This year I have tried a few new things to help me stay on track of finances here at the funny farm. Seeing how our economy has tanked in the past year has been frightful, and I am thankful for the steps we began taking years ago. We have been refining our finances for the past 4 years or so. There were many times when it seemed difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it is coming along. Also, I have found some really great (free or really cheap) resources along the way.
For a long time we ran our budget using excel and it worked well. It was very basic, and I still keep some of my info in excel documents just to have it handy in one place. This past January I started using Microsoft Money Plus and I am now a HUGE fan of it. I admit it was frustrating to figure out how to set up all the little features, and I still fiddle with it now and then. But, it has been great to see what categories can still be trimmed, or need to be expanded.
When we first got married, I read a book about budgeting by Larry Burkett. I cannot remember the name of the book, I just remember that it was way to complicated and I overspent the first week and then felt guilty, and I stopped all together. Since then, we have tried different methods of managing cash flow, but it seemed that I was spending hours on end trying to plan for the unexpected. Didn't work so well. About 4 years ago, we found a way that both Scott and I could understand and use easily to manage cash flow. The excel spreadsheets were born out of the fact that I was too cheap (and broke) to buy expensive software for it. Since that time, I have learned that the word budget is actually a really good word, and even better if used properly (unlike my early attempts). I have come to enjoy seeing our financial picture improve over the years, and I am excited to be able to plan better for the future. We have learned to really determined needs and wants, and we save for big expenses. Of course we have our set backs, and the term "emergency fund" seems to create little emergencies (like a $700 repair bill on my car last month), but overall my budget is my friend. And with the help of free online resources we are on our way to a debt free life.
The other thing I have found this year has been personal finance blogs. Just like I still garner encouragement from adoption blogs, and large family blogs, I am now building a small list of personal finance blogs that encourage me to stay on track with our goals. One of my favorites so far has been "Budgets are Sexy" (see the link on the side under Blogs I follow). This is written anonymously by "J. Money" and I found him originally from MSN Money's Smart Spending Blog (another really good resource). As I find some that I really enjoy, I will add them to the list on the side. I hope that these resources are helpful to you as well.
Till next time.