I thought my dad was dumb! There he sat with his hand-designed ledger, shopping receipts, and a bank statement. He was at it again—recording all our family expenses by category, and reconciling them to the bank statement. Why track your money? You can’t bring it back. Who cares where it went? Well, that’s what I thought as a teenager. Even after my know-it-all years, and into my thirties, I didn’t take this seriously until I had six children and was starting a business. Money left as cash, cheque, credit card, debit card, or pre-authorized payments. As money itself becomes more nebulous, measuring money flows becomes more difficult. Financial coaches have their clients track personal spending for at least 30 days. Why? You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Get organized. Keep score. It’s the third “spiritual secret” to financial freedom. Getting organized may not sound spiritual, but it is indeed spiritual. Spirituality is not chaotic; it’s quite the opposite.
My dad left the coal industry as a controller in Poland and came to Canada to work in a bakery at night as an oven man—a hot, hard job, but his English was poor. He had four kids to feed. He was good with numbers and understood something that I failed to grasp for decades. A clear understanding of the financial past helps us prepare for the future. By tracking expenses month after month, year after year, we subconsciously prepare for the unexpected.
It takes time, but reduces stress. Don’t misunderstand. I am not saying that cash-flow tracking is all you need for financial freedom; there’s more to it. What I’m saying is this: You will never manage what you don’t measure.
Have you noticed that sports become more exciting once you start keeping score? When I was teaching my kids to play catch, it became more fun to count the number of catches before one of us dropped the ball. The same principle applies to golf. Keep score! When it comes to money, score-keeping is easier than ever, but also more complex than ever. It’s easy because we have so many computerized tools to help us: Smart phones, tablets, laptops, or personal computers. It’s harder since money itself takes on multiple forms: It’s virtual, plastic, paper, and coin. Personally, I don’t recommend free, automatic cash-tracking software packages such as Intuit Mint. Here’s why: They often come with annoying advertising; they compromise personal privacy; and, most importantly, they bypass the conscious mind. In other words they are too automatic. To gain financial control you must always know where your money is going. It’s not easy, but it’s very important. It takes conscious brain power. Instead use a semi-automatic tracking system, or else track it manually, but use computerized assistance.
Don’t worry if you have a lot or a little. Remember, Jesus said, “He who is faithful with very little, is also faithful with much.” It’s a new skill you want to develop, and like any habit it takes much repetition. Start 2017 off right. Look for the 2017 Dollar Diet and the Cookbook cash tracking tools once you register at wisdomwithwealth.org.
- Tom Lipp