It’s really interesting how many seemingly dissimilar aspects of our life are actually incredibly similar.
I was recently at a bat mitzvah celebration talking with a friend about his efforts to get in shape and lose weight. Having decided to ‘do the job properly’ he downloaded a calorie counting diet app to help him reach his goal weight.
The app works in the following manner. You set up your preferences, how much weight you would like to lose (or if you want to maintain your current weight) and how much exercise you do, and the app tells you what your calorie consumption should be to accomplish your goals. Then, every time you eat or exercise you fill in the relevant details, and the app works out how many more calories you can consume that day to stay on track.
It’s fantastic – you get the feedback on your lifestyle, and can adjust your day and even your week accordingly. With this increased awareness of what exactly you are putting into your body and how active you are, you can make better decisions to ensure a healthy lifestyle. Too often we just go through our day eating by rote in a completely mindless manner. By increasing our awareness we give ourselves a fighting chance to actually make those proper decisions so we can reach our long term goal, instead of letting our short term hunger glands run the show.
And if you parallel that to your financial lifestyle, that’s exactly what proper budgeting and financial planning does – it leads you to a healthy financial way of life. Unfortunately all too often we live our financial lives on a day to day, month to month basis, making short term decisions to get through the month without really thinking through the long term consequences. Our daily needs (which are so often just ‘wants’ disguised as ‘needs’) rule our spending patterns and don’t allow us to see the bigger picture – what we really want to accomplish with our financial resources. How much more effective we would be if we could focus on the longer term goal and ensure that the things that are truly important but are less immediate than our monthly expenses, are still being funded (.ie. saved for).
As soon as you establish and keep to a budget, track your expenses and schedule regular planning sessions, you are setting yourself up for a stable and well-considered financial future. Monitor your expenses and you will have an accurate picture of where you are spending your money. Your increased level of awareness will help you to decide whether your current decision to spend money on an immediate ‘need’ is as important as saving for your kids’ education, weddings, your retirement or even that family vacation next year. It gives you the feedback necessary to determine whether you are on track to reaching your short term or medium range financial plans. Then when you schedule your semiannual or annual financial planning session, you have the necessary information to assess your financial situation in relation to your personal goals and plans.
There are too many financial apps out there for me to mention, but popular ones are Mint and You Need a Budget (YNAB). Depending on whether you use your PC, tablet or phone to keep track of your expenses, choose an appropriate program or app that works for you and just get started. The apps make it much easier to monitor your spending, so you will have far fewer excuses to explain away your financial hiccups.
Ultimately these apps can help us to ensure that our daily decisions are in line with our long-term goals. The same way we all feel better when we are eating healthier and exercising, we also feel better when our finances take shape. Just like we use the new year to start afresh, renew our commitment to things that are of greater importance on a spiritual, family and community level, take advantage of the time also to align your financial plans and budget with the new you.