I overheard some good friends talking about a financial advisor, Adam Hoover, and how he'd turned their finances around. I decided to give it a shot.
Here's how it worked: we gave Adam and his team every piece of financial data we knew…and even some we didn't know…including bank accounts, credit cards, retirement accounts…everything.
Our savings account was at zero. In fact, it had been at zero for so long the bank eventually just closed it. We had $145 dollars in an online savings account set up years earlier. And a few thousand dollars tucked away in random retirement accounts.
Adam went back and crunched some numbers for us and recommended not only tracking our expenses, but creating some kind of automatic savings plan as well. I was dubious—we were living pretty much hand-to-mouth and didn't think we had enough extra to consistently devote to savings—but we decided to try it anyway.
We started small…$50 here, $100 there. I just put the savings on autopilot and watched it grow. Okay, I'll be honest, I didn't really watch it, because numbers aren't that interesting to me. I simply left it alone and hoped it would multiply.
We started out saving for just a few major expenses and potential emergencies, including: auto expenses, property taxes, and a rainy day fund. Then we thought it would be helpful to set aside some money for birthdays and holidays so Christmas didn't break us. The financial planner also noticed my part-time teaching income came in four-month waves, with nothing coming in during the summer months. He recommended half of my income be set aside in a summer savings account to float us through those leaner months. I agreed.
Before we knew it, we had accumulated thousands of dollars in savings. Suddenly I was hooked! We set up an education fund…both for short-term needs and college tuition. Then we added savings accounts for the kids, so that we could fund with their allowance money.
What about a mortgage savings account? In case of an emergency or job loss we wouldn't miss a payment. We added a service fund, for charitable work. An art savings account, to stash money I make from painting sales and workshops and tuck it away for big-ticket expenses, like materials and travel. Then, we saved $25 a week for a future family vacation.
We also decided to set up an income tax fund, after we'd had to pay extra at tax time. So, now 25% of our freelance income goes straight into the tax fund; the money is there if we need it. And if we have a lucky break and are getting a refund, we drop the tax savings money into a retirement account instead.
What I noticed was amazing: because our savings was apportioned out and labeled for specific future needs (and a few wants), I was far less likely to spend it. If you look at an account and say, "Wow! We have $20,000!" it's tempting to think you can splurge. But if you look at 15 individual accounts and realize, "we only have $600 set aside for auto expenses, $1100 for education, and a couple thousand dollars saved for a wedding," you are far more likely to leave it alone, and not spend it.
What this gives me, that is worth more than the money itself, is a sense of security. When the car broke down and our daughter called, panicked because the estimate was $600, I just calmly said, "No problem, I can transfer the money from our auto account." When our son's scholarship didn't cover all of his tuition, the education fund made up the difference. And when the big credit card bill arrived after Christmas, I just transferred the money from our holidays account and didn't give it another thought.
Our savings accounts are set up through Capital One 360…) (a very user-friendly online banking system that keeps all the accounts in one place for easy reference). Money can be transferred instantly between accounts, and transferred within a couple of business days to my regular checking account.
Funds are transferred automatically from our regular bank's checking account in the amount we specify, on the date we specify. I'm sure there are many banks that offer similar convenience and ease. Check with your financial institution and see what's available. You'll feel like a money pro in no time!
Jana Winters Parkin is an artist, writer, and adjunct faculty at UVU. She co-hosts a popular podcast for women: "The Living Room" (bit.ly/TLRSHowiTunes) and spends every day possible exploring mountain trails. Contact her at