So apparently we just made a stranger’s car payment this month. Like A Random Act of Kindness that Toyota did on our behalf. Oops.
While I’m on hold sorting out this mysterious charge, let’s talk about this important topic.
It’s important to regularly double check your finances. So you are not accidentally charged $158 by a car company, let alone $9000 another time.
In this era of automated deposits and withdrawals, nothing can compare to good old fashioned cross-checking.
You know you probably should double check statements, but it doesn’t happen.
There are a few possible reasons:
- You trust the accuracy of computerized statements. Major companies don’t make errors, right?
- You are proud when you make bill payments on time. Any steps beyond that seem extra.
- Numbers make you weak-kneed with flashbacks of Mrs. Pumpernickel’s Math class.
Tracking family finances can feel overwhelming. So it’s much easier to simply glance at our bank statements.
But here’s why it’s worth the five-minute habit.
As a Math teacher, lover of numbers and frugal living expert, I’d love to help you learn from our near disaster.
Because a simple cross-checking system saved our family thousands of dollars one day. And I have caught enough errors over the years to equal a year’s worth of groceries. In a house full of boys.
At the end of every month, I look over our online bank records. I flag any charges I don’t recognize and double check with my husband before sounding the alarm. We have official business meetings like this one:
Me: Hey hon, did you make a random payment for a random amount to Toyota?
Me [sigh]: Not again. Pass me the phone.
Over the years I have flagged a double mortgage payment, multiple errors in automated withdrawals and now a mysterious lease payment.
Should we cross-check our investment statements too?
It is less likely you will find an error in investment statements….unless you’re our family with a track record of errors. Then you’ll be very glad you did.
In addition to tracking our bank account online, I also check our investment statements and record the results into a spreadsheet. This lets me compare the balances of RRSPs, RESPs and TFSAs from month to month. That’s it. No apps. No financial programs. Just me and Excel hanging out for 5 minutes.
Sometimes the easiest ideas are, well, easy.
When I entered our monthly totals a while back, I noticed our investments dropped by $9,000 from the month before. A $9,000 drop. Hearing ominous music playing, I quickly called our investment advisor.
Me: Good morning. Um, has there been a crash in the market in the past few weeks that I should know about?
Him: Definitely not. What’s wrong?
Me: Our account has decreased by 9. Thousand. Dollars.
Him: Let me look into that….Hmmm…Oh. Yes. Don’t worry. It just looks like your husband withdrew $9000.
Me: [still trying not to hyperventilate] Not a chance. I’m the family banker. Also, I’m certain he hopes to make it to his next birthday…
Him: No, really. It shows it right here. Withdrawal by Marc Gauvreau for $9000, three days ago.
Well, it turns out that Marc Gauvreau did indeed withdraw that amount from our retirement fund. And because we are still married, you must realize it was a different Marc Gauvreau.
A major investment company made a clerical error and withdrew the amount from the WRONG Marc Gauvreau’s account. If they can mix up a unique name like Gauvreau, I feel sorry for anyone named Smith.
Within a few days, the company fixed their error and this Mom breathed a sigh of relief and continued the monthly 5-minute habit.
What can tracking finances teach your kids?
Double checking monthly spending reminds me to keep training our boys about financial housekeeping. They watch me track our dollars and we talk about how to spend wisely.
I remind them it is our responsibility to be organized financially.
I show them how:
- Even small investments increase exponentially over time
- Matched RRSP contributions are a powerful tool
- Five minutes can save you $9000
Sometimes I even share juicy facts to show how numbers are important:
Do you know how long it takes to double your investments? Take 72 and divide it by the interest rate. So it takes 9 years for money to double at 8% (since 72 divided by 8 equals 9). #mathgeekmom
Tracking finances needs to be someone’s job.
Every household needs someone to be in charge of finances. Without a clear plan designating who is paying the bills and cross checking the accounts, chaos can ensue.
One of my boys admitted, “Mom – I think I have to marry someone who is great with doing all that financial stuff you do. Otherwise I’ll be in trouble.” Self-awareness is a great place to start.
Looking to share the responsibility of this task with a spouse? Pick one of you to start this process and then trade off in a few months.
Just make sure it gets done.
And if you need help getting started, Ashley from Budgets Made Easy has a collection of free budgeting templates you can print.
Tracking finances can save you a lot of money
My friend Beth tells the story of how an unpaid credit card bill of $5, in the midst of having a newborn, almost cost them a house deal. She is a detailed Mama who teaches readers how to create systems to make our households run smoothly.
As a Work-From-Home Mom, I consider catching overcharges one way to earn a paycheck.
Tracking your finances can be fun.
A few things are not fun:
- feeling stressed that you don’t know exactly how much you have in your account
- not being sure bill payments have come out consistently
- making a lease payment for a stranger
But order is fun. Organization is fun. Coming out from under the weight of uncertainty is fun. It will require discipline to set up systems and cross check your balances, but sleeping peacefully is the prize that awaits.
What system do you use to track your finances?
Share a favorite App below (or an old-school approach like this Mama) so we can inspire each other.
And if you happen to meet the other Marc Gauvreau, tell him I’m sorry he lost his windfall. Kind of.