How To Manage Money… Made Easy
Fee-for-service financial planner and founder of PlanEasy.ca
Managing money is an important life skill. Whether you’re a few years into your first job, or a few years away from retirement, do it well and your financial stress will disappear. Do it poorly and you’ll probably find yourself in a difficult situation more often than not.
The problem is we were never taught how to do this! We were never told how to manage our money. We were never told how to budget, how to pay bills, how to invest, or how to save.
We were never taught about best practices like emergency funds or automated investment plans.
Some of us may have been lucky enough to have a parent or older sibling who was good with money. We were able to learn by watching them manage their money. But because money is so secretive, its often hard to see what they were actually doing on a day-to-day basis.
This post will cover a few of the best practices, the best money management tips, and the best ways to manage your money.
If you’re reading this post my guess is that you’re probably already doing some of these things, or maybe all of them! But you might find something new to add to your financial routine. Something to make it stronger and easier to manage in the future.
Creating A Budget
A budget is nothing more than a plan. It’s as simple as that.
Sometimes the term “budgeting” can be used in a very broad sense. It can be used to encompass both planning and execution. Personally, I like to separate the two. I like to separate budgeting (the planning part) and spend tracking (the execution part).
There are lots of different templates and processes to help you create a budget. You can find these online. There are even guidelines that suggest how much you should spend in each category.
Spending is a very personal subject. We all value things differently. That’s why I find specific budgeting guidelines a bit useless. What I like to use is a high-level guideline for three categories called the 50/30/20 budget. Housing and transportation shouldn’t be more than 50% of your budget. Saving should be around 20% of your budget. And lastly personal spending should be no more than 30% of your budget. Stick to these three guidelines and you’ll have a solid financial future!
Budgeting is all about what you value. Part of the benefit of creating a budget is getting to see how your spending plan lines up with your personal values. If you really value travel, but you spend more money on daily coffee, then you might have a problem. But if you really value a good cup of coffee and catching up with friends then it might not be a problem at all! It’s all about what you value most.
Spending tracking is the actual execution of the budget. The budget is nothing more than a plan, now you need to put it into action.
Spend tracking provided instant feedback. It tells you how you’re doing vs your plan. This will help you identify bad spending habits that aren’t in-line with your budget. It can take time to change spending habits so it can be necessary to track your spending for months or even years until new habits are created.
We have an awesome (FREE!) budget and spend tracker in the resources section. It’s based on Google Forms and Google Sheets. The two are linked, so you can enter expenses from anywhere using your phone and it will automatically update your spend tracker. Best of all, its FREE!
Spend tracking can be a great tool to get yourself on track, but you don’t have to do it forever. Once you get yourself on track you can automate your budget… or use the reverse budget.
Pay Yourself First (aka Reverse Budgeting)
Paying yourself first is another best practice. It’s a simple concept. The idea is that as soon as you get paid (either weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly, or something else) the first thing you’ll do is set aside your budgeted savings in a savings or investment account.
The benefit of this strategy is that you can easily automate this process to happen as soon as you get paid. By paying yourself first you’ll never see this money hit your bank account and you’ll be less tempted to spend it.
Plus, when you have your spending habits in place, this can be a good way to manage your spending too. For years I used to manage my money using this “reverse budget”. Twice a month I would set money aside for saving/investing, then set money aside for monthly bills, then leave whatever was left in my checking account for monthly spending.
As long as you pay yourself first, and you can cover your monthly bills, then it doesn’t really matter how you spend the rest, as long as you don’t spend more than you have.
Save For Infrequent Expenses
Similar to paying yourself first, saving for infrequent expenses is another best practice. Infrequent expenses are expenses that only happen once per year or once every few years. These are difficult expenses to plan for and they often come as a surprise and can lead to short-term debt.
The most common types of infrequent expenses are vehicle repairs, vehicle replacement, and home repairs. If you own a vehicle and/or own a home, then you need to be setting money aside for these infrequent expenses.
You can also have other infrequent expenses like gifts, electronics upgrades (new laptop?!?), and other things depending on your hobbies/lifestyle.
As a best practice, you should make an estimate for these annual expenses and save for them monthly. This money should go into a high interest savings account and should be drawn upon as expenses arise. The goal is to always have a float of cash ready to go as expenses pop up.
This money shouldn’t be considered savings, it should be considered future spending. This money will be spent at some point, we just don’t know exactly when.
Create An Emergency Fund
An emergency fund is an amazing tool. With a fully funded emergency fund you’ll feel your financial stress decrease considerably. An emergency fund is basically a pile of cash that is easily accessible in case of a short-term financial emergency.
A short-term financial emergency could be something like a job loss, a medical issue, or something else that’s completely unexpected.
An emergency fund shouldn’t be used for infrequent expenses, this is a common mistake people make. An emergency fund is truly for unexpected emergencies. You don’t want to use your emergency fund to upgrade your car and then experience a job loss just a month later.
There are different rules for how large of an emergency fund you need. An emergency fund should be anywhere from 3 months to 6 months of expenses (or more!). When you have more financial commitments (family, mortgage etc) you probably want 6 months of expenses saved up. If you also have a job that is commission based, or has variable income, you may want to add another 3-6 months for 9-12 months total.
Create An Investment Plan
At some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, we all need to start investing. Investing is one of the best ways to build wealth. By investing on a regular basis, you can turn your money into more money without doing anything. Investing is basically only way to reach really big financial goals like retirement.
Investing today is easier than it’s ever been. There are many, many, many different ways to invest. There are robo-advisors, low-cost mutual funds, “all-in-one” ETFs and also incredibly inexpensive individual ETFs. Plus, there are online brokers that help you purchase some of these products for free!
The problem with all these options is that people often forget to create a simple investment plan and this can hurt them in the long-run. Individual investors often underperform the index their invested in. They try to time the market or do other counterproductive things. This is where an investment plan can help and it’s a best practice for DIY investors.
An investment plan will help you to manage your investments over the long-term. At a minimum, it should outline four things. Fees, how much you’re paying, both in MER on your investments and in transaction/management fees with your broker/advisor. Asset allocation between stocks and fixed income (bonds/GICs etc), which is a big driver of risk. Diversification, which means not putting all your eggs in one basket. And lastly rebalancing, which ideally should happen at least once per year on the same date every year.
The last best practice to help manage your money is to automate your investments. There are different ways to automate investing.
Automate contributions: By automating investment contributions we are sending money to our investment account without having to lift a finger. This can be done with many brokerage accounts using an automated contribution plan.
Automate purchases: By automating purchases we can invest those contributions based on our target asset allocation. This is easier to do with a low-cost mutual fund or robo-advisor. You can set up something called a systematic investment plan (or SIP). Some investment products make this difficult to do, like ETFs, but it’s still possible. Some ETF providers offer whats called a PACC plan (or Pre-Authorized Cash Contributions plan) which can investment a certain amount in your desired ETF on a regular basis.
Automate rebalancing: By automating our rebalancing we’re never far off our target asset allocation. This helps us reduce risk and avoid those behavioural pitfalls that affect many DIY investors. This is easy to do with robo-advisors and all-in-one ETFs.
7 Ways To Easily Manage Your Money
Managing money isn’t what we typically think of as a fun weekend activity (well, some of us do!). Money is just a tool to help us live the rest of our life the way we want. It’s a means to an end, not the end itself. That’s why it’s important to make money management as easy as possible.
By doing these seven things you’re going to make your money management much easier in the future… and this is going to help improve your financial health and decrease your financial stress considerably!
Financial planner, personal finance geek and founder of PlanEasy.