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How We Manage Our Money on a Daily Basis

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I‘ve said it before and I will say it again – there is no one-size-fits-all approach to money management. That is why I wrote this series to give readers a “peak under the hood” to share how my wife and I manage our money. This article follows the first in the series, which covers the financial products and services we use, and I will follow it tomorrow with a similar article on how we manage the finances of our small business.

How we manage our money

My wife and I have combined finances. This is not the best approach for every married couple, but we find it works best for us. It helps us to know and understand how much money we have, where it is coming from, where it is going, and helps us better plan for the present and for the future. This article will show you what we do when the money hits our accounts, how we track our money, spend our money, how we pay our bills, make investments, and what we do from there.

Tracking Income, Expenses, and Investments

We use Quicken for our money management software. But it is not for everyone. As powerful as it is, Quicken has two major downfalls: it can be cumbersome for some users, and it is a desktop software program, which means you can only use it on one computer. That said, Quicken is probably the most robust money management software program on the market, especially now that MS Money is no longer being developed or supported. Quicken gives us great insight into our spending habits and makes it easier to see where our money is coming from and where it is going. The reporting features are great and can spit out detailed charts, graphs, and other reports in seconds.

The main advantage of using Quicken over some of the other money management programs that I’ve used is the ability to integrate personal income and expenses with detailed investment tracking and portfolio analysis. (here are some Quicken coupon codes if you are interested in trying out Quicken). As I mentioned in a previous article, I also use Mint.com because it is a little more user friendly than Quicken and it is portable. However, Mint.com is not as powerful, especially with investment tracking and analysis.

Looking for other money management options? Check out these free online money management programs, or You Need a Budget (YNAB) 3.

The Nuts and Bolts – Daily Money Management

USAA – Our Main Financial Hub. We primarily use USAA as our main financial network, depositing our paycheck there and then using their online bill pay for almost all our bills. We also have most of our insurance there. USAA is a financial institution similar to a credit union; they limit their membership to military members past and present and their family members. They have a multitude of financial products and services, as well as many forms of insurance. We also have savings accounts at Capital One 360 and Discover Bank because their interest rates are currently much higher than USAA.

Income. My paycheck is directly deposited into our main checking account at USAA. From there we use online bill pay to pay most of our bills. We actually try to use our credit card as often as possible for recurring bills, then we pay that each month online through bill pay. If there is a surplus in our checking account at the end of the month we transfer it to our main savings account so we earn a higher interest rate.

Spending. My wife and I primarily use cash back credit cards for our purchases and we pay them in full each month. We only write a handful of checks each month, mostly to our church and for my wife’s singing lessons. I like to carry cash with me at all times even though I don’t usually carry much and I almost always use my credit card for purchases. I guess cash gives me a feeling of security. See what’s in my wallet.

Budgeting. We don’t have a strict budget that we track down to the penny. Instead, we track where we spend our money each month and look for trends. For example, if we notice our fuel expenses skyrocketed we will look for causes. Sometimes it is as simple as realizing we took two major road trips. Problem solved. Not having a strict budget works for us for several reasons: we don’t have any debt other than our mortgage, we have a reliable positive monthly cash flow, and we don’t spend much money (we don’t go shopping often and we rarely go out to eat). This doesn’t work for everyone, so please do what is best for your situation.

Looking for other budgeting options? Check out You Need a Budget (YNAB) 3 for a top tier budgeting system or Mvelopes an envelope budgeting program.

Debt. Our only recurring debt is our mortgage payment, which we pay a little extra on each month (roughly $100 extra). We currently have a 15 year mortgage, but I think we will go with a 30 year mortgage on our next house and make extra payments if we can afford it. A 30 year term has lower monthly payments so it offers more financial flexibility in the long run (it may also be a good hedge against inflation). We aren’t in a rush to repay our mortgage because we have may be moving to a larger home in the near future.

Investing. We are a little scattered when it comes to where our investments are located, having 8 separate retirement accounts with 4 different companies. Some of this cannot be avoided though because they are employer sponsored or an account we don’t want to close. The best we could do at this point is consolidate down to 3 companies. Even if we consolidated companies we would still have 8 separate accounts. (I have a Roth IRA, Traditional Rollover IRA, Traditional 401k, Solo 401k plan, and Thrift Savings Plan account, my wife has a Roth IRA and two TSP accounts). I addressed this topic in the article about which financial products we use. We also have taxable investment accounts with Vanguard and TradeKing.

Looking for other investment options? Check out Best Brokers for IRAs and Best Online Brokerages.

Investment contributions. We make contributions to our retirement investments through automatic deposits to take advantage of dollar cost averaging and so we have  a more stable cash flow throughout the year. Every few months we may make a lump sum contribution into a taxable investment account, depending on our investment goals, cash flow, etc. We try not to make automatic deposits to these accounts because commissions can add up quickly!

Charitable contributions. We donate to our church each week, to other organizations that we believe in, and when circumstances arise when money is needed urgently, such as the Haiti Earthquake disaster. I also like to give money for fun events. For example, this past fall some personal finance bloggers had a fantasy football league and I donated $100 to the winner’s charity of choice. Fantasy baseball is starting soon, so I imagine there will be a similar donation in the works. Bragging rights and money to a good cause – it doesn’t get any better than that!

Dealing with irregular income

This is a topic I almost didn’t include, but I added it at the last minute. I draw a salary through my day job, and I run a side business that brings in some extra money on the side. This doesn’t really affect our way of life very much because our standard of living is based on the income from my day job, not the money I receive from my small business. That includes everything – from our mortgage, living expenses, charitable giving, etc. The additional income I bring in goes to: taxes, retirement investments, additional charitable giving, savings (our long term goal is to upgrade from our two bedroom home to a larger home to accommodate our growing family). I guess we could “keep up with the Joneses” but we have our own financial goals in mind. (even with our extra cash flow our main TV is a 25 inch TV; oh how I want a 40+ inch flat screen!). But some goals are more important than luxuries! :)

Did I miss anything? I think I covered just about everything that elates to our daily money management, and some of the recurring expenses such as mortgage payments and investing. Feel free to leave a comment or ask questions and I will address it in the comments section or make an addition to this article.


Published or updated April 13, 2013.
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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ted @broketofree

We deal with my wife’s irregular income by living off of my income alone. That way, whatever she brings in we can either 1) invest back into her business or 2) do something special for someone else or our kiddos. About 75% of what she brings in goes right back to the business. Hopefully, in a few years we can get that down to 30-50%

Thanks for the informative post.

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2 Allison

This is really comprehensive–I particularly like your approach to irregular income. If people start to depend on unreliable income, problems arise.

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3 JMK

Very similar approach to what we do. We cover our basic living expenses on about 55% of our take home and the rest is distributed between retirement savings, extra mortgage payments and travel. Even though we bring in far more than we spend every week, I do track every cent that passes through our hands. I have a spending plan laid out for the entire year in advance and as the actual amounts (gas, groceries, autopay bills etc) arrive on the CC I update the estimated amount. On my spreadsheet, there is one line at the end of every week tagged as “Transfer to____”. This is my cue to assess how much excess there is for the week and then I send it to either our retirement savings or mortgage. If I set up automatic payments for savings or extra mortgage payments I would likely choose a lower amount which I could be certain would always be available. Buy reviewing the actual numers every week I contribute far more. I enter an amount on the spreadsheet and then scan down several weeks to see if that amount causes any issues in the future. This process allows me to maximize the amount I skim off everyweek and put it to work ASAP. I could do this review and transfer process monthly, but I prefer to get that money moved sooner to maximize the benefit. Because we bring in far more than we need for daily expenses I don’t track the details to prevent overdrafts, but rather to remain accountable for our spending choices.

We also use our CC for everything that can be paid that way – auto pay bills, groceries, gas, annual insurance premiums etc. I review transactions online and pay it off weekly. I’ve never paid interest. We travel a fair bit, so we selected a card which gives us points for Air Canada. We don’t spend a cent more than we would using cash but this way we get a benefit. Some retailers let you swipe the actual Air Canada card so we earn double when combined with points earned on the CC. My husband’s work AMEX also earns points which he can convert free to Air Canada points so we are pooling points from multiple sources. As a result we’re now about a month away from having enough points for our four flights to Europe for this summer.

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4 Ryan

JMK, it sounds like you and your family have a well managed system in place! My system is less hands on, but I’ve fond it works for us. We don’t travel as often as you and your family, so we use cash back credit cards instead of travel points. But points cards an be a great way to get discounts or even free airfare. Thanks for sharing! :)

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5 Lulu

Your system sounds similar to mine, except ING is my main account. I also pay bills via credit cards and then use ING to pay the credit cards.

I like how you treat irregular income as a surprise and live off your salary because that is really the best approach. This allows you to plan much better because you know what your salary is going to be but the irregular side income can fluctuate wildly from month to month.

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6 Holly

I would like to know which cc’s are being used to pay the monthly recurring bills. I have thought of doing this as well to get the rewards, but it seems that either the credit card assesses a fee for the service or the utility co., insurance co., or bank (mortgage) charges a fee. The fees are large enough that the rewards would not be worth it. Any suggestions out there?

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7 Ryan

Holly,

We use the following credit cards for our automatic payments:

Discover More Card
Discover Open Road
Chase Freedom(SM) Card

We are usually able to do things like cell phone bills, internet/cable, and some utilities. We are not able to set up our health insurance on automatic payment with out credit card, but we can pay monthly with our credit card at no additional charge (they allow automatic payments from checking and savings accounts, so I think is is to save them from the processing fees; fewer people are willing to call in every month with a credit card number as many people prefer automatic payments). Our mortgage company charges a hefty fee to process payments via credit card and it is not worth it for us.

So you can’t do everything with your credit cards, but you can usually set up the smaller monthly payments. For us those add up to several thousand dollars in charges each year, and we typically receive 1% or more of that back in cash rewards.

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8 Holly

Thanks so much for the reply, Ryan. I do have a Chase card (not sure if it’s the Freedom card), so I will be looking into their automatic monthly payment terms/conditions (or setting it up thru the payee, whichever will work best).

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9 Terry B.

I just wanted to say that you CAN use Quicken from more than one computer. All you need to do is set up a free account on Dropbox.com and store your Quicken files in your Dropbox folder. This allows you to sync the Quicken file across multiple computers, via the Dropbox folder.

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10 Ryan

Thanks, Terry. That is a good option.

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11 Full Disclosure

Thanks for showing us what’s under your financial hood. I really enjoy seeing how the disciplined approach to financial planning and saving can pay off. Unfortunately, I am not disciplined enough to pay off the credit cards every month, so for now they are in a block of ice in the freezer! I need to take another look at an ING savings account.

Thanks for the info!
fulldisclosuremoment.com

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