A Free Tool that can Help You Take Charge of Your Finances

You might be wondering, “What does personal finance have to do with adventuring?” Everything. Your personal finances affect not only which adventures you can afford, but also how long you get to go adventuring and how much you get to enjoy the experience. By being in charge of your personal finances, you can maximize all three of these areas.

Many adventures can be had for free or for only a minimal cost. Why don’t more people take advantage of them? Many people just don’t have the time; they’re too busy working to pay the bills. Others might have the time but are too stressed about their finances to enjoy an adventure if they were on one.

Are you one of those people? Do you spend too much time worrying about your finances, or working to pay off debt? I can help you. There is one small secret to taking control of your finances. Once you are in charge of your money, you can pay off your debt and then save up to afford the adventure of your dreams. It will take time, and it will not be easy, but you can afford any adventure that you can think of. Are you ready for the secret?

“Spend less than you make.”

It’s not impressive, and it’s not complicated. However, it can still be quite challenging, especially in today’s credit culture. Applied correctly, this one idea is enough to get out of any amount of debt and build up substantial savings, while providing great peace of mind.

Let’s start with a couple of important questions, whose answers might surprise you. Do you know how much you spend each month? Do you know where that money goes? I know that my wife and I did not expect the results we got when we started tracking our expenses after getting married. We discovered that 20% of our grocery bill is spent on individual $1-5 purchases. This means that if we were to create a weekly menu, buy all of the necessary ingredients over the weekend, and quit making ice cream runs, we could save that 20%. That dollar amount is more than it costs us to go camping all weekend, including the tank of gas. The ice cream wasn’t that good!

We have met many people who are surprised at how much they spend eating out. A $5 coffee every day adds up pretty quick! ($5 * 30 = $150 a month in java!) Add in another $5 for lunch and that’s $300 a month, not including suppers and snacks. We purchased an expresso machine and carry our lunches most days and save a couple hundred dollars a month. Once we saw how much it costs to eat out every day, it was a no-brainer for us; we have more important things to spend our money on.

It’s not hard to track your expenses and discover how much you spend where. All you really need is a sheet of paper and a pen. Write down how much you spend, and what on. Keep the “what on” categories separated, and at the end of the month just add up all of the numbers. Viola! Now you know how much you spend.

While it doesn’t get much simpler than that, it does get easier. When I first started tracking my money, I did as stated above, but used a spreadsheet instead of a piece of paper. It wasn’t long before I started adding features to my simple spreadsheet. Eventually I ended up with a system that allows me to not only know where my money is being spent, but which account it comes from (while balancing those accounts), a budgeting system, and it keeps a running monthly average that helps me create an accurate budget.

Get your copy of this spreadsheet here (directions included), so that you can start taking control of your finances. I want you to go on that dream adventure of yours. All you have to do is simply keep your receipt for each purchase you make and enter the amount into the spreadsheet (I save all of mine for a week or so). Once you know how much you are spending and have identified some areas you can cut back, do so. It might not be easy to see these places, but they are there. After tracking for a couple of months, you can create a realistic budget (this might include cutting back on some of your spending) and then use the tracking to help you stick to it.

Once you have cut back on your spending, you can take that “extra money” and apply it towards paying off your debt (besides the mortgage). Pay only the minimum on all of your bills, except the smallest, where you will focus. Apply the rest of your money towards this smallest debt. Once it is paid off, focus on the next smallest. Repeat until debt free. This debt snowball (the payment amount grows larger as it keeps going, like a snowball rolling downhill) can reduce staggering amounts of debt in an excitingly short time.

Why pay off your debt first? You don’t only want to have the money for your adventure, but you also want to be able to relax and enjoy it. Once your bills are paid off, once you are free of debt, a stress will lift off your shoulders, a stress that you might not even know you had. Your adventure will be sweeter without the specter of debt hovering over you.

Since your expenditures have been cut back, and your debt is gone, you can now live on less money. This means that your time can be freed up by working less. Overtime is not necessary anymore! (Unless you want to save up for something.)

This is the point that my wife and I are nearly at and are striving to reach. We need work only a minimal amount of hours each week to meet our financial needs. Our only debt consists of student loans (which are not currently due). We have the time available to go on adventures because work does not take up our lives; through planning and working a bit extra we can afford those adventures; since we do not have loan payments due, we can thoroughly enjoy ourselves. Once we finish college, we will focus our energies on knocking out the school loans, then we’ll be able to apply that money towards even grander adventures. All that from counting pennies!

If you want more advice on taking control of your finances, I highly recommend Dave Ramsey’s books. Or you can pick them up at your local library. 😀

3 thoughts on “A Free Tool that can Help You Take Charge of Your Finances

  1. Skylab says:

    Wow. I love the spreadsheet! I’ve created spreadsheets for my entire budget as well. Helps me keep track of my finances pretty easily.

    Great advice on paying debt first. This is extremely importaint. Saving while having debt will make you lose money. The interest on debt will always be higher then the savings account.

    • Matthew says:

      Glad that you like the spreadsheet! I’ve been using it for some time now and it’s worked out very well for me.
      Getting rid of debt is a crucial part of financial health as debt is crippling (as we’re seeing in the current economy).

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