Master Your Money with a Financial Health Day

Howdy, folks. I'm writing you from a hotel room in Charlottesville, Virginia. All alone. My wife kicked me out of the house.

But it's a good thing.

You see, for reasons too boring to enumerate, it's been a topsy-turvy few months in the Brokamp household, and my “to do” pile has really piled up. It was beginning to affect stress level, and threatening my remaining hair follicles (which are already an endangered species). So my wife found a hotel for me, reserved it for two nights, and kicked me and my “to do” pile out of the house.

And it's been great. I've filled every garbage pail in the room, along with a trash bag I brought along with me. I've consolidated my lists, organized papers into folders, prioritized my various responsibilities, and fine-tuned my task-management system — all without the interruptions of kids, household chores, or the Wii.

My weekend away was all about my job, but if you're having trouble tackling all those nagging financial tasks, perhaps it's time you take a “personal finance retreat.” And you don't have to go away; you just have to stay home on a day (or two) when no one else will bother you.

One of my colleagues recently did this. Motley Fool senior editor Denise Coursey took a one-week “stay-cation” to conquer her list of tasks. On the financial side, she changed her family cell-phone plan, opened a new bank account, set up direct deposit and auto bill pay, signed up with Mint, and created a budget. Besides streamlining her money management, Denise estimates that her financial retreat will save her $1,000 to $2,000.

In July, New York Times columnist Ron Lieber wrote about his own “financial health day,” which involved getting a will, opening a higher-yielding savings account at SmartyPig, and submitting flexible-spending receipts. He figures his day off will save his family $2,000, and he plans to make it an annual tradition.

Crossing off the items on your financial to-do list might require more vim and vigor than you have at the end of the day. Plus, many tasks require getting a human being on the phone, which is not always easy at 10 p.m. So maybe you, too, can increase your net worth and decrease your stress level by taking a financial health day. Here are eight tips for what to do, and how to do it.

1. Build Your Financial Control Center
One of the biggest impediments to completing any task is not having everything you need when you need it. Somewhere in your home, assemble your financial control center — a working area that has all the files, forms, statements, and passwords you need to get the job done. According to productivity guru David Allen (author of Getting Things Done), “The workspace should function like a cockpit — all the controls easily accessible as required, allowing for maximum focus on the work at hand.” And don't forget the important tools: Before the big day(s), get thee to an office supply store to stock up on pens, printer paper and cartridges, stamps, sticky notes, folders, envelopes, tape, legal pads, and reference materials. Eliminate the speed bumps of having to get out of your seat or run to the store to get what you need.

2. Build That Budget
If you've always thought you should analyze your past spending and plan your future spending (i.e., budget) but never had the time, here's your chance. Fire up that spreadsheet, or give personal finance software like Quicken or Mint for a spin.

3. Get All That You're Due
Do you need to submit flexible-spending receipts, insurance claims, expense reports, or (gasp!) tax returns?

4. Prevent Future Expenses
Avoid penalties by renewing soon-to-expire licenses and registrations, sending in upcoming insurance premiums, and paying parking tickets or any other expenses that will cost even more if you procrastinate.

5. Take Time to Comparison Shop
Do you know which of your local grocery stores has the best prices? Are you paying too much for your cell phone? Could you get a better deal on your gym membership? Are you getting the most perks on your credit card?

6. Prioritize Your List
Financial housekeeping often takes longer than you think it will. So spend some time the night before ordering these tasks…moving those with the biggest financial payoff to the top of your list. Also, prioritize projects that can only be accomplished during normal business hours.

7. Be Ready to Multitask
You may be spending a lot of time on hold, navigating customer-service phone trees and waiting to be recorded for quality-assurance purposes. Have another task ready to work on while you're waiting to speak with a human being.

8. Put On Your Blinders
This day is for financial housekeeping only. Turn off the cell phone, ignore Facebook, and don't check your email.

9. Get Away From It All
Make your financial health day a real retreat by doing it somewhere else. Go to a hotel, bed and breakfast, a friend's vacation home — somewhere with no distractions. Bring all the paperwork you'll need. This is especially good for higher-order tasks, such as mapping out financial and career goals.

p.s. There's still time (but not much) to fight pediatric cancer and make fun of my mustache.

J.D.'s note: I've been preaching the virtues of scheduling a Money Day for three years now! I think this is an excellent way to make time to tackle those financial chores you've been neglecting.

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Craig Ford
Craig Ford
10 years ago

What a great idea. Since it is so hard to find time in your regular schedule I love the idea of planning a chunk of time to do financial house keeping.

Lesley
Lesley
10 years ago

We’ve been doing something similar for a very long time. Once a year (most years, anyway), we both take a week off work and that week is used to do a wide variety of household tasks. We might organize the basement storage room, schedule annual maintenance tasks such as the furnace, and as part of it we spend a couple days reviewing all our bills and looking for savings, sending in for credit reports, cleaning our filing system of old stuff that no longer needs to be kept, etc. We both find that we go back to work feeling re-energized… Read more »

Adam
Adam
10 years ago

I think it’s beneficial to involve your spouse in the “Financial Health Day” as well. When you are dealing with important financial decisions such as creating a will, setting a budget, etc., having the other person give their two cents is crucial to a healthy marriage. I think I am going to set a date up with my wife right now!

lostAnnfound
lostAnnfound
10 years ago

This is an excellent idea. I particularly like the last suggestion of doing your ‘financial health day’ someplace else. It would very easy to get distracted from the task if one were doing it at home (kids, phone, family/friends dropping by, etc). That way all of your energy is focused on taking care of the financial task.

Tyler Tervooren
Tyler Tervooren
10 years ago

I think Adam (#3) is right. If you’re just getting organized, a personal day by yourself might be just what you need to finally file that stack of papers and get your accounts organized. If you’re making big, life affecting changes though, I’d think it better to treat it as more of a “family” holiday than a personal one. Robert, glad you found (or were forced to find) the time to get things in order. I automate the bejeezus out of my finances and like to devote an afternoon every month or so to making sure everything is working like… Read more »

maria
maria
10 years ago

JD: I want to read a post about how many bank accounts is too many. And how to master threaa loans, four funds etc.

And I also would like to read about how to find the power to save again after getting into debt again (for a good reason) after being almost free of debt.

I love your blog!

Four Pillars
Four Pillars
10 years ago

Sounds like a great idea.

I’m sure my wife would be fine with it….as long as I took the kids with me. 🙂

ami | 40daystochange
ami | 40daystochange
10 years ago

Sounds like a great investment of time, especially the first time you do it – when hopefully you get everything – or at least the biggest things – captured and organized. Then all you have to do afterwards is periodic check-ins.

Suzanne
Suzanne
10 years ago

I do this every year on New Year’s Day (or one of the days of weekend that I have off). I look at how I did the previous year vs. my goals, I look at where I am, and I set new goals for the next year. I track and update my budget on a regular basis. What I will try to take from this post is to put time aside for the “financial to-dos”. In my case that would be claiming FSA reimbursements, filing my papers that pile up, cleaning out the files, etc. One of my to-dos that… Read more »

Joel Reese
Joel Reese
10 years ago

I just started thinking along these same lines recently. I used to be a huge sports fan — I watched several games a week, I read all the local and national columnists, I played in several fantasy leagues, etc. All the while, my financial life was going nowhere. So I thought about it and realized that I really wasn’t getting much from following sports so closely (especially as a Chicago sports fan!). So I cut back on it, didn’t join any fantasy leagues, and paid more attention to my money. Not only has it paid off financially, but it’s also… Read more »

KM @ Long-Distance Life blog
KM @ Long-Distance Life blog
10 years ago

I think this is a great idea, and not just for finances–the point being to set aside time to really buckle down and focus on something. Even if you can’t take time off of work, you can find little windows to get stuff done (set aside a Saturday just for finances–or if you can’t take a whole day, get up earlier than the rest of the household for one weekend to get things done, etc.). Renting a hotel room for myself when I was first attempting to undo my debt problems would have been a luxury I definitely couldn’t afford,… Read more »

kenyantykoon
kenyantykoon
10 years ago

This is a great idea. But i think that i will file this away for future reference since at he moment, my finances are organized in a somewhat orderly fashion. But i have a feeling that things are going to get slightly complicated in the next coming months and the advice in this post will come in handy. I want to develop this good financial habits while my mind is still young and impressionable so that i wont have to deal with potentially catastrophic money issues in the future

Foxie || CarsxGirl
Foxie || CarsxGirl
10 years ago

I do something similar every once in a while…. I just clear an entire day and dedicate it to getting some stuff done that’s been piling up and that I haven’t had time to do. On a daily basis, I usually assign a few tasks that work to do those. It’s better than having an awfully long list all the time! The change of scenery can be a big part of it, too. I was told that if I have problems studying, I should hit up a Starbucks or Barnes & Noble and do my studying there. The change of… Read more »

Ronna
Ronna
10 years ago

Hi JD,

Can you elaborate more on http://www.mint.com. How safe is it?

Love your blogs!
R

Meg
Meg
10 years ago

I love this idea! You absoloutely need a day (or even a week) off to scrutinize your budget and other aspects of your personal finance. I try to do it at night, after working all day, but I think you need a clear, refreshed approach to something as big as your budget.

Neel Kumar
Neel Kumar
10 years ago

Hi JD,
I would echo Ronna’s question. I have signed up for Mint.com but I cannot get myself to link accounts. I am afraid that the moment someone gets into my Mint account, they would have all my financial history open to them. Many of my friends are in a similar boat…

Dustin | Engaged Marriage
Dustin | Engaged Marriage
10 years ago

This is the second great post I’ve read today on time management. Of course, I’ve found both while procrastinating. 🙂

These are all great tips, but I struggle the most with #8. It’s a hard habit to change, but I think I need to start shutting down all the distractions when I need to be in the zone whether it be at my day job or when working on the Engaged Marriage blog.

Thanks for getting my thoughts headed in the right direction.

Rob Bennett
Rob Bennett
10 years ago

My wife and I made a practice of doing this on the weekend near New Year’s Day. We would go to a bed and breakfast and spend one day touring the town and the other writing our budget for the new year.

(We haven’t followed this exact practice since having kids. But we might be able to return to it in a few years.)

Rob

K at Resqdebt
K at Resqdebt
10 years ago

Excellent tips. Financial Health is an important concept. I’m glad you are talking about it.

Evolution Of Wealth
Evolution Of Wealth
10 years ago

I love the idea of a Money Day. JD you should pick a date or the second Saturday in January or something like that. Then the financial bloggers of the world could rally around and support Money Day. The day to cross as much things as possible off of your financial to do list. I think it’s a great idea and that now is as good a time as any to start it. Pass the word through social media and watch it grow.

Libby
Libby
10 years ago

Why are you in Charlottesville, VA? Strange little town to be in (I grew up there and went to college there so I can say that) of all the places in the US to be. There is so much to do there, I don’t think I could stay holed up in a hotel room.

Robert Brokamp
Robert Brokamp
10 years ago

Libby,

I was in Charlottesville because 1) it’s far enough from home (Alexandria), 2) it’s got coffee shops, and 3) it has good hikes/walks. I need to take a break every couple of hours, and a change of scenery does wonders for my creativity and frame of mind. And yes, I bring a notebook with me on the hikes/walks and noodle through a few things.

It is indeed a great place.

Tyler@Frugally Green
10 years ago

For those with security concerns about Mint, here’s an article from the NYT where the CEO addresses peoples’ concerns:

http://themedium.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/addressing-security-concerns-on-mintcom/

While it’s not for everyone, Mint has simplified my life substantially.

Patty - Why Not Start Now?
Patty - Why Not Start Now?
10 years ago

This is a great strategy, and I’ve used it before. I need to do this kind of financial retreat right now, in fact. But I’ve noticed lately that when I set aside a day or two for just this, I begin to feel overwhelmed and then don’t do it. So I’m trying a new strategy: setting aside smaller chunks of time over a period of a week or two. Maybe I’m struggling with this because I’m one of those creative types, and my creative energy is in full force right now. So I can’t always focus large chunks of time… Read more »

SBE
SBE
10 years ago

Greetings from Charlottesville (well, Crozet) Robert! Thanks for putting us on the map with your great post 🙂

David/Yourfinances101
David/Yourfinances101
10 years ago

Wow!

I wish my wife would kick me out of the house for a day. I could get all of this done, and more…

John P.
John P.
10 years ago

Hey Robert, I really like your idea, especially the part about being prepared ahead of time with what you want to accomplish. Sometimes it’s almost like we need a “prep day” just to get ready for the “money retreat day!” I’m a financial professional with Northwestern Mutual, and many of my clients like to meet with me on these days off when they are working through some financial issue, or as you called it, their “financial health day.” I’m not sure how many view it as that, or understand the value of it as you shared, but it is so… Read more »

Melinda Hancock
Melinda Hancock
10 years ago

I found this website – http://www.peoplesfinancialadviosor.com and run a Financial Assessment online for free. In 2-3 minutes I got a picture of where I am financially.

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