Streamline Your Financial Life

This past Saturday, I spent about six hours catching up on a variety of administrative tasks at home. Most of those involved our household finances. I thought it might be useful to share things I either have already done, or just started to do, to make my financial life easier to manage.

Net Worth Statement: I have long kept up with a net worth statement for our family finances. Simply put, this is a list of all things you own (your assets) and all the things you owe (your debts). When you subtract the debts from the assets, you arrive at your net worth. Why do it? Well, keeping track of your growing net worth over the years is a very motivating and satisfying task. Month by month, it can feel like your financial life is a total slog, but year over year, you are making progress! That leaves the “How.” A couple of times per year, I’ll pull up our investment accounts and balances on any debts to update this statement. Once the statement is built, updating it rarely takes much time. Below I share how I made this job even easier.

Account Aggregation: This utility is called different things by different providers. This weekend I took about fifteen minutes and connected my various accounts online. For example, the brokerage firm through which we offer securities, Raymond James, has a feature that allows clients to attach accounts at other banks and brokerages to our brokerage account access. In this way, I log in to RJ and see ALL my investment accounts in one place. Likewise, I did the same with my bank, BB&T. There, I connected all loans we have so that I can log in to see my checking, savings, and all loan information easily. I was actually quite surprised how easy this was to accomplish. Aggregating accounts will definitely be a time saver in the future.

Online statements: For the remaining bills that I receive by paper, I spent a few minutes enrolling in the paperless option. I am finding it more efficient to have all bills come electronically whenever possible. The secret to success on this is that you then have to have a very solid process for paying your bills each month. It can be much easier to overlook an emailed bill, whereas a paper bill will sit on your desk or kitchen counter until it is paid. I fixed this problem by creating a sub-folder in my email inbox for “Bills.” Any time a bill notification email comes in, I move it to that folder. Then twice a month I go to that folder to pay bills and review credit card charges, etc.

Auto-draft: This one has been in my arsenal for quite some time. Things like our phone and electric bills just draft automatically from our account each month. I strive to have as many things as possible auto-drafted. The secret to success here is to keep a solid list of all the bills that draft and on which day they draft. Then once or twice a month, enter those into your checkbook register so that you don’t accidentally think you have more money to spend than you actually do.

Cancel unused accounts: I spent only maybe twenty minutes on this endeavor this past weekend. I realized that I’m a sucker for “Save 10% today on your purchases if you have our store card!” come-ons. I’ll use the store care once, for the discount, then have to deal with a whole separate bill and open line of credit. When I realized I had not used my Target card in over a year, I decided keeping that account was silly. So I made some calls and closed the unused accounts we had. One caveat is that if you are going to need to apply for credit in the near future, closing accounts can negatively impact your credit score. If that is not the case, then I prefer the route of not having to worry about open lines of credit sitting out there.

Filing: Who loves to file? Not me! I have one “To File” file in my desk at home, and everything goes in there. I am pretty good about cleaning it out two to three times per year. I will save receipts in there for a short time, but once I don’t need them anymore, I shred them. Same goes for pay stubs and bill stubs. By sorting that file once in a while, it doesn’t get too overwhelming, and it helps me to remember things that might have fallen through the cracks. Once an issue (whatever the issue) is finished, the item in the file hits the shred bin. If the file item is not something I am finished with yet, I just leave it in there for the next time I review the file.

Create a tax file: Related to the above, when I am sorting my “To File” file, I will ask myself if something might be needed for my tax preparation next spring. If the answer is yes, then it goes into, for example, the “Taxes 2016” file. I don’t bother to sort the various tax stuff into categories, I wait and do that nearer to the time I pay my taxes. Yes, I know that a better solution would be to have separate files for the various deductions to speed up my tax prep in the spring, but I know I just won’t do it along the way. So it all goes into the one file, and I’ll sort later.

Use a password manager: This is brand new to me, so I’m testing it out. My colleagues use Dashlane, and I installed that on my computer and phone to test drive it. So far, so good. I am terrible at remembering all my various passwords, so if this does a better job and saves me time, then I’m all for that.

Check your credit report: I didn’t have to do this in the usual way, as I was informed by a financial company that they had had a data breach (a possible data breach!), so I was entitled to a free credit report and a year of free monitoring. So I did that instead. But everyone should check their report once a year. You can do this for free at

Mark your calendar: Some things, like bill paying, come up at consistent times. I think like most people I do my bill paying right after I receive a paycheck. Other things, like some of the less frequent items mentioned above–estimated tax payments are the biggie–I mark on my calendar. Purged the “To File” file? Then I mark my calendar for three months from now to prompt me to do it again.

Don’t let the fact that I spent six hours doing all this deter you! The truth is that I was quite behind on all of it. In addition to the above, I needed to also “pay bills,” which for me means that I have to enter all my auto-drafts into my check register and go online to pay the bills that don’t go automatically. During bill paying, I also always reconcile my bank account statements, which can be time consuming. I’m convinced that my focused six hours of work saves me a hefty multiple of that time over the course of a year.

Start today on making your new year’s financial life more streamlined!

Dawn Starks is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner and financial advisor at Starks Financial Group, an independent firm. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC. This article expresses the opinions of Dawn Starks and not necessarily those of Raymond James. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, Certified Financial Planner ™, and CFP® in the U.S. Raymond James does not provide advice on tax matters. Your should discuss these matters with the appropriate professional. Raymond James is not affiliated with Dashlane. Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse authorize or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website’s users and/or members.

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Asheville, NC 28801

Dawn Starks
Written by Dawn Starks