New Year's Resolution: Balance Your Checkbook!
Ahhh January! The time of setting unrealistic resolutions that will drift off into the sunset come February. At least, this is the case for most of us. We all vow to eat healthier, work out regularly and save more. And a lot of us put our money where our resolutions are: meal prepping, joining a gym, and initially putting money aside. These, and many others, are all great things to do. I just wrote down my goals for 2020 and variations of the above resolutions are definitely on them. Before I can achieve any of them, though, I have to take a good look at what my current state is.
Since this is primarily a financial fitness blog, we are going to focus on our financial goals for this post, starting with the one most people intentionally ignore: looking at their bank account. I've heard it said that if you check your bank account too often it's because you're afraid you don't have enough money. But what I've seen and experienced is that the people who don't check their bank accounts regularly are often paying for things they shouldn't be or are in danger of overdrafting - and nobody wants to pay an overdraft fee.
Here are some reasons to check your bank account:
You're probably paying for that gym membership you signed up for last year even though you haven't gone to the gym since the third week of January. Same applies for Hulu, Netflix, Stitchfix or any other subscriptions you may not realize you're still paying for.
You might have gotten hacked and now someone else is spending your money.
To know how much is in it so you can plan better.
So you can see what your spending habits are to better create a monthly budget.
To know if your bank is charging you fees they never told you about (I've experienced this one.)
You can't claim to be in control of your money or your resources, if you don't know what you have. I challenge you to take a look at your bank account (log in and browse through each account) once a week this month.
After getting into the habit of actually looking at your account, it's time to start balancing your checkbook, which is actually pretty easy contrary to popular belief. You are basically writing down what you spend and earn into a register (which you can get at the bank; yes they still have them), and subtracting or adding from the total. That way you know how much is in your account at any given time.
I know what you're thinking: you could just look at your account online (which you are now in the habit of doing, yay!) to find out how much you have in your account. You're not wrong. So what's the point of balancing your checkbook?
It helps you to pay attention to what you are spending your money on. You have to save receipts and enter them into the register, so you get a clearer picture of what you spend.
Sometimes you might pay for something and the amount doesn't come out right away. If you look at your online account, it may seem you have more money than you actually do, causing you to overspend.
You will never be surprised by an overdraft fee.
You look like you really know what you're doing with your money when you whip out your checkbook at parties. People may scoff, but secretly they are impressed.
Balancing a checkbook is different than having a budget. Your checkbook lets you know how much money you have and what you are spending or earning. It's a review rather than planning ahead. A budget is where you allocate your money ahead of time. It is a plan rather than a review. You can't successfully keep a budget, however, if you are not paying attention to what you spend. Balancing your checkbook can help with that, leading to my next challenge: go to your bank and request a register. Save your receipts and balance your checkbook the entire month of February. You should be checking what's in your checkbook against your online accounts.
See how you feel after balancing your checkbook for a few weeks. More in control? Like it is tedious? More prepared for what's to come? Or like you need to find a new way to keep track of what you spend? However you feel, you will have learned something from doing this exercise. It could be that you spend way to much on coffee, or not enough on clothes. Or that you love balancing your checkbook!
The point of this is to know what you've got so you can better allocate your resources. They are yours to do with as you see fit. But you can't do anything if you don't know what you're working with. Knowing your resources before you act is not a new concept, but rather a timeless piece of wisdom: "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? (Luke 14:28, NIV). Imagine that tower is buying a house or a car. Or Dunkin Donuts when you only have $10 in your account. You should know what you have before you use it - and that knowledge is one of the keys to being financially fit.