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Short and Sweet Summary: Money management skills aren’t for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of discipline to manage household finances. The top money management skills every widow should have outlines simple ways to make the job less stressful. This means starting with a crystal-clear picture of your finances.
If you stare at your monthly expenses with anxiety, overwhelm and a Texas-sized chip on your shoulder because widowhood means the family finances are now up to you, take a deep breath.
Scream obscenities at the Universe first and then take a deep breath. A little f-bomb (or twelve) never hurts to get the motivational mojo working. Money management isn’t for the faint of heart.
You must protect your money, provide for your family and manage expenses. Shit has to get done. There’s no way around it.
Instead of agonizing over how to accomplish this monumental task, let’s break it down into the critical money management skills every widow should have.
You don’t need an Economics degree. I promise!
LIST YOUR MONTHLY EXPENSES
The most basic money management skill involves itemizing your expenses to learn what you spend every month. This is another way of saying you need to budget. But some people don’t like the word budget. So I’ll just say “list your monthly expenses” so I don’t add to your already off-the-charts anxiety about budgeting.
The only way to understand your cash flow is to list all sources of income (what comes in) and compare that to your existing expenses (what goes out). It’s important to find out if you are spending more than you are earning (Boo!). Or if you have a cash surplus at the end of each month (Yay!).
You can keep also track of your monthly expenses on a daily basis so you know what your everyday spending looks like. Sometimes we don’t even know where our money goes until we look at it under a microscope like tracking daily spending habits.
Or you could gather your invoices and receipts and do a monthly roundup.
Either way, you need to know where your money goes and if you have enough income to cover it.
Budgeting or tracking your expenses is the top of the list for a reason. This is one of the more important money management skills every widow should have. You don’t want to spend more than you earn or spend money unnecessarily.
For example, if you aren’t going to the gym, cancel your gym membership. If you no longer need Amazon Prime because other retailers offer free or low-cost shipping, cancel your Prime membership (I just canceled mine). You can still get free shipping through Amazon just by spending a minimum of $25 per order (without a Prime membership).
You can save money and eliminate unused expenses by carefully looking at each credit card statement to see which recurring fees keep coming up. Each expense should be something you use or that you value. Don’t fall into the “maybe I’ll use it one day” trap. If you aren’t using it TODAY, eliminate that expense.
This may take a few weeks to a few months to accomplish to run through a couple of credit card cycles or annual membership reminders, but keep your eye out for recurring expenses you no longer use.
A super-simple way to analyze your spending accounts is with a personal financial assistant like Trim. This service analyzes your spending accounts to help you save money, negotiates bills on your behalf, and cancel subscriptions you don’t use. This amazing tool constantly monitors your financial activity and looks for savings while you’re busy doing other things. Your free account gives you a personal finance dashboard, personalized spend alerts and reminders, detection and fighting of overdraft fees, finding and cancelling old subscriptions, and more.
LIST AND RANK YOUR DEBT
Some debt is necessary, like a home mortgage, and another debt is completely unnecessary, like credit card debt. Figuring out which debt is financially strangling you and then prioritizing that payoff will help you manage your money more effectively and lower your anxiety level.
Either way, you need to list and rank your debt to determine which debt should be paid off first.
CALCULATE YOUR NET WORTH
Your net worth is the difference between your assets and your liabilities. Or in other words, what you own vs. what you owe.
Knowing your net worth number helps to give you a complete financial picture. If your calculations show your spending and/or debt is higher than your earnings, you have a negative net worth. If your spending and/or debt is below your earnings/savings, you have a positive net worth.
So what’s the difference between listing your monthly expenses and calculating your net worth?
Listing your monthly expenses gives you a short-term, month-to-month view of your expenditures and helps you manage your income by categorizing your expenses.
Your net worth numbers, however, provide more of a long-term view for understanding your wealth.
Making minor changes to assets (increasing) and liabilities (decreasing) could alter your net worth and financial independence in the long term, which is why it’s one of the crucial money management skills every widow should have.
To determine your net worth, you need to subtract your liabilities (what you owe) from your assets (what you own).
A negative net worth doesn’t mean you’re on the road to financial ruin or bankruptcy, but it’s a clear indication you need to reevaluate your priorities and reduce spending.
PAY YOURSELF FIRST
Another important money management skill is to set aside a portion of your income to save or invest.
Paying yourself first means taking a portion of your income and putting it in an emergency fund, 401(k), Roth IRA, or other investment vehicle to help build a future financial cushion.
Typically, money is routed automatically from your paycheck or savings account to a contribution account of your choice so you aren’t tempted to spend the money somewhere else. The idea is that you can’t spend what you don’t see. If this money is automatically deposited into another account, you won’t spend it elsewhere.
I know the daunting task of understanding money management is hard enough without adding another account to manage, but a financial cushion account should be high on your priority list.
Knowing you have money to fall back on in case of emergency or to fund your retirement account goes a long way to decreasing the debilitating anxiety you face every day about finances.
REVIEW YOUR INSURANCE COVERAGE
Do you have the right insurance and the right coverage to keep you out of a downward money spiral should something unfortunate happen?
I know talking about insurance is a boring and tedious topic (unless you’re an insurance agent). But it’s a necessary topic because making sure you’re adequately covered will help you protect you and your assets in case of emergency.
Do you know the types of insurance you have? The deductibles? Riders? Terms?
I recommend conducting a yearly personal insurance audit to review all your policies. It’s important to make sure you have the coverage you need. A yearly review allows you to understand your existing coverage, remove unnecessary coverage and add coverage if your situation changes.
LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS
You shouldn’t spend what you don’t earn.
Instead of trying to keep up with the Joneses, do what’s right for YOUR family’s budget and lifestyle. Measuring someone’s wealth or financial status by their new cars or exotic vacations is no more realistic than judging a book by its cover. Outward appearances are rarely a good indication of something’s real value.
While the Joneses may look all perfect and rosy and rich on the outside, you have no idea what their debt load is. If they don’t have an emergency savings fund equaling six to nine months of expenses or if they don’t contribute the maximum to their retirement accounts, they aren’t as well off as they seem.
If they are one of the 7 in 10 Americans with less than $1000 in savings, the Joneses are flat broke. Don’t go broke like the Joneses.
Learn one of the best money management skills every widow should have by making sure what you spend each month is less than or at least equal to the amount of money you bring in each month.
By planning for bigger purchases, saving and paying in cash (or paying with a credit card but paying off the balance at the end of the month) you can prevent going broke like the Joneses.
Instituting a simple waiting period before large purchases can work wonders. Like, say, 3 days, one week or even one month.
If you decide you MUST purchase it after waiting a few days, go ahead. But, in some instances, you’ll decide not to purchase something you thought you needed.
Your days of impulse buying will be over. Which means more money in your pocket.
WIDOW WRAP UP
Money management skills aren’t for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of discipline to manage household finances.
Now that you’re tasked with doing the finances solo, it’s ultra-important to be clear about what your monthly or daily expenses. Or make sure you’re socking some money away in an emergency savings account.
These money managements skills outline ways to make the job a little less stressful. When you have a crystal-clear picture of your finances, you’re already ahead of the game.