When you're young and single, keeping track of your money is pretty simple. If you have enough left for gas and lattes until payday, it's all good. Once you start setting up a Nest with someone else, things get more complicated. Now you've got two incomes and two sets of payments to juggle, and two peoples' temptations for impulse spending. Add kids, mortgage and investments into the mix at some point, and the household bookkeeping can become a real challenge. Thankfully, there are several ways to get help.
Some parents are reluctant to offer advice on financial issues, but are more than happy to share their experience if you take a moment to ask. If your own parents are a visibly bad example, pick another mentor: a friend's parents, your grandparents, an aunt or uncle, or a successful older cousin or sibling. If you can, try to choose someone whose attitudes and lifestyle are similar to yours. That makes it more likely their management strategy will make sense for you. If there are no obvious mentors in your own circle, consider hiring a bookkeeper to set up accounts for you and teach you how to maintain them.
Another potential source of help is the larger community you live in. State and municipal governments often offer helpful advice or budgeting worksheets you can use. Some of them also offer formal sit-down classes in budgeting and money management. Your local community college, high school or university extension program might offer free or inexpensive seminars and night classes. If that's not the case, check with your local churches and community organizations. Often, volunteers teach seminars or evening classes in financial management, as the need arises. Aside from the skills they teach, these classes can provide you with a supportive peer group to encourage you if you struggle.
Your computer is a powerful tool that can help you keep your bookkeeping in order. A simple spreadsheet can serve to keep track of your spending, but there are also powerful personal finance programs available. The best known are Quicken and Microsoft Money, but open-source programs such as GnuCash and HomeBank can provide similar features for free. These programs will help you set up a budget, track your spending, monitor your bank accounts and even keep an eye on your investments. Online services such as Mint do the same thing, and can be accessed from a smartphone as well as a computer.
Other Learning Opportunities
Aside from money-management software, the Internet contains some of the best (and worst) free budget advice available. Don't rely on information from self-interested salespeople or dubious bloggers unless you can verify their information from other sources. Government websites, university extension services, financial institutions and major news sites offer a variety of useful information and guidance online. Offline, your local library is filled with books on the subject. There are also a number of magazines and newsletters you can subscribe to -- some explicitly finance-oriented, and some that include regular budgeting articles and columns as part of their overall mandate.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.