Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Back to Normal

Yes, I'm back... it feels like I've been away from regular life for a while-- work trips, vacation, and the herculean task of hosting the Carnival of Personal Finance. (Actually it wasn't all that bad... you should try it sometime!)
So since I'm back in it, what IS regular life, anyway? At least financially speaking? I was thinking about what my usual routines are:

I enter my cash transactions in Pocket Quicken, on my Treo. This tends to be for breakfast and lunch, and not much else. I also check my main savings and checking account balances online most days, just to make sure there aren't any auto-payments I've forgotten to cover, or weird charges on my credit card, which happens to be with the same bank, so it's all in one website.
Then of course there is all my daily reading: the New York Times on the way to work, and various blogs and websites I tend to check up on, on finance and real estate topics.
For most days, that is it as far as finance-related activities go. Occasionally I will also do a little shopping at lunchtime, or while sitting at my computer. And some days I buy groceries on the way home, or maybe have dinner out with a friend. But otherwise I don't spend much money.

Once or maybe twice a week, I synchronize my Pocket Quicken transactions with the desktop version on my Mac. At the same time, I download all the latest security prices for my portfolio, and also download recent credit card transactions.
On Fridays, I also update a spreadsheet I've been keeping that tracks the number of real estate listings in the NY Times, for a little experiment of mine that I posted about a while back.
I used to check my E*Trade account at least weekly, but lately I don't bother. I can see the overall balance update in Quicken, and other than that I have been feeling pretty hands-off about it lately.
Another weekly activity of late is a lot of household errand-running on the weekends: this is when I spend money! Though the decorating of my new condo is winding down a bit, the change of seasons has gotten me into gardening. I'll post more later about my newly-green thumb and how much it's costing me.

Twice a month:
I enter all my salary and deductions from my paystub into Quicken.

About once or maybe twice a month, I pay my bills, and set up transfers between savings and checking to cover them. Some bills and transfers are set up for auto-payment, so it's just a question of making sure they're entered in Quicken. For others, I have to go over the bills and manually enter the amounts for electronic payment, or for my condo maintenance, a paper check. I also reconcile my savings and checking transactions in Quicken using my bank statement, enter investment account transactions from my 401k and E*Trade statements, and check off all my credit card receipts against the statement, then stapling them to it and filing it.
"Filing" means just shoving these papers into a bin for a while!
I try to get all the statements entered within the first week of the month, so I can post an accurate net worth on this site. Each month, I also use the category summary report in Quicken to update a spreadsheet that I keep which tracks how much of my net paycheck I'm actually saving-- even though I plow a lot of money into my 401k through deductions, I like to track how I'm doing against my budget for saving cash on top of that.

That bin I've "filed" papers in starts to get full, so I go through it, weed out unneeded items, and try to fit everything else into an actual filing cabinet where I keep my tax returns, credit card statements, etc. I used to keep bank statements for quite a while too, but now that they are available online and I have the data in Quicken, I throw them out within a year.

I pull together all my tax-related paperwork and go over all my expenses for tax deductible items. Since I've kept things fairly organized throughout the year, this isn't too onerous a task. And at the beginning of each year, I look at all my spending, savings, investment performance, net worth growth and goals for the following year-- and blog about them here, of course!

These are the basic ways I keep track of my financial life-- I like to stay aware of where I'm at, and not let the paperwork pile up til it gets overwhelming. Sometimes it seems like I spend a lot of time on it, but really it's probably only a few hours a month at most. It just seems like more to me because I am always thinking and blogging about it!

What are your financial routines? How do you stay organized?


Anonymous said...

Routine? Organized? Er...

Well I do pretty much all my banking online so that helps me keep track of money in, money out. Spending money is currently cash in hand which helps me stick to a weekly budget. I have some balances (like stocks) on my customized homepage so I can keep an eye on them.

jjoa said...

Amazing! I made the resolution that I'd check my expenses daily, but that has already become a weekly routine. Does anyone know where to buy some self-discipline at a cheap price?

Anonymous said...

Bronx Chica...I love your system! Also I check my credit report every 4 months. Though I need to get quicken even though I have quickbooks. I track online, offline, and shred unwanted documents.

Anonymous said...

What is my financial routine?

It's like this...

1. Spend money.

2. Shove receipt in purse.

3. Forget to look at credit card statement. Use as coaster.

4. Make credit card payment along with painful late payment fee.

5. Swear to do better next month.

Lather, rinse, repeat x 12.

How do I stay organised?

If it's not in my purse, it's in a box, on the floor, in a drawer or I've lost it. Sometimes I just leave everything in my PO Box.

I'm really trying to do better.

I am in the process of settling on my first apartment, so it's not all bad news. Mind you if I had back all the money I had spent of late fees and parking tickets, I'd be buying a mansion...