Friday, April 15, 2011
Review Your First Quarter Finances
Tip #287 - Review Your First Quarter Finances. It is that time of year again (actually a couple weeks past!) when we should probably look over how we are doing with this year's finances. But, if you haven't done your taxes yet, do that first! Once those are signed and sent, sit down with your budget, spreadsheet, notebook, calculator, or other financial tools you use to figure out your finances. If you are serious about getting your finances in order and motivated to put away money or pay off debt then you should have set some financial goals and written a budget at the beginning of this year. Our first-quarter review is basically just a review of how we are doing with those goals and how successful we are with the budget that we set for ourselves.
If one of the goals you set for yourself was to accelerate your payments on a car loan of $3500 and be finished with it by year's end then look up your statement online (or in the mail) and see how much you have paid off from January 1 until now. If you have paid off close to $1000 of it, then it looks like you are on your way to reaching your goal. If you have not done any accelerating of payments thus far, then analyze why that is the case. Did you have unexpected expenses? Have you been putting it off, hoping to pay more of it off later in the year? Have you spent any money needlessly that could have been applied to this loan? Is this goal still realistic? If you find that you are slacking then look over your goals again and why you want to achieve them to help find the motivation to get back on track. If you find that you grossly underestimated another expense in your budget, and you won't be able to pay off $3500 this year on your car, then adjust the goal to what you now think is realistic.
Look over your budget and compare it to you actual expenses that you have incurred over the past three months. Did you perhaps underestimate how much gas prices would rise? Do you need to raise the budget for that category? Find another category that you perhaps overbudgeted for, and take the money from that category. Have you found that you have been doing such a good job with cooking from scratch that you feel justified in lowering your food budget? Look over your categories again and analyze if you are doing all you can do to keep your expenses as low as possible. This is especially important if you are trying to build up some savings or get out of debt. Can you put your gym membership on hold for a few months while the weather is nicer? Can you take public transportation for cheaper than gasoline fill-ups?
This quarterly review is not necessarily a time to do a whole budget or financial goals overhaul. Instead it is just a point in time to review what you have done thus far in the year to see if you are headed in the direction and at the same pace that you plan, financially. It may be a time to make some small adjustments as mentioned above or perhaps a big change if things have changed drastically since you set your financial goals and budget (new job, sudden new addition to the household, etc.) But overall, it should be a time to just review how you are doing financially 1/4 of the way into the year.
In Real Life (IRL) - I did my taxes later than normal this year (just finished them last weekend!), so I have yet to sit down and do my quarterly review that I am pretty faithful about doing. I hope to find some time this weekend to do so, however. Part of what I do each quarter is look over our budget - and I do think I may need to up our gasoline budget as I did not anticipate the approximately 50-cent increase per gallon that we've had since the beginning of the year. With my husband driving 50 miles round-trip to work each day, that works out to about an extra $20-$25 per month in gasoline for which I didn't account.
I don't usually change our financial goals but I look them over and see if we are on track to reach them or if I am putting things off. Our mortgage is our only debt, so our goals involve putting $2,000 per year into each of our children's college account and $5,000 into each of our Roth IRA accounts. Pretty much come rain or shine, this is the minimum of what I want to do. Rather than change that goal, I would likely find ways to come up with the money (by selling more on eBay or taking one less vacation).
So rather than look at my goals to change them, I calculate my net worth each quarter to see where we are - how much we have in our retirement account, how much is in each of the kids' college funds, how much we have left to pay on the mortgage, etc. I like to use it as a basis of comparison with last quarter's net worth or last year's net worth. It gives me an overall picture of how far our financial goals are taking us. For example, my daughter turned 9 at the end of last year. With her late birthday, she wont' be started college till 2020. I can look at our net worth statement and see that at this time last year we had approximately $21K in her account. Then I can look at our current net worth and see that she has $23K in her account. By looking at our net worth, I can start to use this information as part of an analysis of our long term goals, which will be a topic for another post.
For now, I am going to gather our statements and check out how well we are doing against our budget. I know we are behind on making our deposits into our Education Savings Accounts and Roth IRAs, but that seems to be par for the course for us lately, seeing as I just made part of our 2010 IRA deposits a month ago (you have until April 18 to do so this year!) I hope everyone can make time for an early-in-the-year financial review. I find the process to be very worthwhile.