Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ducks in a Row: Herding the Finances

So, February’s nearly gone. Maybe too short a month to completely succeed at saying no to financial powerlessness. But not too short to point myself in the right direction. Of course, as we all know, the hard part’s staying on the path.

There are so many ducks to get in a row. We had a good start with complimentary telephone credit counseling from a nonprofit group, one I researched that lived up to its “no scam” appearance: Money Management International. For Tom and me, a lot of what we heard on the call reinforced what we had already suspected about our financial habits: sloppy, not really taking the proverbial bull by the horns. But it had the power of helping because it came from outside our dysfunctional, homegrown microeconomy.

It still amazes me that I had to reach 43 before I came up with a budget-minded and predictable process for food shopping. I’ve learned that, yes, it really does help to pick a day for shopping and stick to it. And before you even contemplate going to the store, to make a list of meals that drives a list of ingredients. Finally, to have a rule that you don’t deviate from list. For more sensible folks this may seem ridiculously obvious, but for me it has been a boot camp in self discipline, and so far I don’t feel like going AWOL. In fact, I welcome the structure.

There are so many online tools and smart phone apps these days that it’s hard to find an excuse not to become a better planner. Take the free Cozi family planner shopping lists, for example. For a while, Tom and I shared our grocery list this way (although now I have a truly "dumb phone" in keeping with the budget, so I must now keep a list with the rather antiquated pen and paper. Isn't it ironic?). But gosh, it feels good to get organized.
My sister found a good site that includes a free money journal when you sign up. It attends to the psychology part of the equation, and I’m starting to see you need equal parts of structure and psychology to make any headway with disordered finances.

Although I’ve never wanted to deal with finances head on, I’m found myself almost wishing February were a longer month. Not that I can’t keep tackling this stuff throughout the Year I Said No. It’s just that I’m on to month 3 before you know it: No to avoiding tasks that seem outside my domain (Yes to trying things I don’t think I can do). It should be interesting quest.

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