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 “peek 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
Several years ago we used Quicken to help manage our finances. However, there have been several major improvements with online money management apps, and many companies now offer attractive alternatives to Quicken.
As powerful as it is, Quicken has three major downfalls:
- it can be cumbersome for some users,
- it is a desktop software program, which means you can only use it on one computer,
- they recently migrated to an annual subscription model.
Using an online program alleviates the one computer problem and makes it easier to view your finances on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. This can be a huge benefit for budgeting tools, as well as monitoring your spending, net worth, credit, investments, and other financials.
Some tools even offer the ability to integrate personal income and expenses with detailed investment tracking and portfolio analysis.
After I stopped using Quicken, I moved to Mint.com which is a little more user-friendly than Quicken and is an online tool, giving you access from anywhere. However, Mint.com is not as powerful, especially with investment tracking and analysis.
So now I use Personal Capital, which is the most powerful free investment tool I’ve come across.
Best options for tracking your income, expenses, and investments:
- Best App for Tracking Income and Expenses: Tie: Mint.com and Personal Capital
- Best Investing App: Personal Capital
- Compare Personal Capital and Mint.com
Banking, Income, Spending, & Budgeting
USAA – Our Main Financial Hub. We primarily use USAA as our main financial network, depositing our paychecks 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 automatically 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, daughters’ education expenses, and for random one-off expenses. I like to carry cash with me at all times even though I almost always use my credit card for purchases. Carrying cash gives me a feeling of security and there are times when you just can’t use a credit card or check.
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 natural disasters.
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) for a top tier budgeting system or Mint.com.
Debt – We Avoid it When Possible
We don’t carry any consumer debt. I had a car payment when I got married, but I paid it off within a year. We have paid cash for everything else, with the exception of our home. As mentioned, we frequently use credit cards but pay them in full each month.
Our only recurring debt is our mortgage payment, which we pay a little extra each month (roughly $100 extra). We currently have a 30-year mortgage. We previously had a 15-year mortgage, but I like the flexibility that a 30-year mortgage offers. A 330-yearterm has lower monthly payments so it offers more financial flexibility in the long run. We can always pay more on our payment, but we can also dial back to the minimum if we need to. The longer term may also be a good hedge against inflation. We aren’t in a rush to repay our mortgage at this time. Instead, we funnel any extra money toward investments or other financial goals.
Managing Our Investments – Taxable Investments & Retirement Accounts
We are a little scattered when it comes to where our investments are located. We have close to a dozen investment accounts, which seems a little overboard to me, but most of the accounts are necessary.
For example, we have retirement accounts, taxable investments, Health Savings Accounts that hold investments, 529 college savings plans, etc.
Our retirement accounts are probably the most scattered. We have 8 separate retirement accounts with 4 different companies. Unfortunately, some of this cannot be avoided, either because they are an employer sponsored retirement account or the funds are in an account we don’t want to close (the Thrift Savings Plan, for example, has extremely low fees and handles our bond funds). The best we could do at this point is consolidate our retirement accounts down to 3 companies. Even if we consolidated companies we would still have 7 separate accounts.
I have two Roth IRAs, a Solo 401k plan, and an HSA we are using for investments, which is held at TD Ameritrade. My wife has a Roth IRA, a 401k plan, an HSA that holds investments, and a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) account. I addressed this topic in the article about which financial products we use.
Other investments. We have taxable investment accounts with Vanguard and Ally Invest, and we have a 529 College Savings Plan for each of our children, which adds to the mix. I could possibly consolidate my Ally Invest account, but I’d rather keep it separate to maintain the records for my tax basis. The information would likely transfer, but it’s not a hassle to maintain that account.
Looking to open a new investment account? Check out Best Brokers for IRAs and Best Online Brokerages, and Best Places to Open a Coverdell Education Savings Account.
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! I also prefer investing in larger lump sum increments, because I use specific Lot ID’s when investing in taxable accounts. This gives me more flexibility when it comes time to sell the investments (more control over short and long term capital gains).
Managing Our Investments
Managing all those different pots of money would be a nightmare if it wasn’t for account aggregators like Personal Capital. I sync all of my banking and investment accounts and credit cards to Personal Capital and it pulls in all the account balances and other data. I can view everything in one place and know in a few minutes if I need to change my asset allocation or transfer any funds. Then I simply log into the accounts as necessary, make any adjustments or transfers, and get on with my merry life. The entire process takes about 30 minutes or less each month.
Managing My Business Finances
This is a little outside the scope of this article, so I wrote a full length article that covers how we manage our business income and expenses. The article includes the financial accounts we use (Chase Business Checking and Capital One Spark Savings), business credit cards, as well as some of the tools, including our payroll provider (Gusto), accounting software (QuickBooks Online), etc.
Dealing with Irregular Income
This is a topic I almost didn’t include, but I added it at the last minute. I am self-employed, through this site and other online ventures. I am also a member of the Air National Guard. It’s hard to predict what my business income and expenses from month to month.
To smooth out my income, I pay myself a salary (I use Gusto as my payroll provider). My salary is directly deposited into my bank account and we try to live within the confines of my monthly payroll.
Prior to being self-employed, I used all the business profits to accelerate our financial goals. Since my wife and I have generally avoided debt, this involved setting aside additional funds for taxes, retirement investments, additional charitable giving, and short term savings (for example, we upgraded our home from a 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.
Did I miss anything? I think I covered just about everything that relates 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.