Want to Organize Your Finances? Try the Sock Drawer Method

Via LearnVest By Neale Godfrey ~

organizing your moneyThe idea of cleaning your house, top to bottom, sounds overwhelming.

What if, instead of thinking about cleaning the whole house, or even one room, you only tackled your sock drawer?

We all have one: a drawer or bag or basket where we keep all of the mismatched socks awaiting the return of their mates. You can carry those lone, mate-less socks with you from one move to the next, hoping that somehow their mates will show up … but they never do. It’s high time that drawer was cleaned out.

Now, picture your house as your finances. Sure, an overhaul of your money seems too overwhelming to tackle all at once, but what if you started with just one small task—your “financial sock drawer”?

By tackling it in bite-size portions, the job won’t seem nearly as overwhelming, and your financial house will be in order before you know it.

Now here is the real question: What financial task, exactly, is the equivalent of your sock drawer—the first little thing you should tackle to make your life easier? You know the answer to that better than anyone else … and you know the answer better than you think you do. Use the following strategies to bring it to light.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself

There’s no need to rush: Each of five evenings, sit down and answer one of these questions. Write a list of answers—at least five for each question. When you’ve finished your question for that evening, put it and the answers away and don’t look at them again for the time being. The next night, answer the next question, and so on, until you’ve finished.

  1. What things do I want to start doing about money that I’ve never done?
  2. What money habits do I want to change that I haven’t changed?
  3. What things do I want to stop doing about money that I haven’t stopped?
  4. What things do I want to say about money that I’ve never said?
  5. What things do I want to learn about money that I haven’t learned?
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Remember that each night is a new beginning. Because the questions overlap, you may—and probably will—find yourself coming up with some of the same answers to more than one question. That’s to be expected.

When the weekend comes, go over your lists. It’s time to figure out your priorities. Circle the issues that come up more than once and place a #1 by those. Then place a #2 by the next most common (and therefore, most important) and keep going until you’ve worked your way through the list.

Is it that you need to set real financial goals with your partner? Do you want to talk about money issues with your aging parents? What about young kids, if you have them? Is your will in place and up-to-date? You may not know how to approach your financial issues, but you do know the ones that have kept you up at night.

Where to Start

Now that you have identified your concerns, you can begin to work on them—not every item on every list (well, not right away, anyway). That wouldn’t be a sock drawer, that would be cleaning the whole house and basement and garage. But how about one item? Now that’s a sock drawer. You can start working on it right away, and you should, with a scheduled completion date not more than two weeks away (too much time encourages procrastination).

For example, you might have identified some of the following problems. I’ve broken each down from entire-floor tasks to a few sock-drawer tasks, so you can get an idea of how it works:

I need to spend less. Keep a detailed log of spending for two weeks; identify problem areas and brainstorm solutions; implement a solution for two weeks and see what changes.

I need a budget. Identify savings goals and monthly costs; figure out exactly how much monthly income you have to work with; record concrete numbers (for example, $15 on music downloads) to keep you accountable; track your budgeting for the next few months and adjust the numbers as needed. The free LearnVest budgeting tool can help with any budgeting needs.

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I need to update my insurance. Assemble your financial information and consider your insurance needs; make appointments with at least two or three insurance agents for quotes.

I need to teach my kids about money. Do preliminary research about how to broach the topic (my books “Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees” and “A Penny Saved” can help with that); discuss the lessons you want to impart with your partner; make a plan to teach your kids.

I need to learn to invest. Take our free “Start Investing” Bootcamp to learn the basics. Or if you want professional help, LearnVest Planning Services offers financial planning tailored to you.

By taking on sock drawer–sized tasks, you’ll have a clean financial house before you know it.