I am a fan of lists. I keep lists for everything—to-dos, grocery shopping, gifts, blog post topics, bills. You name it; I probably have a list for it somewhere. In fact, I love lists so much that the other day my 5-year-old comes out of the bathroom and says “Mommy, we’re out of soap. Put it on your list”. It’s so rampant that even my 5-year-old knows about them.
List are necessary
I must have lists. Normally, I have the attention span of a gnat. One minute, I’ll be happily working on a blog post and then I’ll decide that I need to take a look at my Google reader which leads me to another blog which leads me to the news and so on and so on. You know the board game, Candyland? How you can get all the way to the top and then pull a card that puts you back down at the bottom? My brain follows that same type of nonsensical path to get to the end goal of completing whatever task I’ve been distracted from. Lists bring me back to my starting point. They keep me focused and on target.
My lists also highlight where I’m succeeding and where I’m failing. For instance, if I have a to-do list that involves writing, laundry, cooking, grading papers and running errands, I’m will most likely cross off everything except laundry. So my to-do list for the next day will also have laundry. This pattern will probably repeat for about 4 days until I finally get around to the laundry. I will find every excuse not to do laundry. That is an area where I fail. If it were not for my list (and the mountains range of laundry populating my basement), it would be hard for me to realize this is an area of weakness.
The financial lists
I use the same concept for tracking my finances. I use lists to keep me on target and focused. To do so, I maintain separate lists for all different parts of my finances. For instance, when I was in debt, I had a list of my debts. I keep lists of my savings account, including how much is in each account. I keep lists of my bills, and a separate list of which bills get paid on each payday. The amount of lists that I can generate to keep track of my finances is endless.
I also keep a list of the general aspects of my financial life. This list is a little different. Let me try to explain.There are certain things that every financially responsible person should have. To determine if I have those, I ask myself the question “Do I have _______?” Then I have a checklist for the blank. The checklist looks like this:
- A budget
- An emergency fund of 3-6 months’ salary (I prefer salary to expenses)
- My most recent credit report
- Homeowner’s insurance
- Car insurance
- Life insurance
- A will
- Retirement savings
- College savings for my daughter
Having a list of these financial necessities forces me to look at where I’m succeeding and where I’m coming up short. I used this checklist to determine some of my financial goals for 2012 and it also serves as a reminder that I really, really need to get certain things done.
If you’re interested in creating your own financial checklist, I suggest that you start simply. Ask yourself, what should I have in my financial life? Then make a list of those things. Your list doesn’t have to look like mine. You may not have kids or your kids are grown, so college savings won’t be on your list. Maybe you’re planning on having a baby; you could add “baby fund” to your list. Maybe you aren’t as afraid of death as I am so you put “burial plot” on your list. Other items to add could include:
- Pet insurance
- A proper business license
- A financial advisor
- New car savings
Maintaining the lists
I update my lists about every 6 months, or as necessary. It’s important to me to give myself enough time to work on achieving my tasks and goals without giving myself too much time. Too much time means I won’t get them done; too little time means I’ll berate myself for not getting it done sooner. This is not a healthy relationship so when I’m establishing deadlines, I try to find a happy medium.
Not every item needs regular review. For some of the items, once they’re checked off, it’s just a matter or reviewing the policy or document yearly to make sure that they’re still accurate or appropriate (and yes, “reviewing the document” does go on my list).
I typically keep my lists in my all-purpose notebook (cooks have all-purpose flour, I have an all-purpse notebook). I’ve tried to maintain my lists electronically. The only time this worked was when I was tracking my debt repayment because I’m terrible at math. For the rest, there is just something satisfying about putting a checkmark or crossing something off with a pen that isn’t captured when I do it on my phone.
Now that the new year is upon us, it’s a great time to get your finances organized (if they’re not already). Lists are a great tool to help.
What does your list look like?