How to give yourself a money check-up

In a world that sometimes feels a bit out of control, take charge of your money by taking an in-depth look at your finances.

Make sure you’re in the right frame of mind

Don’t decide to deep-dive into your finances on a whim. Trying to squeeze in time at the end of a busy day or when the kids are running around will only make it a stressful experience. Set aside some specific time when you know you won’t have any distractions and will be able to focus. It’s not something you need to do every week, but it’s worth popping on your to-do list every few months.

Do your homework

To get a true picture of your money situation, you’ll need to pull together some paperwork or electronic records. You’ll want a record of your recent spending, household bills, receipts and invoices. Your transaction history on internet banking is a good place to start. Our bills calculator can also help jog your memory about less regular household expenses, like insurance or rates.

When you’re going through your spending, try to identify spending habits and categorise things into essentials and non-essentials. Then, break those down again into sub-categories, like household bills, entertainment, clothes, takeaways etc. You might be surprised at how much you’re spending on a particular category (local dairy, I’m looking at you).

Quick tip

Unsubscribe: If you’re surprised at how much you’ve been spending at your favourite shops, unsubscribe from their emails. Stopping notifications about their latest products or sales is an easy way to remove temptation.

Switch things up for a better deal

Once you know what you’re spending your money on you can start to make decisions about what you want to, or can afford to, change. Small, daily changes, like cutting down on your coffees and bought lunches or getting rid of subscription services will obviously help, but you might find that looking at bigger ticket items will lead to bigger financial gains. So to that end, make sure you’re not paying more than you need to for your household bills, bank accounts or insurance.

Get your recent bills, see how much you’ve been spending and, if you’re not locked into a fixed-term contract, start looking around for better deals. Sites like powerswitch.org.nz will help you compare power prices, while moneyhub.co.nz has comparison tools for things like motoring and broadband deals. If you find a better deal, ring your current provider and see if they’ll match or better it. If they won’t, be prepared to walk.

Check your accounts, cards and insurance

When it comes to your banking, make sure you’ve got the right accounts and credit cards for your needs. For example, using a savings account for your everyday transactions will lead to unnecessary fees. Savings accounts are designed to encourage you to save, so they’ll charge fees when you make withdrawals. Everyday accounts, on the other hand, are meant for your day-to-day spending. You can compare accounts and fees, to work out which ones might be best suited to your circumstances.

It's also worth taking a look at things like your credit card. Think about how you use it. Are you trying to earn rewards like Air New Zealand Airpoints™­, or are low fees or low interest rates more important? Compare credit card rates and fees and make sure you've got the right one for your circumstances.

Take the time to review your insurance as well. Make sure you've got the right cover, that you're not paying for more than you need to, but that you also have cover for the things you need.

Quick tip

Plan ahead: Decide on your weekly meals in advance and then plan your grocery shopping accordingly. That way you’ll only buy what you’ll use, leading to less waste of both money and food.

Budgeting

Once you’ve identified your potential savings, you can take a look at your budget. A budget isn’t a tool that’s designed to cut out all spending, rather it’s a way for you to plan where your money goes. The aim is to take control of your money, so you know where it’s going, you’re not aimlessly frittering away your hard-earned cash and you’re making the most of it in a mindful way.

Set aside savings

Part of your budget might be allocated to savings. If you want to build up some savings, put your money aside in a separate account, so it’s harder to spend. Treat your savings as a bill that has to be paid and set up an automatic payment to go out after each pay day.

If your lack of savings is keeping you awake at night, or you’re worried about your job security, it might pay to go hard with your savings for a couple of months while you build up an initial buffer. Some short term pain in terms of living a quiet life might be worth it for the peace of mind of seeing a rising balance in your emergency fund.

Once your rainy day savings get to a level that makes you feel more comfortable you could always loosen the financial reins a little and let a few treats back into your budget. The key is to have a plan for your spending, so if you want to buy clothes or go to the pub, you can do it with money you’ve specifically set aside to do so. That way you’ll see your savings grow, but will also be able to indulge in planned, and guilt-free, spending if you want to.

Free budgeting help

If you’ve run your numbers and find you’re spending more than you’re earning, and can’t see where you can cut back, it might be worth talking to a budgeting advisor. You can get free budgeting advice from Money Talks or your local Citizens Advice Bureau can also help with budgeting services.

Quick tip

Spend-free days: Challenge yourself to a day (or more) each week where you don’t spend any money. Maybe leave your EFTPOS or credit cards at home so you’re not tempted if you’re out and about.