My mother and I have recently started the journey to retirement together.
By together, I mean that she’s starting to consider retiring in the next few years, while I’m realizing just how much help she’s going to need in order to get there. I’m up to the challenge, but it’s going to be a lot of work.
She’s a long-term state employee, so she’s eligible for both a pension and Social Security benefits. That’s the easy part. The challenge is in figuring out her budget and the rest of her financial situation, which lies obscured within a heap of unopened envelopes.
Luckily for Mom, most of her bills are set up for automatic payment, but her propensity to ignore an entire year’s worth of mail is disturbing. During a visit to her home last week, I asked for more information on her investments, and she just shrugged and pointed me to the pile. She’s got no idea what investments she owns, nor any estimate of their value.
To me, this is completely unacceptable. I know instantly that because she’s not even aware of what monies come in or out, she’s presently living above her means. I know this because I learned her savings account has been dwindling, but she’s been blissfully unaware of that as well.
So, how to fix it?
I use a combination of Mint and Fidelity’s Full View for my own finances, but I wanted to find something similar for Mom. Enter Yodlee MoneyCenter (click for demo), which some awesome readers told me about a while back.
I signed Mom up, then grabbed a letter opener and blazed my way through the stack. It wasn’t quick, since I needed to set up online access for every single one of her accounts, but I armed Mom with the telephone and talked her through the endless security questions. Before we hung up, we asked each customer service rep the same thing: “What kind of account is this, and what restrictions do I need to be aware of?”
We were able to set up most of the accounts immediately, and as I added them into Yodlee, I jotted in notes on information we’d gotten on the phone: “Variable Annuity IRA – No restrictions” or “Mutual Fund Accounts – 20 trades per year.” You can see samples of this in the screenshot below.
Once I was through making sense of her investments, I moved on to the unopened bills and added her credit cards, cable bills, etc., adding notes for the ones which are automatically paid. We certainly will need to do some consolidating there; I aim to simply her finances so she can begin to understand them.
For the few accounts we cannot access online, I created manual entries so we can at least factor them in. I plan to add her house and car as assets next week so we can get a true picture of her net worth, but for now, I have what I need for the next step: an organized way to view Mom’s finances and accounts so I can start to get an idea of what her earning and spending behaviors really look like. Ultimately, I’m going to print out this dashboard and take it to a financial advisor to ensure that her investments are properly allocated.
But first, I need to do an income and expense chart so I can work out a monthly budget. Without a sense of what she spends today, we’ll never know what she’ll need to live in retirement. Plus, if I can make Mom more conscious of her spending, she might identify some areas where she can reign things in a bit, helping her to live more within her means today. Yodlee MoneyCenter helps with this too — I can categorize her past expenses and then set and track budget goals for each category.
Yodlee MoneyCenter was definitely the right tool for the job, and now that we’re organized, we’re ready for that next step: a trip to the Social Security office. Stay tuned!
Updated March 21, 2011 and originally published January 18, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @flexo on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.