“Sure, we can watch it right after I run my numbers,” I say to my boyfriend. It’s a common Sunday evening wind-down for the two of us. Dinner is finished, dishes done, the dog’s been walked and we’re about to sit on the couch and relax while catching up on Brooklyn 99 or swearing we’ll just watch one episode of Netflix’s newest release. But before I can comfortably plop on the couch, there’s one final task I must complete: a money meeting.
The money meeting is a Sunday ritual I started around the time I moved to New York City nearly six years ago. It was designed to help me feel in control of my money, even though times were lean. I sit down in front of my computer, with pen and paper in hand, and start by checking in on (and paying off) all my credit cards and then taking a peek at my bank account balances as well. It’s a process that takes all of 15 minutes to complete and ensures I’ll never be smacked in the mouth by an overdraft charge, miss a credit card bill or overspend due to ignorance.
Instead of entirely relying on technology for all of my financial updates – I do have alerts on my credit cards and get little pings about account balances – I start the money meeting by writing down the names of all eight of my credit cards and also mark a 1 and 2 for my long-term (used to pay rent, insurance, utilities and cell phone bill) and short-term (day-to-day expenses) checking accounts.
Then I begin to log into all the accounts. I start with the credit cards and capture the outstanding balances of each one. I make sure to check recent transactions that may have not been added to the total yet and add those in myself just to have the real outstanding balance. Then I add up the outstanding balances. I usually only use two credit cards a month, even though I have eight, but I always check all the cards just to be on the lookout for fraudulent activity or perhaps an automated bill I may have forgotten was linked to a card I’m not using that month.
Once all the credit cards have been written down, I then log into my bank accounts and write down the balances of my checking accounts. Then I subtract the outstanding balances of my credit cards from the balance in short-term checking account. This gives me an accurate reflection of exactly how much I have left to spend in the month. If it’s the first three weeks of the month, I also pay off my credit card balances right then. This helps keep my utilization ratio low, and means my checking account will be updated to show me the remainder of my monthly budget.
The practice also gives me a window of opportunity to reflect on my financial goals to see if I’m on track. This is aided in part by the metrics I have set up through my bank. Logging into the dashboard for two of my checking and two savings accounts pulls up a reminder that I’m trying to have $4,000 saved in my travel fund by June of 2017. It’s displayed with the thermometer goal chart showing me where I am in red (meaning I need to up my contributions to meet my goal) and shading in grey where I should be to easily meet my goal on time. Unfortunately, not all my money goals are linked to these savings accounts – so I also glance toward the bulletin board in my home office where I’ve stuck a yellow Post-It note with my savings goals written down. On occasion, this simple glance will motivate me to shift a little bit out of checking and tuck it into savings. Then again, somedays I’d prefer to take the extra $50 and do a boozy brunch. I’m not perfect.
Should this concept of weekly money meetings sound stressful, consider this: In 15 minutes of time, I ensured my financial house was in order, guaranteed I won’t fall victim to overspending simply because I forgot how much got financed on a card early in the month, and allowed myself to live without rigid budgets. Getting intimate with your cash flow sets you free from financial worry.