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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!).
Be sure to download the Income and Expenses Worksheet to help you track expenses. It’s a simple spreadsheet created to automatically calculate your monthly cash flow based on your input. You can change the titles in any row, add additional rows or delete rows not applicable to you. You could also use any number of online budgeting tools.
Budgeting is the top of the list for a reason. This is one of the more important money management skills every widow should have.
Psst – You Want All the Worksheets Mentioned in This Post?
You can download the Income & Expenses, Prioritize Debt and Net Worth worksheets from my free resource library,or if you need the password, you can get it here by filling out this form:
Eliminate unused expenses
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 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.
List and Rank Your Debts
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.
NerdWallet has an excellent debt guide to help pick a payoff strategy suitable to your needs. Or you could read about the pros and cons of the Dave Ramsey vs. Suze Orman debt payoff strategies from The Simple Dollar.
Either way, you need to list and rank your debt to determine which debt will be paid off first. Be sure to download the Prioritize Debt Worksheet to help figure out your biggest debt obstacles.
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 small changes to assets and liabilities could increase 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. Be sure to download the Net Worth Worksheet to see where you land.
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 vehicles 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.
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. This isn’t rocket science.
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. Yeah, baby!
Widow Wrap Up
Managing household finances is a tough job. Tracking spending, ranking debt and prioritizing or delaying purchases helps alleviate the overwhelm. Learning the critical money management skills every widow should have gives you the confidence you need to make better decisions for yourself and for your family. And seeing a clear picture of your finances helps you sleep better at night knowing you’ve got this.
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What are some other money management skills widows should have? Share your ideas in the comments!