Whenever I begin reading a fresh new book I tend to start my adventure by cozying up with a cup of coffee. But when I cracked open One Year To An Organized Financial Life: From Your Bills to Your Bank Account, Your Home to your Retirement, the Week-by-Week Guide to Achieving Financial Peace of Mind (also available in Canada) by Regina Leeds and Russell Wild, I immediately put down my cuppa and grabbed a fresh glass of water.
Leeds, the New York Times Best Selling author of One Year to an Organized Life (also available in Canada), knows a thing or two about organizing a successful life and career — and too many cups of coffee don’t cut it.
In chapter one of One Year To An Organized Financial Life, Leeds advises us to cut back on soda and coffee and replace these beverages with calorie and caffeine-free water. Sounds good to me. After all, too much of the sugary stuff can ramp up a financially disorganized person, leaving them in a fit of chaotic paperwork everywhere. I’m all for financial calm.
In my personal bid for less chaos and more financial organization, I grabbed my copy of the book and amassed 10 three-ring binders, a label maker, some folders, a hole punch, a stapler, a paper shredder, a Sharpie, a weary husband, and my dog.
Truth be told, I’ve always been an organized gal. But no one is perfect, and given the opportunity to read this step-by-step guide I thought even this financially-savvy clutter-busting gal could learn a trick or two. Boy did I ever!
Leeds neatly lays out One Year To An Organized Financial Life by month, with each month containing four weeks of financial activities, lessons, and stellar money tips. Throughout the book Leeds shares personal stories of her own money battles and gives the reader insight into how her clients have dealt with their own financial chaos. With help from her co-author, NAPFA certified financial advisor Russell Wild, Leeds sorts through financial jargon in a readable and easy to understand way.
Leeds’s writing style is warm and approachable. I was surprised reading about her battle with cancer and how she dealt with the costs of a serious illness. If you ever deal with medical costs in the United States, Leeds’s advice could help you manage the bills.
Leeds also writes candidly about the lack of financial education in her upbringing. Her parents generously provided for everything, leaving her with little understanding of how money works. In a phone interview, Leeds said:
Money was something that magically appeared. People would just pat me on the head and say don’t worry about it Regina.
For this reason, Leeds dedicates a full month (September) to teaching children about the value of money. In her book, she writes that as parents you should “be conscious of the fiscal example you set for your children.” This chapter details how to involve kids with cash in a responsible and fun way.
Here is a brief overview of the 12 monthly chapters in the book:
- January: Take Control Uncover your relationship with money, clean out your purse or wallet, and streamline your office space.
- February: Assess Your Finances Get a system for paying bills on time, tally your income, and learn about your fixed and variable expenses.
- March: Get Ready for Taxes Save the right documents, topple your stacks of paper, and prepare your tax return.
- April: Spend Less, Save More A fun chapter explaining how to reduce your spending, master your budget, and banking — you may just fire your bank after reading this chapter.
- May: Borrow Smart Get a grip on credit card spending, lower your credit costs, and protect yourself from identity theft.
- June: Build a Nest Egg Review or start your retirement plan, calculate how much you really need, and find the type of investments that work best for you.
- July: Make Long-Range Financial Plans Learn how to hire a financial advisor, build a balanced portfolio, and write or update your will.
- August: Refinance or Downsize Options Determine if a smaller home makes financial sense, rethink your transportation costs, find your hidden cash by selling clutter, how to hold a yard sale, and learn about refinancing options.
- September: Children and Money Learn how to teach your kids about money in a fun and frugal way and discover some tips for your child’s education.
- October: Protect Your Assets Get yourself covered with the right medical insurance, insure your belongings with renter’s or homeowners policies, and build a home inventory (free download).
- November: Season for Sane Spending Plan your holiday budget, gift-giving ideas, and holiday packing and travel.
- December: Year-End Money Moves Tax strategies, charitable giving, and fine tune your financial files.
Overall I learned a lot from One Year To An Organized Financial Life, especially in the sections on wills and beneficiaries. I’m working on updating my will, and I’ve recently changed the beneficiary on my various investments and retirement accounts. It’s easy to lose track of beneficiary details if you’ve recently married or contributed to a multitude of retirement accounts over the years.
Americans can benefit the most from the financially-focused chapters in this book since Leeds and Wild discuss IRAs, 401(k)s, college savings plans, Uncle Sam and taxes, US banking and credit.
Even if you’re Canadian (like me), then you can still become financially organized using the guide, but you won’t learn the nitty gritty details on Canuck Bucks, including: RRSPs, RESPs, CDIC, or CRA tax rules.
Oh, and about that cup of coffee! After speaking with Regina Leeds on the phone I learned that she drinks two cups a day. So raise a mug (or two) of your favorite brew while filing away your money mess. The job of becoming financially organized just got easier. Thanks Regina!
Your Two Cents: Are your finances organized? Do you have a helpful system you’d like to share?