Check on How You’re Doing: How to Plan a “Finance Date”

By Andy Hayes

How often are you taking a look at your finances?  It’s not enough to plug your numbers into our tools and calculators and hope for the best – you need to be checking in on your financial numbers regularly so that you are always focusing on your goals and dreams, and making adjustments when necessary.  I like to call this a “finance date,” which sounds like fun and makes it easier to get excited about your check in.  Here’s how to do it.

“What you focus on grows.” – Unknown

First, Setup a “Finance Binder”

One thing you need to do before planning a regular check-in is to get all of your finance ‘stuff’ in one place – this could be a file folder, a binder, or a big envelope in a drawer.  Get everything together and whenever new financial documents arrive, they go immediately into the binder.  Here’s what might go in there:

  • a sheet with logins and clues on your passwords for all your financial sites
  • printouts or mailings of finance statements with balances
  • correspondence or important documents from financial advisors or sites/companies you’re invested in
  • budget worksheets
  • anything that is important & relevant to your investing portfolio

I also personally have the digital equivalent of this – it’s in an Evernote file, which is a tool I like to keep digital notes about blog posts and other learnings I need to review and want to keep.  I have a file in there with password reminders for sites I don’t use often.

Then, Update your Calendar

Once you’ve gotten yourself organized, put some finance dates on the calendar.  You’ll want to pick a time where you can be uninterrupted and relax for at least an hour, but once a year you might want 2-3 hours to review everything.   If you’re married or share investments with someone, you’ll want to ensure they are invited – in fact, a finance date is even more crucial for those times when you share investing responsibility.

How often should you have a finance date?  At least once a year.   I think quarterly or every 6 months is best.  If you do plan a finance date each month, make sure that you are keeping your long-term focus.  Most investments issue quarterly statements, so you might not have a lot to review each month.

What to Review in your Finance Date

Ok, you’ve got yourself organized and you’ve planned your date.  You’ve got a fresh glass of wine, or a hot cup of tea, and a snack at the ready.  What, exactly, should you be doing in your finance date?  Here’s an agenda to get you started:

  • Review Your Goals:  The first step is always to remind yourself of your goals and intentions for your financial future.  What do you want to create, what kind of lifestyle do you want?  Always have this visualization fresh in mind.
  • What’s happened since the last date?  Take a look at the past few weeks/months since your last finance date.  Are your financial investments performing as expected?  Are you taking advantage of all of your benefits (like a 401k match, annual IRA max deduction, etc.)?  If you have consumer debt, are you chipping away at your balances?
  • What could you do better/different in the future?  Take this time, with a clear mind, to decide what kinds of changes you might make to your activities.  Are you able to increase your monthly investment allocation?  Do you want to experiment with another investing vehicle?  Or do you need to pull back on investing and take care of some credit card debt?

Take a moment and make a list of all the actions that you need to take between now and your next finance date, and make sure that you put them into action.  Maybe that’s adding them to your to do list tracker, or your day planner, or have a large post it note next to your desk you can check off.

The most important part here is taking the time to clear your mind and review your progress, and then taking action.  If you do both of these things, you’ll be ahead of most investors – and you’ll be able to feel great because you’re taking the power back and steering your own financial future.

Do you plan a ‘finance date’?  If not, try it – and let us know your tips in the comments for having a great finance date!

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