A Financial Checklist for Setting Smarter Money Goals

by Judy Lawrence
A Financial Checklist for Setting Smarter Money Goals photo

See how using a financial checklist to set smarter money goals can help you make positive financial changes this year.

Saving money doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

You can make a positive change in your life by starting small and setting reasonable goals for yourself based on your realistic income and expenditures.

Making a checklist of and reviewing the past year’s expenses can help you set money goals for the next year and understand where to adjust your spending so you can save more.

Make Sure Your Financial Checklist Includes all Expenses

As you create your checklist of expenses, consider the fixed bills you pay every month, such as your mortgage or rent, utilities, auto insurance, childcare, internet, and phone, as well as ongoing variable expenses like groceries and gasoline.

Also, don’t forget purchases such as your coffee, meals out, snacks, books, movies and other expenses.

If you’re not sure what’s on your list or how much is actually being spent, review your monthly bank and credit card statements. Many online banks offer category summaries of purchases and payments to help you gather this information.

If you happen to have an active home equity line of credit, be sure to review these records for any repeat expenses for the next year.

Pay close attention to those periodic expenses that occur only once or twice a year, such as car maintenance, vacations, birthdays, holidays and membership dues. These often-overlooked expenses can be the critical missing link when creating a checklist that really works.

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Review and Analyze Your Financial Checklist

When you have your checklist laid out, take a hard and honest look at where your money is going.

Did you live within your means? Did you spend more than you thought on going out? What areas can you cut back on so you can start to save more money?

Evaluate what anticipated changes could happen over the new year, such as job change, relocation, new baby, children starting private school, children going off to college, adult children moving back in, taking care of parents, or a home remodeling project. Consider how these changes could impact your budget.

Start with a month-by-month approach that’s easy to follow and easy to update. First, look at how much money is coming in each month versus how much is being spent. If your expenses far outweigh your income, this is the time to make adjustments.

Track the total amount you spend each month from the point of purchase, making it easy to see where your money is going. Be sure to regularly review your statement or track your spending daily so that you remain conscious of what you are spending instead of slipping into autopilot spending.

Reviewing this information is not always easy, but a huge step toward greater savings for your future. As you review your list of last year’s expenses, ask yourself: Was my spending aligned with my values, goals and priorities? What changes can I make to get closer to my goal?

Be Sure To Plan for Savings

You also want to plan for savings. Ideally, 5 to 10% of your income is a good target amount.

However, it’s best to start small, set a nominal amount per week or month, and ensure that amount makes it into your savings account.

If you put too much aside with great intentions and then end up pulling money back out because of an ineffectively planned budget, it can erode your confidence in being able to save.

Tracking your daily spending helps you stay more aware of where you stand financially at all times. Also, remember that you always have choices. If you are low on funds, remind yourself that it’s only temporary.

During those times, avoid tempting spots like the mall or favorite shopping sites so you don’t sabotage all your good work.

And finally, set aside some “mad money” for those times when you just need a little break, but not so much that it breaks your budget.

Reviewed January 2024

About the Author

Judy Lawrence is a financial and wealth coach and counselor in Silicon Valley and the author of The Budget Kit: The Common Cents Money Management Workbook. You can reach her at her website MoneyTracker.com.

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