How to Take Control of Your Money
Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Your relationship with money might have been plagued with drama and confusion in the past, but today is a new day. A new day brings many chances to start fresh. Today, with this article specifically, brings you an expert in Kansas who used a handy dandy tool to help save her family tens of thousands of dollars and get them to a better place financially.
She’s giving us her tool, for free!, and she guides us on how to use it, following the Start. Sort. Style. steps.
First, an intro. Angie Swartz is a professional organizer and owner of Aim to Be Organized in Overland Park, Kansas, who says she loves helping people make changes for the better in their lives. She addresses her clients’ needs for order in their homes – with their stuff – but she’s also learned how to get her family’s financial affairs organized, too.
Think of this as financial organization: knowing what you’ve got, adjusting (decluttering!) what no longer works, and setting goals that lead you to a calmer, brighter, better place in your life.
For Angie, it all begins with getting honest about what’s coming in – and what’s going out – each month.
“If you are organized, you can see where your money is actually going and the areas that you need to work on cutting back in order to reach your long-term goals,” Angie says. “It gives a more future-focused approach rather than just living in the moment. Also, it reduces money stress when you are organized. It helps immediately!”
The key ingredient in Angie’s financial well-being is a spreadsheet she uses as a Money Tracker to keep on top of her family’s expenses. Angie sent it to us, so you can download and use it for free HERE (at the top of the page).
Getting clear and honest about where you’re spending your money might feel scary at first, but Angie says it’s brought many benefits to her life. You can do MORE of what you want. It’s even strengthened her relationship.
“I used to feel like I was the money police, and I’m sure my husband felt like I was, too. Now, we agree on the budget, and he has a specific category of the budget that is solely his to spend how he wants. Also, I used to say we didn’t have enough money to go on a date (especially at the end of a month), but now we designate at the beginning of the month a specific amount for dates, and it doesn’t feel like we are depriving ourselves at all. It is more of a priority for us to assign that money towards dates rather than going out and buying more clothes that we really don’t need.”
Angie’s organized approach helped saved them tens of thousands of dollars, too!
“Because I stayed on top of our spending with the use of spreadsheets, it enabled us to pay the mortgage in a third of the time,” Angie says. “We saved over half the amount of interest we would have paid if we took the full 15 years to pay off the mortgage.”
"We saved over half the amount of interest we would have paid if we took the full 15 years to pay off the mortgage.”
Angie was so motivated by seeing the mortgage amount go down each month, that it made her feel good about getting their other expenses down, so they could pay off their mortgage more quickly.
The key thing here is that she could see – and celebrate! – it, with a positive attitude. It’s not about deprivation or beating yourself up about what you spend or feeling like you don’t have enough. It’s the opposite… which brings us to the steps on how to use the Money Tracker to take control of your finances and feel great about your financial life.
Step 1: Start.
1. Face your feelings. Let’s acknowledge that getting honest about money isn’t always easy, and it’s common to feel like you simply don’t have enough. (Go deeper here if you need help to take the sting out of your money issues.)
2. Switch your perspective. Two things can be true: You might feel like you don’t have as much money as you want right now… but you can also feel good about what you do have and how you’re using it.
3. Keep it simple. You might start to get excited about getting a handle on your financial life (that’s good!) but resist the temptation to dive into grandiose goals that might feel overwhelming or unreachable at the moment. A sense of momentum and pacing that feels right to you will build on its own. Angie says to keep your goals at this first step simple:
“The best goal I can think of is living within your means,” Angie says. “Spend less than you make. Aim to end each month in the positive. The more you work with the spreadsheet, you will see your progress financially.”
4. Download the Money Tracker. It’s an Excel file. You can find it HERE at the top of the page. If you don’t have Excel on your computer, you can upload it into Google Drive and “Open with Google Sheets” to get an editable document you can fill in. (Reach out if you have any questions about this, and we can help!)
Step 2: Sort.
Practice makes perfect, when it comes to using the Money Tracker. Here’s how Angie does it:
“When you are first starting out using the spreadsheet, it may be best just to spend like you normally did before, but enter your spending as you incur expenses. I fill it out continuously throughout the month. I like to highlight the cells on the spreadsheet that I know still need to be paid. Once they are paid, I remove the highlight. That way if you don’t receive a specific bill, you can hunt it down so you don’t rack up additional late fees. When you first start the spreadsheet, you may not really be aware what time of the month your individual bills normally arrive, but with a little practice, you will know when your bills will be arriving.”
2. Be as specific as possible.
“I used to just have ‘credit card’ as a category (we pay it off each month), but I found it allowed us to spend too much. If I enter the credit card expenses into more specific categories, then I can see exactly where we are overspending."
3. Adjust the columns in the Money Tracker, as needed. If you feel comfortable working with the document, you can tailor it to make the categories in the first column match your unique situation – both the money coming in and the money going out. But if you don’t want to fuss with it – don’t bother. Use it as best as you can, the way Angie’s set it up. Perfection is not necessary in order to make progress here.
Step 3: Style.
1. Be consistent. As you use the Money Tracker each month, you’ll start to see places where you can naturally pull back on your expenses. You might even see some expenses (like recurring subscriptions) that you’ve forgotten about! Take care of those within the week that you notice them.
“I highly recommend setting up a consistent time each week for paying bills and filling out the spreadsheet. Keep it as current as possible, otherwise it is not keeping you informed of what still needs paid that month. Make sure to ‘wrap up’ the worksheet for that month at the end of the month. Make sure no expenses got overlooked or not recorded.”
2. Go for some goals. Once you get into a groove in using the Tracker consistently, start to see what you’d like to save for, or how you’d like to adjust what you're spending.
“I think setting a specific goal you are working for really helps,” Angie says. “Find a picture that represents that goal and put it somewhere that you will see it daily. You will see it and think, ‘I am not going to buy such-and-such now, so that I can have such-and-such sooner rather than later.’ If you do get off track, don’t beat yourself up about it, just get back on track the next month.”
3. Keep going. Angie says the Money Tracker gets more powerful the more you use it.
“The second year you use the spreadsheet, you can look back at the previous year to get an idea what to expect that month. It also is a good way just to compare how much certain bills have increased over time. Maybe you need to look for different insurance or a different internet provider.”
The tool is also helpful for those bills that aren’t monthly, and big annual expenses like vacations and Christmas shopping. You’ll soon be better able to budget throughout the year to save for what you want.
Remember, it’s not about deprivation: it’s about making the choice to feel good about improving your financial life, with confidence, one step at a time.