Most people have a loosely defined money management system, but having a clear system in place can give you more confidence and less anxiety around money.

The Benefits of Creating a Money Management System

Most people have a loosely defined money management system, but having a clear system in place can give you more confidence and less anxiety around money.I don’t like budgeting, as evidenced by the facts listed out in this post.

I spend my money based on my values, and I save the rest.

This technically works because saving money is second nature to me. I question all of my purchases automatically.

It might sound crazy, but hey, that’s just how I function.

Because of that, I have a somewhat loose hold on my money management system…actually, I don’t really have a system.

And that can be problematic for a variety of reasons.

Yes, spending according to my values has been helpful for me, and I’ve still been saving money as I always do, but I wasn’t aware of how much…and that led to doing nothing with it.

“Okay, you still have a bunch of money saved up, why is that bad?”

I’ll tell you.

The Motivation to Keep Earning and Saving

The TL;DR of it all is that I used to save money out of fear. Therefore, I never wanted to spend it. Value-based spending has allowed me to break out of those limitations.

However, I still have a really hard time saying “no” to money in the case of extra work. I could always be earning more, and when the opportunity arises, it’s just a no-brainer to say “why yes, please, I’d like more.”

But this year I’ve learned something about myself:

I don’t actually enjoy being a self-proclaimed workaholic.

There, I said it.

(I really feel like we need a Workaholics Anonymous group…)

I’ve gone through a lot of changes this year, and one of the biggest is that I now have a semblance of a social life. That means working on the weekends, as I’m used to doing, is no longer fun because it means missing out on something.

But not working on the weekends means cutting out some of my work – and earning less.

Gasp. Who would do such a thing, right?

Me.

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Knowing When “Enough” is Enough

So now you have some context to that decision. My priorities have slightly shifted – I want to enjoy life, even if it means earning a little less every month.

But was I really okay with that? A loss of income stings no matter what the reasoning is.

So I turned to the numbers. Was I making enough for a slight drop in income to be okay?

Since my savings have kept increasing, I knew I wasn’t spending more than I was bringing in (especially because I still don’t spend very much), but I needed to see it for myself.

And in case you’re wondering – yes, I broke the cardinal rule I tell everyone to do: I wasn’t exactly tracking my spending with an eagle eye. At least, not like I used to. Things were more or less on auto-pilot.

I have a Mint account, and I check in periodically, but because I don’t spend very much (I have maybe 10 transactions a month outside of my fixed expenses), I let it go from time to time.

I don’t recommend that, and I learned that first-hand by going through this exercise.

I sat down and went through my income for this year. I looked at what I paid in taxes. I took the average of that and the average of my last three months of income and arrived at a number I figured could pass for my net income.

I then subtracted my fixed expenses, and my usual variable expenses (stuff like groceries) and came to the awesome realization that I was saving almost half of my income. 

What?!

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When Having the Numbers Actually Helps

That instantly made me feel better about so much. I never ever thought I’d be one of those “I save so much of my income!” people, mostly because I’ve been used to making less. But earning more, combined with my living situation (paying $500 in rent), has enabled me to stash away much more than I thought.

So how did this revelation change things?

One – I felt better about my income. That sounds so silly to say, but I kept thinking I needed to earn more and more and more, especially because I see many of my freelance friends earning much more than I do. I felt inadequate.

I’m trying very much to get over this idea that your income equals how successful you are. In my heart, I know that’s not true, but it’s what we – as a society – measure success as. I’ll be writing about this more soon, but it’s just funny how running the numbers made me feel more at ease with my situation as a whole.

Two – I had my “enough” answer. Yes, I can always be working to earn more and save more, but at some point, something has to give. I’ve worked my ass off for the past two years to get where I am now, and I’d like a break.

I can’t keep running full steam ahead for the rest of my life. So I might as well take advantage of my low expenses and decent income and continue to save half while enjoying other things that matter to me. If I want to take a break and read, I can. If I want to nap, I can. If I want to work less one day and make it up another time, I can.

Much like how I functioned before with my spending – limiting myself a lot even though I didn’t need to – I feel much freer knowing I’ll be okay if I lose out on a few hundred dollars. It won’t kill me. Does it suck to make a little less progress? Maybe, but the trade-off of more time spent doing things that aren’t work-related (and are more creative) can be worth it.

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When Having the Numbers Makes You Realize You’re Dumb

Coming to this realization also made me realize that I wasn’t using my savings very wisely.

I mean, I have a number of separate savings accounts dedicated to various goals, but there was something missing. I needed a system.

So after creating a system for my boyfriend (C) in which all of his savings accounts had automatic transfers set up, I did the same for myself.

I had a few – $100 was being funneled into my car repair fund and my travel fund – but it was very loose.

The way I went about this was sort of from a zero-sum budgeting approach: I wanted every dollar doing something.

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My Money Management System

I played around with the numbers and increased savings for all of my accounts, including my IRA. I then figured out that if I paid off my student loans, I could max out my IRA next year, which sounded pretty exciting. More cash flow = more options.

How did I decide which accounts got priority? Well, travel has always been a big priority of mine, whether it’s a weekend away, going to see my parents, or actually going on vacation, so I picked that savings account first (aside from my tax savings account, since taxes suck). I’d really like to take an overseas trip next year, but that’s still up in the air.

I then opened a “Health” savings fund because I have a feeling I’ll be dealing with a lot of that next year, and my insurance is lacking.

My “rental property, yo” account was next (I like to have fun with my account names) because creating passive income and getting into the rental game is something I’d like to do sooner than later. While I feel much less guilty about working less after looking at the numbers, having another income stream is even better.

I bumped up my IRA contributions because saving for the future is important, and I wasn’t happy with how little I had been saving before.

From there, everything else was kind of in the same boat. I’m still unsure if I’ll be going to FinCon or another convention I usually volunteer at, so right now, those accounts are last.

I did increase my car repair fund just in case something happens, as I plan on making the drive down to my parents a few times next year.

I then set up a small amount to transfer into my pet savings fund since I expect to have a cat sometime soon!

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No Goals for the Immediate Future

The great thing is I laid the foundation, and everything is automatic. I just have to check in to see if my spending stays on track and adjust my savings whenever priorities change.

This makes me feel so much more secure in the financial journey I’m taking, and it also shows me that I don’t need to be a super tightwad like I was before to achieve my goals.

I can go about my regular routine and know that everything is being taken care of on the back-end, and should something change, it’s an easy fix.

The only thing I think I’m missing is a concrete end-goal. Saving comes naturally, so I’ve never had to say, “I want to save $5,000 for this thing” because I have it if I need it.

We kind of have a goal of how much money we want to save to put down on a property, but we’re fairly close to that, and we still need to wait and see what next year brings in terms of career for C.

We also want to go away, but C differs from me in that he would rather put his savings toward a goal other than travel. The idea of saving thousands, going away for a week, and all that money being gone is a little “blah” – understandably.

I guess the problem, if you can call it that, is that we’re both content with how things are. For some reason, that word gets a bad wrap because we’re told we should always be working toward something more, but I’ve been doing that for the last few years. I’ve had so many changes happen. I’m simply looking forward to (hopefully) a year of semi-stability.

Yes, I’d like to be FI someday, but figuring out real estate investing and paper asset investing comes first. I’m okay doing things piece-by-piece, and I’m also okay with working in some capacity for the next 10-20 years. C doesn’t even get the appeal of FI because he loves learning and implementing what he learns, so he’d be taking the same path as me.

In short, I don’t feel a pressing need to create a goal. I’ve been steadily working toward my very non-specific “save more money” goal and I’m going to keep with it. The only difference is I want to use my savings better and invest more of it.

Am I crazy for not having a big financial goal to go after? Do you have a money management system set up? Share it!

Erin M.

Erin is a personal finance writer and virtual assistant who loves talking about money and how to use it as a tool to get what you want out of life. When she's not obsessing over numbers or working (which is rare), she can be found messing around in Photoshop, laughing at her cat, watching YouTube videos, playing video games, chair dancing, or any random combination of the above.

12 thoughts on “The Benefits of Creating a Money Management System

  1. Well first of all I’m thrilled to hear your not a hermit these days, and equally as excited for your to hear about your savings rate. What a great thing to discover. I would say my MM system is pretty simple. 401k, auto deductions to my brokerage account and a couple other savings buckets. Plus I do follow a simple excel spreadsheet budget.

  2. “I’m trying very much to get over this idea that your income equals how successful you are.” This! I constantly struggle with this and kind of pride myself on “if I want to make more money I can find a way.” But I’ve kind of (not quite) gotten to where you are where you’ve worked really, really hard the past few years and need to somehow scale back and enjoy life. The main thing driving me right now is the potential to set myself up for full-time work-from-home/business income. Having that flexibility would allow us to move for my wife’s PhD program, if needed, with less stress. I also would prefer to “replace” my income with side income so that quitting my job is a realistic option. Now if I worked full-time from home and was somewhat my own boss (clients inevitably become your new bosses – even if there are multiple ones) then I would REALLY consider scaling back and seeing what changes I could make to increase my quality of life, even at the expense of income. Wow that was a long comment but this post definitely stirred up some thoughts for me.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted: 20 Ways to Upgrade Your Home on a BudgetMy Profile

    1. Haha, no worries about the length. I get where you’re coming from. I’ve been urging my boyfriend to consider remote jobs since he wants to get into tech, but he loves it here…However, I want the flexibility to be able to go wherever – and then eventually come back. He doesn’t get the “slow travel for months at a time” vision I have. No matter what gripes I have with freelancing, the flexibility has been hands-down the best part. Like you said in a post a long time ago, I think there are seasons of life where you work really hard, but there also need to be seasons where you can enjoy where that hard work got you.

  3. I think you and I have a very similar money mindset. I’ve never had a budget…I’m naturally frugal and question all purchases. I also have a scarcity mindset even as my income has grown (although my expenses have also grown as the family has grown). Since I work a w-2 job, I don’t really have to think about working more or less affecting my income, but I think knowing my “enough” is important. I have this grandiose plan of reaching FIRE but that seem like a far away goal which may or may not be attainable.

    1. Yes, I think we have similar money mindsets, too! It’s so hard to get out of the scarcity mindset when it’s been the one I’ve been in for the last … well, two decades of my life. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ll achieve FIRE, either, but I would like to have the option of scaling back to part-time work or taking a few years off for a mini-retirement.

  4. I don’t have a budget per se but I definitely know where all my money is going each month and I like to map it against each month using Personal Capital. I use to use Mint but found the Personal Capital investment interface much easier to use.

    I too don’t have any pressing financial goals but I know personally that I need them so I can work towards something.

    Thanks for sharing your financial journey!!!
    Mustard Seed Money recently posted: How Quitting Caffeine Changed My LifeMy Profile

  5. I used to not budget, but based on experience, budgeting has done so many things in my life. I have managed to save up more than I used to, which is really a good thing, but there comes a time that I get bored to check up on my budget. But, I gotta do it if I want to keep up with it and reach my financial goals.

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