Personal Finance 

Regularly Check-In On Your Finances

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Eric RipertEric Ripert is part-owner and executive chef at Le Bernardin, one of four New York City restaurants to have been awarded 3 Michelin stars in the Michelin Guide NYC 2006. I first learned of Ripert after he appeared on one of my favorite shows, Bravo’s Top Chef, and started reading his blog, Avec Eric.

As always, I’m a big fan of reading and learning about “behind the scenes” type stuff and in early July, Ripert wrote a post in which he gave you a behind the scenes look at the operations of Le Bernardin. The point that I found most intriguing, and most applicable to personal finance, was that they started service each day with a “family meal” where they check-in and discuss the work ahead of them:

Before we start service each day, one or two of the cooks will put together what we call “family meal”. It is usually something like home cooking but simple and not too heavy so that we don’t feel too full during dinner service. It is important to eat a little something before the really hard work starts because our dinner service lasts for several hours and we don’t take a break at all. Also, this family meal is a good time for all of us to discuss the work day but also to connect on a personal level. Just like a family meal at home, it is an important part of the day.

Why should you care about this? This underscores the importance of regularly “checking-in” with your finances.

Every month, I log into all of my financial accounts and record all the balances in an Excel spreadsheet. It’s a very manual process, which pushed me to start simplifying my financial accounts, but very valuable in helping me understand our financial situation. The numbers are only the beginning and are, in fact, the least important part of our check-in process.

After I record the numbers, I discuss them with my lovely wife. Sometimes it’s just to talk about what balances have gone up or down, why they may have done that, what our near-term goals are, etc. Sometimes our discussions end with the numbers, sometimes we start talking about longer term goals and plans. Regardless of where the conversation goes, the value is in ensuring we are on the same page and understand where we are going.

Many things in life are like the telephone game, where the message at the beginning of the chain gets distorted as it is passed from person to person, and finances included. If you don’t regularly discuss finances with your “team,” then you can’t be sure everyone knows what they’re doing. Regularly checking in ensures that you are.

Do you regularly check in?

(Photo: vidiot)

{ 12 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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12 Responses to “Regularly Check-In On Your Finances”

  1. Steven says:

    Since I purchase almost everything between two credit cards, I usually log in on the weekends to glance at the transactions. First, It helps me look for fraudulent charges before the bill is due. Second, I get an idea of what my spending is like.

    To me, doing it monthly seems more like a chore since it would take longer. By doing it more often, it decreases the amount of time I spend each time, so I’m more likely to do it.

    • Jim says:

      It would take longer if you did it monthly, I’m not advocating that you do it once a month if you already do it once a week (kudos!). This is mostly for people who do it.. ummm…. never. 🙂

  2. eric says:

    I typically do it monthly too. I just keep my receipts and go through my transactions to make sure everything is ok.

    • Aric says:

      I do the same thing with the receipts. My girlfriend thinks I’m extremely anal for doing it. However, I did catch an “mistake” once – a waitress at restaurant decided to tack on a couple more dollars even after I tipped her 20%. It’s small change but I at least know that I’m on top of it, especially if it happens next time but with a larger amount.

  3. Russel.G says:

    I have been recording balances on a spreadsheet for about 1.5 years now. Each month has it’s own worksheet, and I’m always adding more information I want to track over the months.

    It’s interesting to see the effect of life on our finances and vice versa through this record. For instance, I look back a year ago, and see how we were on the right track and credit balances were declining. But after losing my job at the beginning of the year and moving to a new city, we’re back where we started, but more determined!

    The only thing that doesn’t happen regularly is the “family meal.” I have the data; I need to make the co-planning a priority.

    Great post, Jim!

  4. MyMeans says:

    Just wanted to also say that I love Top Chef. Season Premiere in Las Vegas and Top Chef Masters finale was great. And yeah, I think monthly is a good timeframe to review all your accounts and make sure you didn’t overspend and that your savings are going in the right direction (especially if you have a goal for something like a house/car/etc.).

    • Martha says:

      I got to watch Top Chef LV and the Top Chef Masters finale last night. It made me appreciate how much work it takes to become a chef at the level of the “Masters.” Their dishes were so intricate that I would think it would take one of the regular Top Chefs a whole day to prepare it!

      As for checking on our finances, I agree once a month is sufficient.

  5. mapgirl says:

    Check everything daily. It’s an admitted obsessive compulsion. It’s part of my morning routine, now that I don’t have to check the batch logs on servers at work anymore. It’s replaced all that. Plus it helps me figure out if _tonight_ is the night to go shopping or not.

    I just got into Top Chef Masters, but the LV show doesn’t interest me. (My boyfriend thinks that Kelly Choi looks like a bobblehead doll.)

  6. I check my finances often. I try not to spend too much time on my financial situation, because I want to utilize my time to find new and better ways to make my money work for me. Perhaps there is a stock that will likely rise in the near future – I will want to plow some cash into that.

    It’s important to check on your finances often, but don’t forget to look for new opportunities!

  7. And what about debs? I listen it is most attentioned part of financial plan. I don’t know how to live without credit card – and what about you?

  8. I check in every Monday, and I look at every checking, savings, CD, 401(k), and IRA account that we have. I like keeping a close eye on my finances.

  9. I check the household budget monthly and run an occassional spreadsheet. The investments are left for quarterly, unless something unusual is going on.

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