How I Learned to Track My Personal Expenses

Not so long ago, one of the most challenging aspects of my day-to-day life was handling my finances. Anyone would agree when I say that everything that we do is all attached to how well, or not, we handle our finances. From my professional engagements to my personal agendas, how much money I have keeps popping up as a factor in my decisions.

After this realization, I just had to check how well I was doing with my “personal financial management.” Apparently, I needed some help.

doing-your-finances

One of my closest friends, who happened to be a licensed financial planner and the Chief Financial Officer of his own company, decided to come to my rescue. I asked him how he keeps track of his finances. I thought he would throw me a one-liner answer like “Go to the bank” or “Just stop spending.” He gave me much more. He gave me insights that would turn out to be my guide which I could use for my journey towards better money management.

I have learned that everyone has his own story tell. The same is true with the way one handles their own money. Though there are 1,001 guides in money management out there on the internet, knowing my challenges and realizing the need to act upon my financial needs is always a good way to start.

That fact alone has helped me take on the challenge of taking my money matters head on.

True enough, his concepts – a path, if you will – which I still use up to this day, on how to make sure I have money when I need it have indeed cleared the way for my personal betterment. I have to admit, I still slip up from time to time. However, as long as I stick to the basic ideas he taught me, I know I can always catch myself in times of financial turmoil, and begin to steer toward the brighter side of things.

Let me share with you what I have learned:

Follow the map – Know your Point A

First, I realized that I need to follow a financial map of sorts. Just like any other map, there are three main components: Point A, Point B and the path from A to B. Simple enough.

follow-the-map

With regard to keeping track of my finances, my financial planner friend emphasized that it is important for me to know where I am coming from. I needed to dig deep to see where I am right now in terms of my finances – am I a positive, i.e. I still have money left every month after using most for my expenses and setting aside for my savings; or negative, i.e. l already run on fumes half way through the month and always end up dry by the end.

After learning that I vary from positive to negative erratically every month, we later on settled that I am, in fact, ending up as negative in my finances, as it happens more often.

All the information I got from knowing my Point A was critical as it determined my action plan. It also helped me choose what would be the most viable and rewarding Point B for me.

Call it a huge wrecking ball of a wakeup call.

From Point A to Point B

After shaking off the shock, I decided it was time to move forward and look for the light at the end of the tunnel. I had to raise the bar and start acting on the financial results I wanted for myself. True enough, he asked me “where do you want to go?” Starting from a negative monthly balance, I needed to decide what positive state I wanted to achieve before I took any action towards tracking my finances and achieving financial freedom.

where-to-go

By this point, I felt as if I was talking to a professional bookkeeper from Xero Castle Hill – we were actually going somewhere as I started creating declarations of where I wanted to be. It absolutely did help me in my cause to know the amount that I wanted to be at by the end of every month and the amount I needed to spend in that same month. It was all about that numbers that would work for me.

It seemed basic at the time, but I later learned that we tend to be overwhelmed and lost when financial disasters strikes, making everything else seem more chaotic than usual.

Be open to the path

It is quite unfortunate to learn that people are used to just acting and doing things without even planning. And it is even more unfortunate when you learn that you are the one doing it! More often than not, this leads to a vicious cycle that tends to go round and round until something goes catastrophically wrong.

new-paths

I just consider myself lucky that I was led out of that mouse trap before any irreparable damage was done!

Now that I was made aware of how I was handling my money and what financial state I wanted to achieve, I learned what to do next. Though the actions I needed to do were based on what I specifically needed, these tips can serve as a general  guide to others whom I shared these basic concepts with:

  • Prepare for the what’s coming

I have learned that I need to be committed, honest and open with the fact that I have to deal with my finances. Sometimes, finding out the state in which my finances are in can cause me to want to go back to the hole of indifference that I had been hiding in previously. Being open to any feedback that I’m lucky enough to receive and reacting to it with positivity is the most important step in improving. Plus, it always helps to be prepared!

  • Keep track of your spending

Every expense should be noted down in order to serve as your “financial breadcrumbs.” It may be daunting at first – keeping receipts for groceries, noting how much gas you get every week, even the daily budget for my food. However, the benefits are well worth it. You get to have a record of where you could have gone overboard. In doing so, you’re able to create a database that could lead you to save more, be more, and achieve more. At the end of the day, that is what is most important.

  • Plan

Before you go into your “financial battle,” you need to lay down your course of action. I do this not for the world to see but for me to see my financial vision more clearly. Just like in the old saying “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” I want to make sure that what I do achieves the success I deserve since I have already planned out my next step. Also, any plan in tracking my finances aims to lead me to the right path every time – my ultimate goal of financial freedom is definitely a possibility.

piggy-bank

  • Execute

With my path already laid out in front of me, it is just a matter of sticking to the plan until I achieve my financial goal. Throughout my working years, I have experienced the challenges that often come along with any financial journey. However, with the passion, conviction and the drive to follow the goals I had set for myself, whether it is the stern budget, expense threshold or mindset to avoid using credit cards, I learned to strictly stick to it because that is the commitment that I have set for myself.

How To Hire A Bookkeeper: A Guide

The abundance of cloud-based software that ultimately propelled the usage of cloud-hosted bookkeeping has made basic accounting and bookkeeping accessible to even the smallest businesses. Online bookkeeping services such as Quickbooks Online allow for many ways to high-tech accounting such as organizing all assets in one place, and also through various consoles such as computer, mobile phone or tablet.

Managing cash flow through different financial tools and well-balanced budget programs is crucial to the success of every business. Recording transactions and keeping an accurate ledger can mean the difference between having a profitable fiscal year or a year of waste and unnecessary tax audits.

The abundance of cloud-based software that ultimately propelled the usage of cloud-hosted bookkeeping has made basic accounting and bookkeeping accessible to even the smallest businesses. Online bookkeeping services such as Quickbooks Online allow for many ways to high-tech accounting such as organizing all assets in one place, and also through various consoles such as computer, mobile phone or tablet. Technology made sure that there are many ways to accurately, safely and efficiently track every item that goes in and out of a business enterprise.

A bookkeeper working

Nevertheless, outsourcing some of these important tasks to a professional bookkeeper helps businesses maintain accuracy and compliance standards. However, hiring or investing on a professional bookkeeper always spend more time innovating the core business model, as well as the whole system itself.

If you’re a starting businessman, or a rising medium-scale proprietor looking for a bookkeeping service for the first time, you have to understand the basics of hiring a third party for your bookkeeping. You have to first understand the definition of the types of bookkeeping services available, the criteria for comparing bookkeepers, and many more about finding the best bookkeeping service vendor.

The Fine Line Between Accounting and Bookkeeping

Before moving on to the specifics of bookkeeping services, it’s important to note the clear distinction between bookkeeping and accounting services. A good number of businessmen has made the rookie mistake of not defining the difference between the two.

Accounting vs. bookkeeping.

Accounting serves in a consultative capacity, using financial data as a baseline. According to TechnologyAdvice.com, accounting typically involves advanced reporting and business analysis, in addition to the rigors of corporate tax management. “Many accountants also provide advisory services for debt and finance, mergers and acquisitions, and trust planning,” they added.

In other words, an accountant uses bookkeeping data to support higher-level accounting requirements such as preparing sales tax, reducing product costs, and setting financial benchmarks.

On the other hand, bookkeeping is similar, yet different. A bookkeeper is responsible for recording the data that accountants use to generate reports and make decisions. In that sense, the two disciplines have a symbiotic relationship. It’s often defined in a way that bookkeeping is designed to generate data about the activities of an organization, whereas accounting designed to turn data into understandable and identifiable information.

The Market Overview of Bookkeeping Services

The standard practice for businesses of every size is to hire an outside accountant. The thing about outsourced bookkeeping is that it tends to be most prevalent among small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), because SMBs have the same data entry and budgeting needs, but with less employees and/or resources to support it financially.

When it comes to financial reporting, being stretched far too thin can mean costly errors and a budget that never lines up with actuals. This is again one of the beginner mistakes that businessmen make (or simply take for granted), along with not keeping their records up-to-date, and not understanding their tax obligations. Also, failing to reconcile ledgers with bank statements, not recording reimbursable expenses, and running an inaccurate payroll are simple mistakes that SMB proprietors usually commit.

Woman bookkeeper.

Arguably, these sort of mistakes can slow down a business. Then again, it could easily be solved by outsourcing the bookkeeping requirements and putting their accounts in the hands of a trained professional. Business owners can focus more of their attention on bottom-line strategies like customer retention, product development, supply chain optimization, and expanding to new markets, at the cost of a little bit more capital.

Analyzing Bookkeeping Services

You may already have a specific bookkeeper or bookkeeping firm in mind, based on a referral or someone you’ve worked with in the past. Then again, the best way is to invest a little bit more time and effort to make the perfect business match.

The best way to invest it is through a personal interview with the bookkeeper. It’s important to compare and interview a few different candidates before you make the final decision. Here are some criteria to consider when screening your bookkeeping candidates.

Bookkeeper keyboard.

Define the Scope of the Owner-Bookkeeper Relationship

First, define how involved you need or want your bookkeeper to be, and what the relationship will look like.

Many businesses start by hiring a contractor to come in a few hours a week, or even as infrequent as once a month. Some businesses offer a bookkeeping services price list for standard arrangements, too. Also, it is best if you ask for it ahead of time so you can perform a cost and benefit analysis for hiring a bookkeeper.

Ask about their Accounting Software Specialization

Whoever is not keeping up with the race of accounting software or cloud-computing provision is not worthy of being hired at all; the efficiency and flexibility of the technology on bookkeeping should be used as much as possible.

Bookkeepers now have a particular accounting software system they specialize in. Some are even certified with popular vendors like QuickBooks  and Sage. This is very important to consider, especially when you’re already using a particular system to manage finances. Ideally, the bookkeeper you choose will know their way around the software and be able to get started right away.

Proven Track Record

In evaluating a bookkeeping candidate, always move past the resume and look for actual proof of success. Better yet, ask for some of their case studies from previous positions where the bookkeeping firm served a business similar to yours.

Furthermore, you can follow up for references, or ask other colleagues that have worked with the bookkeeper for their opinion. In this case, “success” might be defined as saving the business money through accurate record-keeping, increasing tax compliance, or streamlining financial reporting.

Some Examples of Bookkeeping Services

Although most bookkeepers share the same core competencies, they don’t all have the same experience or offer the same services. Here’s a breakdown of the four most common bookkepper categories:

Certified Bookkeeper: Aside from getting NACPB and AIPB certifications, bookkeepers may also get certifications for particular accounting software, certified to manage payroll, or certified in tax management. Generally, the more certifications a bookkeeper has, the more services and discretion they’ll be able to provide.

General Bookkeeper: A general bookkeeper offers basic services like data entry and account reconciliation. Think of it as a general physician in the field of medicine. As such, general bookkeepers tend to have lower rates and work lesser hours. They are usually uncertified, which meant that they have less on-the-job experience. A general bookkeeper can be a good choice if you have a limited personnel budget and do your own financial reporting and payroll.

Full-Charge Bookkeeper: A full-charge bookkeeper title denotes more advanced financial management and a closer relationship with company executives than that of a general bookkeeper. Full-charge bookkeepers usually manage payroll, fixed assets, invoices, and other financial statements, and some may even serve an accounting/advisory role. They could be certified bookkeepers, but usually full-charge bookkeepers have a one-size-fits-all approach to tend to most bookkeeping needs.

Virtual Bookkeeper: Virtual bookkeepers are the most uncommon of the four types. Virtual bookkeeping services are an attractive solution for smaller businesses and startups looking to outsource their financial records, but not ready to work with (or pay for) a dedicated contractor. Bookkeeping virtual assistants accept financial documents electronically, update your ledgers, accounts, payroll, etc., and send back copies of reports for your records. Since they are not as stable as the others, the risks you have when hiring these are indirectly proportional to the price you are paying them: Higher risk with lower salary and vice versa. Virtual services are convenient and cost-effective, but they can add to the challenge of maintaining a clear audit trail.