Personal Finance Monthly Status Check: 13 Tips To Master Your Money And Improve Your Finances In 2020
With the close of another month, it’s time to do my standard personal finance monthly status check. It’s a basic review of the fundamental areas of my finances that I’m sure many of you do as well in your own fashion.
I’ve been doing this routine for the past couple years. Why do it do it? When I was first looking to get my finances on the right track it really helped me take control of my money and broaden the understanding of my financial situation.
68% of Americans would rather talk about their weight than their money. Out of sight, out of mind. That’s not the approach I want to take with my money. This monthly status check helps keep finances at the forefront of my priorities.
Some might say the monthly status check below is too often or has too much active management. Others will say it isn’t enough and I should be doing more.
Personal finances are personal.
That’s something we need to always remember. No two situations are the same and what works for one person, may not work for another. This list of items on the status check won’t mirror your particular financial situation. You might have rental properties, children, a small business, insurance premiums, tax management obligations, diverse investments or other differences.
Ideally you’re putting your finances at the forefront of your priorities too. Or perhaps this motivates you too and you can take from it what will fit your own situation.
These are 13 things I do at the month’s end to stay on top of my money.
1. Track & Review Spending
The first step is figuring out where all the money went. Thankfully there is a great tool that helps do that: Mint.
Mint syncs to all your accounts and will automatically categorize all the spending you’ve done this month. I generally have to go in and edit the categorization to fit my own system but for the most part it’s accurate. For all the details on Mint, check out this review by Investor Junkie.
A line-by-line transaction review doesn’t sound too enthralling but it’s step 1 of the monthly status check. For the most part I’ve subconsciously accounted for all my spending during the month but there are always surprises and things that slipped from memory.
This gives me peace of mind to ensure there aren’t any mistakes, oddities and that everything looks as expected.
2. Run Spending vs. Budget
Following the spending review, I then run my spending vs. the monthly budgets I’ve set up in Mint. Within the Mint platform, you can set budget thresholds for the different categories (Housing, Food, Entertainment, Utilities, etc.).
Mint will automatically let you know how your spending stacks up to your budget.
However, I am a human and Mint doesn’t have the gift of contextual and critical thinking like I do. I compare the spending numbers vs. the budget to understand shortcomings or surpluses with insight on why or how those nuances occurred.
3. Automation System Check With Bank Accounts
Most of the leg work in this section has already been done during the spending and budget status checks noted above.
However, I still log into my different bank accounts and review each in detail. This includes my chequing account, emergency fund, debt accounts and 3 sub-savings accounts (travel, upcoming big expenses and opportunity fund).
My take home pay comes into one chequing account and is then automatically dispersed to the different financial needs: savings, investments and outgoing payments. This step ensures everything is running as expected and money is being moved as I planned it to.
If you’re Canadian and looking for some great banking solutions, I highly recommend:
Tangerine No-Fee Chequing Account
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Tangerine is currently offering a free bonus of up to $200 when you open a new chequing account.
EQ Bank Savings Plus Account
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Learn more and see why the EQ Bank Savings Plus Account is the perfect solution.
4. Review Investment Accounts
Next up is reviewing my investment accounts. This includes my brokerage account and employer RPP (401k).
Even though I check my brokerage account more often than monthly (sometimes too often), this status check lets me deep dive further into the numbers.
Are all my automatic contributions being deposited and invested as set up? How’s my asset allocation holding up? What growth is my portfolio seeing vs. other indices? Did dividends get reinvested?
The diversity and specifics of your portfolio likely shift the focus of your review in comparison to mine. But the consistency should be wanting to know your hard earned money is being invested as you planned it to be.
5. Update Net Worth
Your net worth is all your assets minus liabilities. Ideally as you progress in your financial journey this number continues to grow. It’s the one metric I use to make sure the strategies I’ve put into place and the small wins I’ve achieved are pushing me forward.
At the end of every month I update my net worth through a combination of online tools (Mint) and my own Google Sheet.
One of the most recommended personal finance apps and services for Americans is Personal Capital. With Personal Capital you’re able to calculate your net worth, set a budget, manage investment accounts, and plan for retirement. Personal Capital is free and the registration process is quick, simple and secure. Personal Capital is not available in Canada.
For Canadians, I’d recommend using Mint or a DIY Excel/Google Sheet that fits your own needs.
6. Check Your Credit Score & Credit Report For Free
In 2016, global credit card fraud totalled $22.8 billion in losses and data breaches affected upwards of 3 billion people. As someone who’s been victim of credit card fraud and attempted ID theft, reviewing my credit report and score has now become a must do.
Thankfully, with the introduction of some awesome providers in recent years, it’s now free and easy to monitor and track your credit report.
Borrowell – Free Credit Score & Report For Canadians
Borrowell gives Canadians free access to your credit score and credit reports – there’s no catch or hard pull on your credit. It’s a great tool to stay on top of your credit score, which in turn will affect your overall financial health and credit opportunities available to you as you move forward.
Borrowell is simple, secure and free for Canadians. It takes 2 minutes to register your account and from there, you’ll be able to monitor and track any monthly changes in your credit score and report.
As part of the monthly status check, I log in and review my account. It takes less than a minute to get that peace of mind.
Credit Sesame – Free Credit Score & Report For Americans
No catch or hard pulls on your credit just a great tool to stay on top of your financial health and monitor your credit as you progress through your financial journey. Plus Credit Sesame members get free identity theft protection (up to $50,000 insured).
7. Review Credit Card Statements & Payments
As mentioned above, I’ve been credit card scammed 2 times. Once for $1,900 online and another for $1,100 in cash advances. Thankfully both cost me nothing but time and stress as they were fully refunded.
Because of those experiences, I review line-by-line all the credit card purchases I’ve made that month.
If I’ve made any bigger purchases, I will check the current price on those items to see whether I can take advantage of the price protection my cards have. If I have any work or personal trips coming up, the credit card travel insurance and benefits also get reviewed.
After ensuring there are no discrepancies or issues on the credit card statement, I will pay off the full balance. ALWAYS pull the full balance. Check this article from Credit Karma about paying your credit card.
8. Improve Your Finances By Finding Opportunities To Make Money (Big or Small)
Whether it’s checking the job market for new opportunities in my career field or spending time doing side hustle work, another element of my personal finance monthly status check is to always try to increase my income.
From the endless ways to make money on your smartphone or make money online from home, the avenues to earn extra cash are available to everyone in the current marketplace. It could be a life-changing career shift or just taking advantage of gig economy jobs.
Quick Examples To Side Hustle
Keep looking to grow the gap between your income and spending. No matter how big or small, the shift to having an abundance mindset will be a godsend in helping you reach your financial goals. Even a 1% or 3% gain through your career or a side hustle will make a major difference.
9. Get Cash Back On Purchases To Save More Money
The budget has been tracked, bills paid, credit report reviewed, offerings browsed and goals are set. What’s next? Spending.
Strategic spending for the month ahead that will also generate rewards and other benefits. Depending what’s on the calendar for the coming month(s) the purchases might vary but the platforms I use to do so don’t change.
Ebates and Swagbucks are the two cash back and rewards platforms I use for online shopping. Both are free to sign up for and both have partnerships with 1000’s of retailers, including all the major ones.
- Gift Cards: Ebates and Swagbucks Gift Card Shops are loaded. So whether they’re for personal use or gifts to others, we’re buying from their portals.
- GroupOn Coupons: Ebates offers cash back on GroupOn purchases so we’re always looking for discounted entertainment around the city or in locations we’re traveling to. This helps extend our entertainment budget further.
- Books: Amazon is partnered with both Ebates and Swagbucks. I try to read 2 books a month and they’re the 1 item I hoard to proudly display on my bookshelf.
- Household Needs: Home Depot, Staples, Amazon, etc., you name it and Ebates or Swagbucks offer cash back from them.
- Travel: Ebates and Swagbucks offer cash back on most of the major travel sites. If I’m booking for work or personal needs, I try to go through their portals (when it isn’t travel I’m redeeming via travel rewards).
- Movies: Ebates has Cineplex gift cards on their portal and my girlfriend and I love the movies so it’s always a line item in our budget.
These cash back offers won’t make us rich but I’d rather earn some free money from the purchases we’d normally make than not earn anything at all. The goal with cash back is to spend within your means and game the system by earning free money on your standard purchase habits.
Check out this full review of Ebates to learn more about how it can make and save you money.
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10. Scan Current Credit Card Offerings
I’m a big fan of travel hacking and credit card rewards. At the end of every month I do a quick scan of the current offerings. I don’t want to miss out on any special introductory bonus offers, free gift cards, $0 annual fee promotions, etc.
Some of the credit cards I’ve gotten great value from recently include:
Any free or discounted travel I can collect based on my normal spending habits is a huge win. That’s why it’s part of my personal finance monthly status check.
There are great resources that aggregate the most up-to-date offerings that I recommend you checkout. Whether you enjoy travel rewards, cash back or participate in another points program, these sites should have the latest card promotions.
11. 3 Wins & 3 Losses To Improve Your Finances
Another step in the monthly status check is making note and reflecting on 3 wins I’ve had with money that month. These might be more grandiose like increasing my savings rate or growing my income. Or smaller like spending on something that brought me value and happiness.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I look to identify 3 losses I had with money. This supports my goal of looking for continued improvement. My personal finances will never be perfect and entirely optimized but the fun is finding areas to shore up.
The wins and losses aren’t groundbreaking discoveries. They’re intended to help me stay connected and engaged with my money.
12. Set Next Month’s Goals To Prioritize Your Money
Next up is goal setting. The time of year and any upcoming purchases or financial decisions will shift where these goals are targeted to.
Here’s an article from SquawkFox on financial goal setting for both the short and long term.
A structure I use is to have at least 1 goal from each of these categories.
- Saving: what goal can I pursue in regards to saving and investing?
- Earning: how am I growing my income this month or setting myself up for future growth?
- Happiness (or Spending): what can I spend (time and/or money) on to bring value and happiness?
13. Education & Research To Help Improve Your Finances
Finally, a primary focus of mine is to keep learning, educating and exploring the different nuances of money. In particular over recent months, that focus has been on investing and diversification.
The primary strategy behind my investments is a long-term buy and hold with an aggressive index fund portfolio. Yes, the vanilla strategy that each and every personal finance author, blogger and podcast will recommend. Why? Because it works. Check out the great JL Collins Stock Series articles.
However, I’m actively trying to learn more about real estate investing, peer-to-peer lending and other areas of the market outside of just index funds (commodities, GICs, etc.).
So each and every month, I pick a topic and will actively put time in my calendar to read, listen and learn about that topic. What’s this month’s topic? Real estate investing and more specifically, real estate investing from a distance. The housing market in Toronto is ridiculous so I’m researching cost-effective opportunities to perhaps grow passive income via rentals in more affordable locations.
What are some of the sources of research and information?
- Rockstar Finance Daily Digest: An email newsletter delivered every morning Monday-Friday featuring 6-8 articles on various financial topics.
- BiggerPockets Forums: A collection of forums dedicated to all things real estate and money
- Morningstar: A website with endless data on the markets, stocks and investing
- Podcasts, Books & Blogs: There are 100’s of podcasts, book and blogs on every topic imaginable just a Google search away.
- More Options: Check out these free money education resources and dive into the world of Reddit personal finance subs
Conclusion: Personal Finance Monthly Status Check (Improve Your Finances In 2020)
This personal finance monthly status check isn’t meant to be the be all and end all of managing money. This is a system I follow that has helped me build a more holistic understand of my finances and ensure I stay on top of my money.
Life is busy and hectic. We all have dozens of priorities to juggle at any given time.
One of those priorities should be your finances. For me personally, it is and will always remain at the top of my list.
What do you do each month to manage your own personal finances? Let me know in the comments below.
Here are some other posts to help you take control of your money and life:
- 17+ Of The Best Free Money Apps To Get Cash Back, Make Money, Save Money & Invest
- 89 Personal Finance Tips – Budget, Save, Make, Invest & Better Manage Your Money
- How To Make $1,000 Quick: 12+ Fast Ways To Earn Money When You Need It
- Best Personal Finance Podcasts – 30+ Money, Investing And Side Hustle Shows