Many of us have New Year’s resolutions and goals but, do we really know the way to achieve those goals? One of the most important habits in personal finance is keeping your Financial Plan updated, which works as a tool for making decisions and achieving financial goals. I will explain it in more detail here. My advice is creating a spreadsheet (an excel table) in which, the columns are used for the months in a year and, the rows, for the following concepts:
- Fixed Expenses: everything that’s a recurring and basic cost for your lifestyle.
- e.g. Phone bills, housing, services, groceries, transportation, and others alike.
- Variable Expenses: recurring expenses that are not necessary.
- e.g. Eating out, cravings, nightlife, “guilty pleasures”, etc.
- Priority Payments: those expenses done only a few times a year.
- e.g. Medical insurance, car insurance, tenure, property tax, school fees, vacations, car maintenance, home maintenance, etc.
- Recurring Income: constant and secure money inflow.
- e.g. Wages and salaries, income from real estate.
- Variable Income: money income that varies over time.
- e.g. Profits in a business, freelance work, irregular product sales, getting paid for doing a hobby, etc.
- Unforeseen Expenses: the expenses that we are unable to predict.
- e.g. A broken pipe, a car accident, an impulse purchase because it was a good opportunity, etc.
- Target Savings: how much money you want saved by the end of a period.
- Real Savings: how much money you actually saved by the end of the period.
- Target Debt: if you have debts, this would be the amount you want to achieve at the end of the period.
- Actual Debt: if you have debts, the real amount of debt at the end of the period.
- Change Percentage: It’s a percentage indicator that measures your general balance and compares it with the previous period, giving you a number for growth or decrease depending on the results. This exercise can be applied to several of the fields above, it’s a simple concept: take a significant amount in the period (for example, the sum of your income — the sum of your expenses) and compare it with the previous period.
Once the matrix is created, you must do a projection of how much you’ll spend on each concept, for each month of the year. It’s important to keep in mind your own habits and past experiences to project numbers that are close to reality. Then you have to update the data with the real numbers, biweekly. We have two recommendations for this:
- Keep a thorough control of your expenses. It’s a habit that will help you achieve your financial goals, there are many apps for it. Some examples are: DailyCost, Spending or YouNeedABudget.
- Schedule a biweekly revision of your Financial Plan. Do it for real, write it down on your calendar (we recommend Google Calendar) and create reminders, these could be email reminders or push notifications on your phone, so that you don’t forget to update the document.
There’s no excuse for not improving our personal finances. It’s very important to keep up to date with our Financial Plan and constantly adjust the initial projections, this way we can achieve our short-term goals and enjoy the long-term benefits.