Build up habits to keep track of finances

It’s true: Some positive financial habits can be a little tedious. After a hard day’s work, the fine print on your account statements might be the last thing you want to look at, and balancing your checkbook isn’t going to be the high point of your weekend.

That said, the gains for keeping up with your finances are enormous. There’s nothing like that feeling of being in control of your personal finances and knowing you will be confident and relaxed as you make your purchases.

When you neglect your finances, and you make a habit of doing so, it could be that you’re avoiding tedium and stress or that you are having trouble simply making the time. But the fact is that, sooner or later, cold, hard, financial realities will catch up with you. And problems that develop won’t be as easy to deal with when they’ve been left alone to build for a long stretch of time.

Here are a few tips for making the process a little easier.

Reward yourself. The rewards for reading your bank statements, reconciling your bank accounts, reviewing your credit reports, and setting your financial plans aren’t necessarily immediate. It can help a great deal to have something to look

forward to once you’ve accomplished your goal. A good meal, a walk on the beach, a movie — the simplest things can work as incentives.

Set aside the time. If you commit to a specific time in a day, or a specific day in the week to review your finances, you’ll have a much easier time remembering to carry out your financial tasks. Be smart about the days and times you set. You’ll want to be alert and focused, not exhausted to the point where you’ll reflexively put off your tasks to another time.

Make a checklist. You don’t want to waste energy trying to recall which routine financial tasks you need to do every time you sit down. It’s much more productive to have a checklist that tells you at a glance which bills you’ve paid, which statements you’ve read and filed, what your balances are and when you last checked them, and how much of your budget you’ve spent for the month. You can create one template, and use that template every month, either in a new document on your computer, or on a photocopy if you prefer paper files. It also helps to have quarterly and annual checklists of financial tasks, which can track when you last completed tasks and which tasks are soon coming due. This list would include ordering your free credit reports, reviewing your financial goals, checking your asset allocation on your retirement account, reviewing your insurance coverage and assessing any other major components of your financial system.

Do a little every day. You might be tempted to try to attack your finances all at once, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed this way. And once you’re overwhelmed, you’ll be more likely to simply abandon your financial projects altogether. Try instead to complete tasks in small increments, say a half hour to an hour every day, until your project is done. With gradual progress, you’ll take on positive financial habits that last.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 19 years experience in retail banking and with financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii.  You can email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com.

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