Wrestling Your Pesky Finances into Submission in Three Simple Steps

Wrestling Your Pesky Finances into Submission in Three Simple Steps

Finances, pesky finances.

Even those of us who seem to have our finances totally under control have bad days.  And those bad days may extend into weeks if we don’t nip it in the bud.  It usually comes from overwhelm.

As with any other part of our busy lives, we expected that computers and other new technologies would make life simpler and leave more time for plain ol’ living.

However, in the past we only had to check our checkbook balances and look at paper receipts to know what cash we had spent and what we had available.  Today it’s ATMs, online purchases from bank cards or Paypal, automatic deductions, phone-based text message contributions, debit cards, credit cards, gift cards, and so on.

And how do we keep track?  We have invoices and statements that are mailed to us.  Others are online.  Some, like Paypal, we have to go hunting for.  We might use online services like Mint.com or CommonSense or Quicken (to name but a few) to consolidate things.  Or we might try to do it all manually.

Now that’s just our current personal finances.  Not to mention any investments, IRAs, etc.

And that load might double if we own a business!

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, and stretched too thin, you have the right to take off that Superwoman cape every so often.  Turn off the incessant chatter in your head.  Take a day or two where you give yourself permission not to keep rehashing what a mess your finances are in.  Breathe.

But not for too long.  Because the world didn’t take that day or two off with you.  Life moves on regardless.  And any backlog will just get worse.

Once back and focused, you do have a few choices of how to handle the situation.  Some are healthy and some are not.

1.    You could stick your head in the sand and totally ignore things.  Known as the Ostrich Method of Personal Finance, this one catches up with you eventually and by then the chaos is so great, you might find yourself facing bankruptcy.  Or at least your credit will be in shambles.  Not wise.

2.    You could just deal with the “screamers.”  (As in “He who screams loudest gets my money.”)  Those are the bills that have red letters on the outside of the envelopes.  Or the calls you’re getting from creditors … or collectors.  Again, your credit will be ruined and your nerves will be shot from the anxiety.  And eventually the whole thing will come toppling down on you.  Not smart.

3.    You could keep juggling things the best you can, trying to remember all you have to pay, what’s due when, what’s where, what’s siphoning off which account, what credit’s left on what credit card, and all the little expenditures you don’t even feel yourself making, called “bleeders.”  But not for long.  Eventually you’ll wear yourself out, or forget something that triggers a spiral of late charges, unpaid bills and worse.  Not good.

4.    Or you could take the time to give yourself every chance to succeed with your finances.  You could “wrestle” them into submission in three simple steps:

Step One:  Do a handwritten brain dump. First, take a deep breath.  Then do a handwritten download of everything you can think of that needs to be done regarding your finances.  (No computers here!)  Unless you have a clear picture of what you’re dealing with, you will see your situation as worse than it is.  (Overwhelm will do that.)

Writing it all down on paper becomes a sort of cathartic brain dump.  That, in turn, frees up space in your head for you to be more creative in your solutions.  And it doesn’t matter if you hate writing and haven’t held a pencil in your hands in years.  It’s important to have the physical sensation of writing and visualizing what’s going on … in your own letters and numbers … for you to own where you are and feel the true impact of what you need to do.

Step Two:  Simplify, simplify, simplify your life. Besides all the payments you have, you also have all sorts of open loops:  car insurance you keep saying you want to re-quote to lower your premium; rebate forms to send in; charges on your credit card statements that you don’t recognize; or doctors’ bills that didn’t go through the insurance company and you know you don’t owe that much.  These are soul-suckers.  So, unless you’re rich enough to tear them up and forget about them, make a list.  Cross off the ones you decide aren’t worth the effort.  For each one that stays on the list, gather the backup information, plus contact numbers, and pick a day when you promise yourself to clear them all up.  And do so.

Next, look at everything you can get rid of:  pay off credit cards with tiny balances and stop using them so you have one less statement to deal with; pick one debit card and lock all the rest away so they don’t get used; consolidate bank accounts that don’t have any justification other than your laziness to close them; get radical in paring back every financial tool you can live without.  But don’t overlook any impact such an action might have on your credit rating (for example, don’t shut down credit cards, just sideline them).

You’ll be amazed at how many things you can do without, with minimal inconvenience.  So many were just added over the years, without removing old ones.  And by lowering the number of financial tools, your finances are easier to get under control.

Step Three:  Systematize or delegate. With far fewer financial tools to deal with, it’s easier to set up systems for what remains.  One thing that helps is to have all bills coming due at the same time, unless you’re paid twice monthly, on the 1st and 15th of the month.  In that case, you might want to split bills between the 5th and the 19th to be sure your deposits have cleared.  A simple call to a service provider will usually result in a changed due date, with a one-time prorated adjustment for the extra days covered.  At that point, all you need to do is schedule an appointment with yourself to pay bills twice a month.

If you have a friendly bookkeeper, you can delegate some of the tasks to that person.  But remember, you are only delegating the act of paying, not the responsibility.

Out of chaos, comes order.  And out of order comes clarity regarding the inflows and outflows of money.  Out of clarity comes a feeling of control … critical control that frees up time and energy to make more money, save more money, and release the financial genius you know down deep you are!

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Bio: Sharon O’Day lost everything at age 53:  her home, her business, everything.  But how could that be?  She’s an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School.  She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret ‘weapon,’ if you will, behind many individuals in high places.  But yet she did!  Since then, Sharon has interviewed countless women and done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.

The surprising answers will be shared in her upcoming book “Money After Menopause.”  Today her mission is to show as many women as possible how to become financially free for the long term, through her “Over Fifty and Financially Free” coaching programs.  She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve.

  • Denny

    Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant Sharon!! I have handled our family finances (including 3 businesses) for over 25 years and this is the BEST road map to successful stress free financial management I have ever found! This will no doubt help everyone who reads it! Great article!

    • Thank you, Denny!  Something told me it was time to write about the basics, and what is more “basic” than order and clarity?  Basic … but absolutely essential …

  • Thanks Sharon Love the article and I think it will definitely help me to start getting more organised!

    • Judith, I hope it does help, as it feels SO good to have your finances under control!  And let me know if there’s anything else I can help with … 😉

  • Margaret Sullivan

    Thank you, Sharon. These steps will bring peace, clarity and power – you have motivated me to action this week!

    • So glad to hear that, Margaret.  That’s my goal … 😉

    • So glad to hear that, Margaret.  That’s my goal … 😉

  • Caebeling

    Excellent. I dont need my financial assistant, I need to be more hands on to learn how to control my finances. Thank you for the insight!

    • Cat, it depends what your financial assistant is doing for you.  But the more hands-on you can be as you’re taking control of all things “finance,” the better!  Once you’re totally comfortable, then delegation is great for the time if frees up …

    • Cat, it depends what your financial assistant is doing for you.  But the more hands-on you can be as you’re taking control of all things “finance,” the better!  Once you’re totally comfortable, then delegation is great for the time if frees up …

  • Sharon, great information. You made the 1, 2, 3 steps so easy and crystal clear.  Getting back to the basics is what many assume is known but glad you are stepping it up to help others massively with the basics too.

  • Thank you Sharon for the great insight. It is said that money amplifies us, so I think these steps and priciples will bring change to us as we apply them to our finances. Great article!! Looking forward to your book!

  • Victoria Gazeley

    Love this!  I used to be completely organized with regard to my finances, had everything itemized in a software program down to the penny… but alas, no more!  I said I’d get to it this year and here we are in July and still nothing.  Urg!  And of course, the longer I wait the longer it will take.  My finances are fairly simple, but it sure would be nice to be able to just hit a button at tax time and have everything already calculated.  Right now my bill paying system is mostly automated, with the rest being done online.  I flag online bills that are sent via email and then ‘unflag’ them when the bill is paid.  Seems to work, but it’s that tax time thing that gets me…  Thank you again for the brilliant food for thought!

    • Victoria, If I didn’t know better, I would swear I wrote your post! I used to be completely organized with everything…and just as you said–no more. I’m in the exact same boat as you vowing to have everything available at year end with the click of a button, and now it’s almost August..ugh

  • Thanks Sharon,
    This post is an excellent push for me as I have been telling myself for weeks to do this. 
    I’m on it!!

    • Ah, I love the fact that I can actually give a “push” to the uber-disciplined, marathon-running triathlete, Dr. Peggy!  😉

    • Ah, I love the fact that I can actually give a “push” to the uber-disciplined, marathon-running triathlete, Dr. Peggy!  😉

  • Thanks Sharon,
    This post is an excellent push for me as I have been telling myself for weeks to do this. 
    I’m on it!!

  • Thanks Sharon,
    This post is an excellent push for me as I have been telling myself for weeks to do this. 
    I’m on it!!

  • Nancy

    Oh yes! Those pesky open loops! I’ve got a few of those, for sure. And you’re so right about how financial information is all over the place now with online banking, PayPal, etc. I try to do my “numbers” every month, and I feel I waste so much time just looking for the right information. And thank you for the suggestion of a brain dump!

    • Nancy, it’s so easy to keep adding layer after layer … but we never remove any.  Technology makes it so effortless.  And then one day we wake up and find near chaos!  (Trust me, I write from experience!)  😉

  • Carol Douthitt

    Sharon – loved your 3 Step System!  You are absolutely right about the physical writing becoming a cathartic exercise.  There is something magical that happens when whatever is in your mind comes out of you through the writing process.

    The best thing I ever did was hire a bookkeeper who updates my QuickBooks for me once a month.  My time is now spent reviewing the entries and looking for ways to improve cash flow, cut spending and improve profits. It feels great to be getting closer to clarity!

    • Carol, I remember once, when I was building a manufacturing business in the late 1980s, there seemed to be a disconnect between the computerized financial stats and management’s perception of how we were doing.  I threatened to take the computers away and make them run the company with paper and crayons!  While I never made good on my threat, it WAS when I learned the power of writing with pen … or pencil … or Crayolas!  😉 

  • Sharon, you make me happy… sometimes I forget to appreciate how far I’ve come. Over the course of several years I have taken all of your steps, except I’m still refining #3. All I can say is it’s been really tough but simplicity makes it so worthwhile… it makes me happy… and I am debt-free! I’m still aiming to track in your footsteps, to build true wealth now 🙂

  • Great post Sharon… I shall avail of the opportunity and post it on my own blog… the information you share with us is simple, straight forward and sound in today’s global economic climate.

    In addition, I can confirm that your method is spot on ~ my better half is the one with the mental wherewithal to apply the “write it down on paper” rule!

    Thank you for the sharing,

    Sunny smiles from Greece,
    Emm 🙂

    • How nice to hear from you again, Emm.  And glad to know my musings will make it onto Hellenic posts!  😉

  • Rock Solid Wealth Designs

    I find it is helpful for my clients if they take one day or evening weekly during a “low gear” time for them to update their tracking system. If that means emptying receipts from their wallets, inputing income or pulling up their ATM and credit card expenditures online, etc. It becomes a habit like clipping coupons from the Sunday paper and lessens the chance of overwhelm. Great article!

    • “RSWD,” anything we can turn into a habit on the organizational and control side is great.  Sounds like your clients are in good hands!

  • Sue

    Great article, Sharon, and very timely in my life.  I definitely need to go through all 3 steps and get started today.   Thanks for the push that I needed.  I’m excited about taking charge and seeing results instead of just “thinking” I should get it done!! 

    • Anonymous

      I’m so glad it “found you,” Sue.  (Funny how information appears just when it will land on welcome eyes and ears!)  As I said, these are cases where technology is not necessarily our friend … and we need to use good ol’ pencil power.

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