each category, based on what you know you have to spend.

Once you have monthly maximums for your discretionary categories, get some envelopes and label them however you want. You might want to put a week’s worth of the monthly budget in the envelope, so you’re not carrying too much near the beginning of the month.

I recommend this for people who want to avoid any extra work on a computer, and who want to be able to save more than they have been. I do not recommend this for people who will take out unlimited amounts of cash and just keep refilling the envelopes!

I just withdrew some cash today for July, for my groceries, gas (you get a better price at many pumps when you pay cash, since they don’t have to pay the extra card processing fees), “surprises” fun money, and house purchases like TP and cleaning items. I know that having the limited amount of cash right there in front of my eyes will help me get instantly clear on “needs” versus “wants”.

Cash Money

Online Banking Buddy

Many banks now have something like a Quicken-type portion of their website. This should NOT cost any extra. (Don’t even get me started on banking fees.) The bonus about keeping tabs on your money activity this way, is that the transactions are already there, as long as they are flowing through your bank accounts.

I want to caution you about only tracking without a plan, though. It would be like keeping a list of calories you are taking in, without tying that back to the adjustments you want to make in your weight. The nice thing is, sometimes just the awareness of expenses alone can support us in making healthier decisions. But if you really want change (ha! that’s a funny money pun), then you will make a plan for the month and look at the overall money picture, and then use your bank’s website to track expenses. A simple Excel document or Google Doc spreadsheet can hold your plan for the month, and then you can weekly track your category amounts within your bank’s website. (Or if you must, though I have been sorely disappointed with how downhill Mint’s operating quality has gone since they were purchased.)

I recommend this for people who aren’t ready to commit to something like YNAB and don’t want to carry cash, but still want to start growing and progressing when it comes to trusting themselves with their money decisions.

For Mildly Reluctant Starters