There are so many different ways to organize, prioritize, and classify your tasks and responsibilities. You’d probably need a couple years just to sort through all of them on your own. You can have an organizer on your computer, your phone, in your pocket, or a notebook. If you’re short of paper, you can just scribble on your hand.
Even with all of the new ways to get organized, the most effective tool for me is still the simple, classic “To Do” list. My to-do list is nothing fancy, just a list of things that I need to accomplish. For some reason, though, this list motivates me to be smart with my time and get things done.
One of the reasons these lists are so effective is because they help you define what needs to be done. One of my favorite things to put at the top of a to-do list is “start a to-do list” — that way I can cross something out right away! Nothing like building momentum right off the bat.
In fact, checklists are so powerful that they inspired an excellent book, The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande.
This principle can be applied in any aspect of life. You can use a to-do list at work, at home, or even in relation to different goals you have. My wife and I even have a sort of ‘Financial To-Do List,’ covering our money goals. It has helped us get started and avoid wasting time.
A to-do list is particularly power when it comes to finances.
The Benefits of a Financial Checklist
The list helps us know what bills need to be paid and when they’re due, what major tasks or purchases we might have coming up, and — perhaps most importantly — when we’re going to be paid. A well-defined to-do list answers all of the questions about what needs to be done and when. This helps you use your time more effectively.
Get More Done
Because we’re using our time more effectively, we can use time in more productive ways. For example, we might have spent hours poring over our budget or trying to find the electric bill. Instead, our newfound organization allows us to avoid these little time wasters and streamlines the process. We can get back to making money, fine-tuning our savings strategies, and looking for new ways to cut back. Or, we can quit thinking about money altogether and just go enjoy ourselves for a bit.
Meet Your Goals
We have all sorts of tasks on our list, both big and small. An easy way to design a strategy like this (if you’re using a word processing program or a notebook) is to use a list:
- Big Goal 1
- Little Goal A
- Little Goal B
- Big Goal 2
For example, if your big goal is to save $1,000 for your emergency fund, your To-Do list could look like this:
- Save $1,000 Emergency Fund
- Save $75 from each bi-weekly paycheck for 4 months ($600)
- Take lunch to work 2/wk for 4 months and add savings ($25/wk) to emergency fund
See how easy that is? Now you’ve got a goal, and you know exactly what you need to do for it! Of course, you can substitute in anything you like.
The beauty of these lists is that they are completely scalable — that is, they grow with you. If you finish your emergency savings goal, you can just start your next goal: “Pay off car debt” or whatever it is on the next line. Figure out how you’re going to do it, and break the big “to-do” down into smaller tasks. Then, you’re well on your way to leveraging your simple list as an effective financial tool.
The Financial Checklist
Your specific to-do list will depend on your circumstances. That said, here are some Financial Checklist ideas to get you started:
Money Management Checklist
- Create a budget
- Compare your budget to actual spending
- Balance your checkbook
- Balance your credit card account
- Conduct a spending audit
Credit & Debt Checklist
- Check your credit score (here’s how)
- Check your credit report for errors
- Refinance credit card debt to 0% (here are current 0% offers)
- Consider refinancing school loans
- Consider refinancing a mortgage
- Use the debt avalanche to pay down your debt
Banking & Credit Cards
- Eliminate checking account fees
- Confirm that your savings account offers a high yield (here are some options)
- Set up direct deposit
- Make sure your credit cards pay excellent rewards (here are our favorite cash back cards)
- Check the fees of your investments
- Confirm your asset allocation aligns with your investment goals
- Rebalance your portfolio
- Max out your 401k
- Max out your IRA
- Consider an HSA if you have a high deductible insurance plan
You don’t need anything special to start a to-do list. You can put it on a piece of paper in your wallet, a whiteboard in your kitchen, or keep it on your phone or computer. The “Financial To-Do” list is a completely customizable, easy-to-use money (and life) tool for anyone.
That being said, there is one free tool worth considering: Asana. Asana is a free online tool that tracks tasks. It allows you to create a team and assign tasks to team members. For couples, it can be a great way to share, save, delegate, and organize information on anything.
There are several reasons why Asana is perfect for a financial checklist:
- It’s free
- It’s easy to use
- Tasks can be scheduled to recur on a regular basis (e.g., rebalance your investments once a year)
- You can attach spreadsheets and other files to a task
- You can leave comments for each task, perfect for communicating with your significant other
However you approach a Financial Checklist, and whatever tools you use, it can be a great way to improve your finances over the next year.
Published or updated January 2, 2017.