“Sometimes the most advanced thing you can do is the basics, consistently." (Ramit Sethi, I Will Teach You to Be Rich)
A healthy bank balance is the product of determination, discipline, and the tenacity to put your money to work for you, instead of the other way around.
I grew up in a blue-collar home with working-class parents, and am the descendent of the same reality. My attitude toward money is to see it as a means to an end, and a tool first and foremost.
Even when I don’t have much money to put to work for me, I show up to my Finance Friday meeting and take stock of things. With money, as with all of life really, what you do with a little is what you do with a lot. One echoes into the other.
Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned and what I do each Friday when I have a financial meeting with just me and my bank account.
What is Finance Friday?
Each Friday I sit down with my journal, my budget, and my bank account. It’s a simple process, nothing fancy and I like to keep out as much friction as possible.
Throughout the week, I keep a budget on my phone using an app called Goodbudget (not an affiliate, just really like them). I always round up expenses to the next whole dollar and round incoming money down to the next whole dollar. I also leave a gap between the budget and the actual amount in the bank — usually 25 to 50 bucks or more if I can.
Why keep a gap? I like a little buffer money just in case something happens. Rule of life? If it can happen, expect it to happen at least three times or more. Always expect the unexpected, plan for it, and cut out as many surprises as you can. Padding your buffer money with a gap (expecting to have less money than you do) between the budget and the bank account is just such an idea.
What I do in my financial meeting:
- I open my bank accounts and check balances, look for surprises, double-check any expenses I expected to go through, and make sure they did. I make sure bills that should have went automatically actually do (trust nothing, expect surprises, it’s just being savvy).
- I jot these balances down in my journal. This creates a quick snapshot and easy reference for me when I go back through and study patterns and trends later.
- I then open my budget and update any expenses that came out of the bank account that I hadn’t recorded in the budget for whatever reason, and I compare the realities versus expectations between the two.
- In my journal notes, just lately I just jot down the balances and a quick note about anything that feels it needs a note. But you can also go a bit further and write down notes on any debts you have and progress with them, any surprises and what you can do to prepare for them in the future, ideas for how to put your money to work in smarter ways, and anything else you think you might need to know later.
That’s it. Nothing complicated, nothing too fancy, and as simple as possible. If it’s one thing I’ve learned about life, productivity, and actually getting things done it’s this: keep it absurdly simple and make it a habit. This will keep you on top of things and cut out as many of the surprises as possible. Even if one or two surprises do make it to the surface, you’ll still be prepared for them with a solid plan like this.
“Money is not good or bad. Money is choices. The more money you have, the more choices you have." (Steve Oliverez , The Book on Making Money)
Respect every dollar
It’s a simple lesson my father taught me early on: respect your money and your money will respect you.
There’s an almost mystical sound to this advice, and maybe that’s why Dad gave that advice to me in this manner. He knew its core lesson would stick. The only way to earn more money is to treat what money you have like it’s worth more, to begin with. This might mean guarding and protecting it, but it can also mean being smart with it and putting it to work for you.
Here’s the core lesson to this, you have to know what you have, don’t have, its limits, your limits, and the full potential of both you and your money. Own these realities and stretch your mind to what is possible. Respecting your money really comes down to being purposeful with how you spend it and how you save it — for what purposes and what time periods.
You don’t have to have a lot of money to respect each dollar you do have. Put in the work of developing a stronger discipline with your personal finances and you’ll weather life’s many storms much better.
Check your financial pulse
Each week I know that Friday means taking a look at my bank account, my budget, and taking note of what I see.
This process doesn’t have to be complicated. I jot down my balances in my journal, and if there are any significant changes from one week to the next, I write down what happened and if necessary, what I can do to fix it or prevent it from happening again if it’s a negative event, or encourage it to repeat if its a good thing.
Next, I spend some time comparing my budget to my actual account balances. In my budget, I tend to round to the next whole dollar and like to keep a gap between the projected balance (what total money I have to spend) and the real balance in the bank. I normally like to have at least 25 to 50 dollars difference, meaning I like having this much or less projected in the budget or this much more in the actual account. Why? it’s padding in case something goes screwy. My budget tells me I have less money than I actually have, so I always have a bit of a buffer just in case.
Keep a finger on the pulse of your finances. Making one day a week a designated time to check your finances will help you limit many of the surprises that might crop up if you waited for a longer period or never checked at all.
“This is your mantra. Stop the bleeding. Increase your income. Make your money work for you." (Steve Oliverez , The Book on Making Money)
Put your money to work
Sometimes putting your money to work might mean investing in the traditional sense. But, to be perfectly upfront with you, I am still an active student of such an approach. If this is something I take up writing in the near future, it’ll be something we learn together.
Instead, what I know a thing or two about is investing in the things you may not immediately consider as investments. Things like learning, self-improvement, reflection, books and educational material, courses, the tools that help you make more, and earn more. These are just a few items, but ultimately the point here is to put your money to work to help you grow and become a better version of yourself and to help your creative process become a better version of its current self.
Whatever you’re creating — and make no mistake about it, whether you’re a writer or an entrepreneur or a 9 to 5er with a serious side-hustle or two, you are creating things — put your money and your time to work in improving it. Learn at least one new thing each working day and sharpen your edge constantly. This isn’t just about keeping your head above water or competing with whomever you’re in direct or indirect competition with either. This is about you doing the work you can and should be proud of and having your money help you pull it off.
I see money as a means to an end. A tool I need to get the life and lifestyle I’m hungry for. I want the freedom it represents. Freedom from the various worries that not having enough represents, but also the freedom to do the various things that bring me to life.
Being smart with where and how you put your money to work for you can help you achieve whatever it is you’re after. So, invest, but don’t limit yourself to cookie-cutter thinking. Get creative, but be smart about it. Always strike a balance and focus on the transformation all of this is adding up to.