When we were first married over 31 years ago, keeping track of our personal finances was very simple. One bank account, two people, one income and relatively few expenditures; our financial life fit easily on a single ledger sheet. Unfortunately, those days are long gone. Three children, three decades, and three moves later things are much more complicated. We have bank accounts in four states, ongoing expenses in three states, and a single ledger sheet will no longer suffice. Sometime in the mid1990s I learned how to use a spreadsheet and since then, I have used them as my main accounting tool. A spreadsheet works great as a check book ledger, but it is not so great when trying to tally up accounts at the end of year and come up with all the numbers needed for taxes.
For several years organizing our personal finance tracking has been an ongoing goal. I still use the spreadsheet as a check ledger, but I have been sporadically using Quicken also. Last February I actually finished inputting all of 2008’s numbers, which made filing 2008’s Income Tax a relative breeze. I resolved to keep Quicken current, working a little bit on a daily basis as needed, a resolve that fizzled sometime in mid-May. Here it is the end of 2009 and I am now faced with the prospect of several days devoted exclusively to inputting data to get Quicken up-to-date, a prospect that fills me with dread and one on which I am sure I will hone my procrastinate skills. There is nothing more tiresome than inputting financials that are months old. You would think I would remember the pain during the year when it would be so much easier to input the data on a daily basis, fifteen minutes a day! I bet you can guess what one of my 2011 New Year’s Resolutions will be!
I suppose I might find it easier to keep Quicken current if I relied solely upon it for my day-to-day financial status information, rather than continuing to keep and rely upon the spreadsheet ledgers. As it is, I am duplicating efforts and I realize this, but I have used the spreadsheets for so long that I find them much more reliable and informative on a day-to-day basis than Quicken. I’m a creature of habit, I admit. Perhaps my 2011 Resolution should be to use Quicken on a daily basis and abandon the use of the spreadsheets?
One area that I have done fairly well in keeping on top of is my Financial Diary.
I began creating this diary in January 2009 and it has been so useful these past two years, especially when we moved and needed to close some accounts and open others. Having account numbers, contact information, and all other pertinent account information readily available in one place has been invaluable. For the most part, I have kept this up-to-date on a daily basis, although there are two or three account pages sitting on my desk, waiting for some final clarifications before I add them to the diary.
While the Financial Diary has proven its usefulness, enough so that I keep it mostly current, dealing with my desk clutter in an equally successful fashion continues to elude me. I have tried several different methods of organization, some with mixed results, some total disasters. I love the look of a clean, spare desk, but it seems to be beyond my skills to keep it that way. I blame genetics — if I had pictures of my parents’ desks, I’d post them here as a testament to the genetics I am fighting!
Of course, the ever-present long-term financial goals are to save more money and pay down the credit cards. 2010 has been a so-so year on that front. While we’ve not paid the credit cards down much, savings has been accumulated and used for several financial emergencies without adding any to the credit card balances. And our vacation in December was paid solely from savings, as was Christmas. Progress is being made and with any luck, 2011 will continue that progress.