Maintain Your Financial Sanity in Under 30 Minutes

Not long ago, I found myself $11,000 in the hole.


Not long ago, I found myself $11,000 in the hole. At first, the incredible weight of my debt was a huge surprise. I had never been a big spender. My wardrobe consists of work uniforms, two pairs of pants, and a few shirts. I own a decent car, but I do not spend anything more on it than a regular oil change. I also do not hold wild, lavish parties in my backyard during the weekends. It just didn’t make sense. There was no way that I was so deep in debt.

Yet, as I added the various balances of my credit cards, the numbers showed something different. I may not have been living an extravagant lifestyle, but I was still $11,000 in debt. As I tried to grasp this new reality, all I kept thinking was, “How did this happen? How did I let it get this bad without noticing?”

Here is what I found out: I had spent a lot on supposedly small, insignificant items here and there. Over time, these “small” things had piled up and somehow transformed into a seemingly inescapable $11,000 black hole.

I recently paid that debt off, but I had to slog through two full-time jobs for several months just to get my head above water. After finally climbing out of the financial pit I had buried myself in, I realized that I never wanted to end up there again. So, newly freed from the burden of my debt, I looked through my past, trying to discover where I had gone wrong.

What I found, was that as much as I was never a huge spender, I was also never a responsible spender. I, like many others, had made the mistake of not keeping any track of my finances, and because of that tiny lapse in judgment, I didn’t how poorly I spent my money until it was too late.

As I look back on it now, I recognize how easy it was for me to pile on the debt. But I have since come to realize how easy it is to maintain a balanced budget and eliminate the stress of debt all-together.

Here is how I learned to keep myself from going down the same $11,000 pit.

1. Download the Evernote app.

Evernote is a lifesaving-app, in general, and it is an absolutely helpful tool in keeping your finances in check. The cool thing about Evernote is it lets you create different types of notebooks under your account. Once you have downloaded Evernote, create a notebook devoted solely to your personal finances, Evernote’s search feature will make it easy for you to track down specific dates or amounts in the future, and it’s just a good idea in general, to have your spending habits outlined in one place.

2. Determine how much you make in a month.

There is a website I use to find out how much I would really make in a month. And by that, I mean your actual take-home pay, minus taxes. It’s called All you need to do on Paycheckcity is enter your salary information, and the site will do all the tax calculations for you. This way you’ll at least have a general idea of how much money you will be making when you designate how much money you are planning your budget with.

3. Create a template of your monthly or weekly budget.

Budgeting is one of those things that you say you’ll do as part of your New Year’s resolution, but then completely forget about the following week. But it really is necessary to keep your financial sanity. Budgeting is where the hacking and cutting of unnecessary expenses comes in. Take your time in doing this, and be honest with yourself about what you actually need versus what you just want. You can, and really should, create a budget for your materialistic urges. It’s better to have money set aside for the things that you really want, rather than restrict yourself from not buying anything at all. We’re going for sustainability here, and attempting to abstain from speding all together is a recipe for disaster.

Once you have created your initial budget, create a template that you can follow from week to week, or month to month. Every week, when you do your budget, all you have to do is copy and paste your template onto a new Evernote note, and make the necessary deductions, such as expenses and bills due for that week.

4. Check your accounts each week

This may seem obvious, but I have to emphasize how important it is to keep tabs on your spending habits. It will also make things easier if you have online access to your accounts.

When checking on your accounts, remember this nugget of advice: do not just look at your present or current balance. Repeat. Do not just look at your present or current balance.

The present balance is the number you immediately see once you open your account. Instead, look at your available balance or credit, which you can easily find by looking into your account information.

It is important to look at your available credit or balance because the current credit or balance takes several days to get updated. Therefore, looking at just the current balance might end up throwing you off when you do your budget the following week.

If you have been using a credit card, it may be a little complicated to track your weekly expenses. But just stay with me.

  • First, you need to subtract your credit limit with your available credit for the week. If you are doing this for the first time, that’s OK. Just record your result and save it for next week.
  • Then, when you do your accounting again the following week, simply subtract your results from the previous week from the current week. This amount is your weekly expense.

Ideally, you should have as few credit cards as possible. I recommend cutting up all but one credit card if possible, so you won’t be tempted to spend more than you actually have. Also, use your remaining credit card in emergency situations only.

5. Create a plan to cure yourself of deficits.

Deficits are bad when you hear politicians talk about them in the news. And they are most definitely bad for you. After you have made a decision to turn your financial situation around, take the time to think about how you will pay for your outstanding debt.

You might realize you need to take on a second job or start a small part-time side business. Putting in more work may sound intimidating, but don’t sweat. Consider your deficit reduction plan as a temporary thing, a small price to pay in exchange for a lifelong freedom from debt.

Keeping your finances in order can be tough at first, but it is a skill that can be learned. And it is a skill worth learning. It just might save you.