Life can often be really chaotic in all kinds of different ways. Work obligations can pile up out of the blue and cause us to have a mini-crisis trying to figure out how to deal with them, never mind actually having some free time to enjoy as well.
Family obligations can become deeply stressful and preoccupying. Tools and everyday items that we rely on can break and throw our routine off-track. We can end up in arguments with friends. And so on.
Easily one of the areas where chaos most often manifests, however, is in our financial lives. Money problems are always bound to be a profound source of stress and discomfort – and even if you’re not dealing with anything too dramatic, it’s pretty likely that you have enough complexity and confusion going on in your financial life to cause your head spin from time to time.
Since it’s best for things not to be any more confusing and out-of-control than they have to be, here are a few general tips for reducing chaos in your financial life.
Consolidate and deal with old accounts and income streams
If you’ve got an old 403b account from a previous employer, what should you do with it? Can you keep it as is? Roll it into a traditional IRA? Roll it into your new employer’s retirement plan?
What about any other income streams, accounts, or schemes that you may be a part of that you’ve half-forgotten about or that don’t seem to fit neatly?
While the specifics of how you should deal with these subjects will always vary from person to person, you generally want to consolidate as many of these disparate elements as you can, so that you can deal with them neatly from a central location.
The more bank accounts you have with the more banks, the more pension plans, schemes, and investment portfolios you have to juggle, and the more trickling income streams you have to pay attention to from half-fulfilled entrepreneurial plans, the higher the likelihood that you’re going to lose track of something important and feel dramatically stressed out as a result.
Try to unify things and simplify them instead.
Use an intuitive “envelope” budgeting tool
Budgeting drives many people completely crazy, and it’s hard to imagine that a big part of that isn’t directly connected to the fact that so many people try to plan and track their budgets in too much of a “theoretical” way.
If you are budgeting money that you don’t have yet — such as by planning your projected income and expenses six months down the line — then you are always going to find that reality surprises you in ways both pleasant and unpleasant, and makes your “budget” fall apart or at least require extreme tinkering, along the way.
A budgeting system that many people find far more satisfying and fulfilling is what’s known as “envelope” budgeting.
With an “envelope” budgeting system, you only deal with the money that you actually have. When you get paid, you assign all of the money you have just received to different categories (in the old days, it would have been divided into actual envelopes).
Trying to manage an envelope budgeting system without the right tools might be tricky or frustrating – but luckily, there are various good envelope budgeting tools out there that are highly popular and highly effective.
Actual is one such budgeting tool, and its advantage over many of its core competitors is that it keeps all your data locally on your computer’s hard drive, while also allowing you to sync to the cloud if you choose (but only if you choose).
Use an intuitive “envelope” budgeting tool to help dramatically streamline your budgeting process. When you realise that you’ve spent a bit too much in one category during the month, or haven’t set aside enough money for another category, moving funds across is straightforward and painless. Before too long, you’re likely to find that your money-management skills have shot through the roof.
Cancel unused and outdated subscriptions, services, and profiles
We live in the digital age which means that pretty much everyone is likely to have signed up to so many different subscription services over the years that trying to keep track of them all would take a PhD-level mathematician with a giant blackboard.
Aside from the issue of data security and the fact that it’s not really good to have dozens and dozens of companies out there maintaining profiles on you, there’s the more directly tangible issue of your money trickling away without you even realising what’s going on.
If you’re anything like the average person, you almost certainly have unused, neglected, and outdated subscriptions, services, and profiles that you pay a recurring fee for and that you haven’t yet deactivated.
Often, this even happens with the gym. After all, you definitely plan on working out regularly… Soon… But not yet. Right?
Something similar probably happens with all kinds of apps, web services, and entertainment platforms that you might be signed up to. But those small monthly expenses can add up and throw your entire financial plan off track. And, when those subscriptions renew less regularly – like, say, once a year – it’s a pretty horrible surprise to be hit with a major charge that you forgot was coming.
Try to go through any such services and subscriptions and cancel them so that you can stop worrying about your forgotten money trickling away.
Try experimenting with minimalism
“Minimalism” has been popular in recent years, in various different forms. Some people take the idea to extremes, and empty their homes of pretty much all belongings aside from a toothbrush and a mattress.
Others, like Marie Kondo suggest getting rid of belongings that don’t cause you to feel a “spark of joy.” Then there are some others like Cal Newport who tell you that it’s worth trying some “digital minimalism,” where you actively reduce the amount of time you spend surfing the web or glued to your phone.
While you don’t need to go crazy with it, trying out a bit of minimalism in your own life can be a great way of reducing your expenses. If you are buying fewer things and trying to find more satisfaction in what you already own – then that’s bound to help reduce financial chaos and uncertainty.