Journaling for Financial Planning

Finance Planning Workshop - calligraphyLook - nobody likes talking about money. It's like that advert for a high street bank where ordinary people sit around looking uncomfortable and saying 'um…' and 'well…' Maybe it's because we don't have enough (or think we don't). Or because our upbringing taught us that talking about it is rude, or that - for some strange reason - combing through bank and credit card statements (if we can bear to open them) is not a very exciting way of spending an hour or two.

Financial planning isn't everybody's cup of tea. But a bit of forethought in the cash department can make the whole money situation much easier to bear. You'll find that yes, you can pay the gas bill without living off toast for a week; and that yes, you might just be able to afford that fortnight in Fuerteventura without sacrificing a new washing machine to replace the one that sounds like a 747 taking off.

But, oh, sitting down with a calculator and the laptop and some sort of app or spreadsheet to analyse figures is - ooh - soul destroying isn't it? Well actually, no, it doesn't have to be…

We all know that journaling has taken off like a rocket in the last year or so: its very flexibility has made it the perfect way of keeping track of all sorts of things, from weekend tasks and short-term goals to reasons to be cheerful. So why not your money? Helen of @journalwithpurpose popped along to show us how it's done. And while she was armed with her personally-chosen pack of Tombow ABT brush pens and a box of Uni-ball Emott fineliners, we brought up the rear with some Zebra Mildliners, a Kaco Ruma and a KUM Wavy ruler. All of them either colourful or quirky (or indeed both), and guaranteed to brighten up what would normally have been (but fortunately wasn't) a dull subject.

There's the basic money in, money out scenario: you earn X and you spend Y, and hopefully the value of X is greater than the value of Y. But if it's not, then what you need to do is break down what Y is made up of, and where you're possibly getting a bit carried away. Try using a journal to list all those expenses and then you can decide - when it's there, staring you in the face - what you could possibly do without.

Finance Planning Workshop - BudgetMaybe you already have a list of your expenses, and you still can't seem to make Y smaller than X. Either you need to look around for a better-paid job (or indeed a second one!) or you need to see where you might be making a few assumptions. 'I spend about £50 a week on food,' you think. In the words of Clint Eastwood's dirty Harry Callahan, well do you? Perhaps you actually spend £55. And maybe your phone tariff is £20, which is what you've budgeted for, but your monthly bill actually comes to more like £30. If you list your assumed expenses, and then - right alongside - list what you really pay for each one, you can gain a much better picture of your financial situation.

Journaling is the perfect tool for getting into the habit of saving, too. It might be just that you like to do something a little indulgent every month: a meal out in a posh restaurant, or a manicure, or a bottle of wine that costs more than the six quid you usually limit yourself to. Or perhaps your aims are a little higher: a trek to Peru in a couple of years' time, or a new car. You can create a chart to track your savings and rub your hands together in Scrooge-like glee when you see that figure increasing.

Budgeting and financial planning doesn't magic up money where there is none, but it can show you how to make it go further, and it does make you feel more in control. If you allow your money to control you - having no idea what's in your bank account at any given time, giving no thought as to whether you could get cheaper electricity or internet, not shopping around for a better mortgage rate - then you'll be forever wondering where it all goes, and you'll be at the mercy of credit card and hire purchase companies. And then the bank manager might start sending you rude letters.

We don't want that, so why not arm yourself with a dotgrid notebook - we have plenty to choose from - and a good selection of fineliners, coloured pens and pencils and a ruler? Then sit yourself down and begin this new decade by getting a grown-up handle on your moolah.

2 January 2020

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