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  • Writer's pictureJamie

Personal Finance 101: Two Simple Questions You Should Be Asking Yourself

My husband and I have a running joke that I’m a “mathlete.” I love numbers, metrics, charts, graphs, financial analyses – if it involves math and data, I’m all in! I studied accounting in undergrad, I work as a controller for a fun company, and I've started this business venture to help other companies analyze their financial landscape. In other words, numbers and finances play a large role in my professional life.

Just as businesses need to keep a keen eye on their accounting and understand their company's finances, it's equally important for individuals to pay close attention to their personal finances. So it’s no surprise that my husband and I keep a close eye on ours. Since we got married a little over three years ago, we’ve set personal goals and made a conscious effort to map out our financial future. Without getting too personal in terms of our private finances, I’d like to start sharing some tips and tricks that have helped us along the way.

Enter in Personal Finance 101 – a series in which I’ll be discussing some small {and large!} steps that you can take to improve your personal finances and prepare for your future. You don’t have to have an accounting degree to take the plunge and take control of your finances!

Two Simple Questions

Start by analyzing your current finances. You can’t improve if you don’t know your baseline. Asking yourself these two questions will give you a starting point and a finish line. Be prepared to spend some time on these questions – the effort will be worth it in the end!

Where are you now? Begin by taking a detailed look at where your finances currently stand and answer these questions:

  • How much do you have in checking and savings? What about retirement?

  • How much do you owe? Think about credit card balances, student loans, your mortgage, car loans, and any other debt you have.

  • Look back over the past few months and record how you spent your money. Take some time to categorize your spending. This will be tedious, but it will be SO worth it! You can’t improve without knowing where you’re starting. As an example, consider these initial spending categories, which are taken directly from our budget:

    • Mortgage

    • Technology {For us, this is Hulu, iTunes, Comcast for internet, and Verizon for cell phones.}

    • Homeowner bills {For us, this includes ADT and Ring for our home security, our garbage pickup, water bill, propane fee, and power bill.}

    • Groceries and household supplies

    • Gas

    • Haircuts

    • Date nights {We allow ourselves one “date night” at a restaurant per week, usually on Friday night.}

    • Family dinner {We eat with my family every Wednesday, and we find it useful to have a specific budget line for the money we spend when it’s “our turn” to cover dinner.}

    • Tithe {It is imperative to us that we tithe 10% to the church. It’s required by God, and non-negotiable.}

    • Fun money {We each receive a monthly “allowance” from our house account, which we can choose to spend or save.}

    • Insurance and taxes {house insurance, real estate taxes, personal property taxes, car insurance, boat/trailer insurance}

    • Vehicle expenses {registrations, inspections, oil changes, other maintenance}

    • Vet bills

    • Medical expense {doctor’s visits, prescriptions, contact lenses, and dental visits}

    • Other {vacations, holiday gifts, etc.}

    • Unexpected {We keep notes regarding anything that we allocate here. Next year, we’ll determine which of these expenses may merit their own “budget line.”}

Where do you want to go? Think about your goals – what’s important to you? These will be different for everyone. For us, we keep the following key goals in mind when discussing our finances:

  • We live on one income, even though we’re a two-income family. Ideally, we want to live on {or below} the lesser of our two incomes.

  • We want to retire relatively young {ideally, in our 50’s!}.

  • We want to live debt free. We paid off a LOT of debt {credit card debt, student loans, a new Honda CR-V, a tractor & trailer for our hobby farm, and our boat} within our first few years of marriage. Right now, our only debt is our mortgage.

  • Within the next six months, we want to invest in real estate and rental property {this will break our "no debt" rule of course}.

Thinking about these two questions {and, if you’re married, having an open conversation with your spouse} is a great start to taking control of your financial future.

In the next installment of Personal Finance 101, I’ll provide a few quick and easy changes you can make to improve your finances!

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