oThe question you must ask now is what else do you want to pass on to the reader of this status report? Remember you should keep the scope of the section to be within the realm of Personal Finance (might not be the best place to complain to your spouse about their hygiene or their ability to show up on time).
A couple of other sections to think about adding to the report might be:
- What is in the Safety Deposit box? We have a safety deposit box that has some important documents and some securities in it, but if you don’t tell your spouse about it (and maybe where the key to it is) how can they get access to it in an emergency? If you have a home strong box, or safe or you have some important documents frozen in some ground meat in the basement, you might want to mention that here.
- Status of your will(s)? Do you have an up to date will? If you don’t you might want to mention that to your spouse, and then go out and fix that problem.
- Retired Debts in this Quarter which are important to remember. Simply forgetting about a retired debt, doesn’t allow you the satisfaction of celebrating the debt’s demise, and it also helps your reader to know that you are working towards actually getting solvent.
With all of this information you have collected there is no way anyone reading this document could say, “I don’t know where we stand financially”, but you might need to create a “Conclusions and Recommendations” section, and that we can talk about tomorrow.
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Now that we have gone through and carefully accounted for all income in the family, insurance, investment assets and other assets, now is the time to figure out the other half of the picture.
If you know what you have and what is coming in, you need to know how much and why money is going out.
- Debts : What do you owe money on?
- Mortgage, how much do you owe, how much are the monthly payments and when is this thing going to get paid off?
- Lines of Credit : do you owe? how much? when will it be paid off?
- Car loan: balance, monthly payments, pay off date
- Credit Cards : please don’t tell me you are carrying debt here? If you are what your plan is to pay it off and when, and how much you’ll have to spend to do it.
- Yearly Large Payments: I tend to lump these into this category
- Taxes on my house
- Car Insurance payment
- House Insurance payment
- Monthly Payments is an interesting section, and the meat of figuring out how much money you actually spend. I end up doing some math to figure out how much some of my “monthly” payments are, because some of them I actually pay bi-weekly (because I get paid bi-weekly).Some examples for this:
- Mortgage or Apartment Rent
- Heating (oil, gas, whatever)
- Cable TV (or satellite)
- Telephone(s) (Home and/or Cellular)
- Internet access charges
- Charitable Donations
- Life Insurance payments
- Savings or payments to investment vehicles
- Car payments
- Weekly payments, was a section my wife asked me to add so she could understand what was being spent week by week in the house, so it is mostly the same as the above list except now split by a week to week schedule. This schedule can show you at what times of the month you may be spending the most money.
Now that you have written all your spending down, you will now have a good feeling for how much money you are actually spending, which is usually where your Financial Plan must address. You must be brutally honest with yourself and whoever reads this report in this area if this tool is going to help you figure out where your finances stand.
Tomorrow, the final section and the wrap up on the report and what you should be doing with it.
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Now that we have decided how we are going to do the report (i.e. what tool we will use to report the information), we need to now decide what information we need to have in this report.In these situations I typically over-do it in terms of how much information to put in the report, it is much easier to remove data later than it is to add it later.
Today, let’s just figure out the macro information, or section headers for our report and then in the coming days we can expand on those sections that we outline here, I will even put in some information about the areas that I put in my report (yes I really do this one).
Financial Report Sections
Remember these sections are the starting point and should be easy for whoever is reading it to look in the areas they really want to, or get a good overview of where you are financially.
- Title Page: I like a title page which has maybe a 1 phrase statement about the quarter (or an abstract if you are so inclined) along with a date for when the report was written. Remember you might come across this at a later date, and if you don’t know when you wrote it, it isn’t really worth too much to you.
- Income Statement: the best way to figure out how much money is coming into your house is by figuring out where it is all coming from. Remember if your spouse works include that as well, you want the entire income picture.
- How are you stating this? If you get paid every two weeks, are you stating this as a monthly income? That is what I do, just because it is easier to look at a month at a time instead of just 2 weeks.
- Life Insurance : What kind of life insurance do you have for you and on you? What is it worth? Does your spouse know who it is with, or what the policy number is? Shouldn’t they?
- Do you have insurance on your spouse? How much for? Policy Number?
- How about disability insurance, or accidental death or dismemberment that your company may cover you with?
- Do you have life insurance on your kids? If so, with who and for how much?
- This is essential for your spouse to know this, as it is for you too.
- Other Insurance:
- If you have a home, who is it insured with, and for how much? If you have an apartment, same question.
- If you have a car, who is it insured with and for how much? Remember the policy numbers too.
- Pension: Do you have a pension? How much is it worth right now (as a lump sum, if you got laid off)? Does your spouse have one? What is it worth as a lump sum?
- Investments and Retirement Funds: List every single savings, investment and retirement account that you have, and what their current balances are. The amount of money you have in those might surprise you, and remember to include the pertinent information about the accounts as well. Do you have Stock Options? Are they worth anything now (why haven’t you cashed them in then)? Do you have spousal retirement funds? Find them ALL, it’s important to find them all.
- Education Savings Funds: If you have RESPs, how much are in those? I make these separate from my investment tools and funds, because I view this as the kids money, and don’t want to include them with my list of assets. Do the kids have savings accounts that relatives have put money in? How much is in those?
- Other Tangible Real Value Assets: Like what you ask?
- Your house, how much is it worth (check your city taxes, they will have the estimated value of your house).
- Do you have any art? How much is it insured for? That is an asset
- I don’t count cars, since I view those as lost value as soon as I buy them. You can if you want to.
- Any other odd things you might own.
Now you have figured out what your income is, and what your current value is.
- Debts and liabilities and outgoing moneys.
Choose Your Tool Carefully
I have grown accustomed to using Microsoft Powerpoint for doing status reports, so I defaulted into using it to create my quarterly financial status report. It is an easy tool for me to use, and that is the main reason I use it.
Having said that, no one should get married to this tool as an information delivery mechanism, your quarterly status report could easily be done using a spreadsheet like Excel or in a Word document, or even just in a plain text file, don’t get hung up or intimidated by the information delivery mechanism that you use, just choose something that you feel comfortable with (that will allow you to pass information in a clear and concise way).
The Information Is The Message
I will repeat myself, the information that you are passing on is the most important thing here. You want to make sure your information is:
- Concise: I could simply print out my entire Quicken chequing log and hand it to my spouse and tell her to read it, however, that is not what we are trying to do here. Hit the high points and get the information you are trying to pass on into a manageable and concise report.
- Clear: what is the most important message you are trying to get across? If your credit card debt is out of control, you need to highlight that message and get it across to your spouse, family or to yourself.
- Convenient: the report must be easy to read and understand, or your work is lost on the reader.
- Not Condescending: you could use this report as an iron fist to point out flaws in the family financial plan, that might work, or it might get you a nice warm spot with the dog out on the back deck as well. Try to stick to passing information, and don’t add judgemental comments like, “Boy did you screw up here” in any part of the report.
You are trying to open lines of communication about a very sensitive topic to a lot of people: Personal Finance.
- I don’t know how to write reports, what should I be writing about? Let me give you a few ideas.
When I was a younger, brasher young man, I felt status reports at work were the biggest waste of my time. I railed against the idea of simply telling people what I was doing in a report, weren’t they smart enough to see all the good work I was doing? I would usually be quite sarcastic in my reports, and most likely didn’t do myself any favors in helping impress people who might have read those reports (say my boss, or my co-workers).
As time passed, I figured out that many times my co-workers and boss really didn’t know what the heck I did, because they were too damn busy doing what they were doing, and that they relied on status reports from me to figure out whether the project was succeeding or not. This “revelation” was not an overnight thing for me it took a few years (as with most things, I tend to make the same mistakes a few times). What finally made me realize the importance of status reports was:
- Inevitably, I would be asked by other people about something that I had worked on and achieved, and I was then able to point that person at my status report, where they could see what had happened, and they could stop bothering me.
- I started reading other people’s status reports (OK the ones of the people who I thought were worth reading) and started seeing how much they were doing as well.
- I started reading my own status reports and figured out that I was actually doing a lot of work (when a lot of times I thought I was wasting my time).
- I got a good HR review in a year where I thought I hadn’t done much, because they knew everything I did, due to my status reports.
What does all this mean? Communication of information to a large number of people or even to one person needs to be done in a concise and readable report.
What does this have to do with Personal Finances
A while ago I read from another blogger about how they did a regular Personal Finance status report for their spouse so that:
- The spouse would know all about their current financial standing, which is really important, especially if you have a spouse who attempts to eschew such “mundane topics” as your personal finances. It is a lot harder to ignore something written and handed to you.
- The person writing the Personal Finance Status Report has to collect all of the pertinent data about the couple (or family’s) personal finances and they have to figure out what is going on. This is incredibly important for those of us who procrastinate about such topics as well.
Over the next few days I will outline my quarterly financial status report that I give to my wife, and she and I actually review together. I think it has helped us get closer to a situation where we both know what is going on with our Personal Finances.
I am not claiming this is something original to me, simply putting forward an idea for folks to try out themselves and see how it might go.