This article was originally published on Nurturing Marriage. It has been republished here with permission.
Staying in control of your finances doesn't have to be time consuming. It doesn't have to feel as dreadful as getting a cavity filled. And it certainly doesn't have to be a source of contention or stress in your marriage.
Regardless of how much money you make, these five tips can help you simplify, and regain control over, your finances.
1. Reduce the number of accounts you're juggling.
Between two people and potentially a handful of moves, it's possible that you've accumulated more than a handful of bank accounts. Throw in multiple 401ks, IRAs, HSAs, 529s, and it's no wonder that financial planning gives you a headache!
One trick to simplifying your finances is to reduce the number of accounts you're juggling. Try rolling your 401k from a prior employer into your current one. You can do the same thing with traditional IRAs. How many checking and savings accounts do you have? Could you consolidate? How many credit cards do you have? Do you really need them all?
Some people prefer to have separate accounts for various saving goals and operating accounts. The trick is finding the right balance for you. If managing your finances has become a burden, then perhaps you're making things too complex. Take a look at the number of accounts you're juggling and consider how you could reduce that.
2. Take advantage of technology to track your finances
Growing up, I remember watching my mom and dad meticulously record each and every purchase on a ledger in the back of their checkbooks. My dad would then balance the checkbook regularly. From watching their example, my parents taught me a very important lesson, a very sound financial principle – it is vital to track your money and know where it is going.
However, this meticulous tracking process isn't for everyone, and for some couples the time and effort involved deters them entirely from keeping track of their finances (a very poor decision!). If this sounds like you, then I have one word of advice – technology.
You don't have to pencil in every purchase at the back of your checkbook, or even track it in an excel file. Today, there are great programs and apps that will do it for you!
Have you ever heard of Mint? Or You Need A Budget? Or Quicken? Each of these programs allows you to download your transactions, easily categorize them, and view your comprehensive financial picture – all from your phone (if you want), in mere seconds!
3) Schedule payments and enroll in auto pay
Have you ever missed a utility payment? I know I have. It wasn't because there wasn't money in the bank, but because I simply forgot. Just keeping track of bills each month can seem like a huge hassle.
What can you do to simplify this and make sure you don't miss any payments and end up paying late fees in the process? Enroll in auto-pay programs where possible.
The only danger in doing this is that you may become a bit complacent about the cash going out the door. You know how your cable provider likes to hike your rates each year? Well, they're betting on you becoming complacent about that money going out the door and failing to notice those regular increases. Don't fall prey to this trap.
If you enroll in any type of auto-pay, sign up to receive email alerts. Review your statements and stay on top of things. Auto-pay will take away the hassle of tracking bills and remembering to pay them each month. Just make sure you're regularly reviewing your financial picture so you always know what's going on (aka. remember tip 2 above).
4) Simplify your investing strategy
You may be a financial guru, but as good as you are, it's not very likely that your stock picks will outperform the market index in the long run. And if by chance you do – it won't be by much and probably won't justify the time involved.
There are plenty of companies out there who collectively spend hundreds of millions of dollars in hardware, software, platforms, etc. to provide a return that will outperform various market indexes for their investors. If you're trading individual stocks, these are the folks you're up against. Good luck.
Perhaps investing and trading is simply a hobby of yours and you enjoy doing it. If that sounds like you, then set aside some “play money” for your trading portfolio and see how you do. But, don't bet the farm, or your retirement, on the feeling in your gut.
When it comes to investing for retirement, boring isn't bad. Try a broad market index fund or ETF – there are plenty out there. Or, you could try a target retirement fund. These types of funds allow you to pool your money in a fund that is geared towards your retirement year. As you get closer to retirement, these funds are re-balanced on a portfolio basis to become more conservative and less risky. All of these options present effective ways to build a diversified portfolio.
5) Combine your finances and work as a team
You're married. You're a team. You share everything together – and that should include your finances. Working together and staying on the same page regarding your financial decisions and goals is a great way to take some stress out of managing finances – and nurture your marriage in the process!
Generally in a marriage, there tends to be one spouse that ends up taking the lead when it comes to managing the money. For some, it's the wife. For others, it's the husband. Regardless of who takes the lead, it's still important for the other spouse to stay involved. Keep in mind that your financial decisions will have a direct impact on both of you for a long time.
If you're a dual-income family, don't keep secrets from each other. Don't hide accounts, or credit cards, or any other financial information. In fact, a great way to simplify your finances is to combine them together – it can cut the work load in half. At the end of the day, it's important to remember that establishing a relationship of trust and transparency is just as true when it comes to finances as it is with everything else in marriage.
Aaron & April are the founders of Nurturing Marriage, a website dedicated to strengthening marriages. They enjoy playing football with their two little boys, watching sports, eating cereal late at night, and going out for frozen yogurt.