Making Sense of my Financial Mess

I'm kind of the worst at managing money.

It isn't that I am frivolous or irresponsible. I mean, I'm pretty great at my job and taking care of my three children - but when it comes to money, I honestly don't really know what I am doing. As a child, I went on a field trip to a place called Exchange City, where I learned to balance a fake checking book and apply for a fake small business loan. I really did excel as a completely hypothetical business owner, with just a handful of hypothetical expenses to keep track of. However, the skills I learned in fifth grade hardly help me manage my present day, non-hypothetical student loans and put not-fake food on the table in my home that I secured with a very real mortgage.

I should give myself, and my husband, a little credit. We always pay our bills. Outside of a few random bouts of forgetfulness that can be expected when you have three children in four years, I have paid everything on time since I applied for my first credit card on my 18th birthday. We have also managed to stay afloat, and buy a house, with two rounds of unemployment.

That is where the back-patting comes to a screeching halt. My husband turns 30 this month and I am following close behind. We haven't made much progress on any of the vague financial goals we have made for our family. We have both consumer debt and student loans. My husband has a 401k through his job, but as a freelancer I haven't taken any steps to save for my future. We would like to travel, eventually, and put some money away just in case. Our refrigerator is also hanging on by a thread, so there's that, too.

What I am saying is: just paying our bills isn't going to cut it for the long term. When I think about changing the future of our finances, I immediately feel overwhelmed, because I'm not great with money. It's not for lack of trying, either. I've done the Dave Ramsey thing, I've joined Mint and You Need A Budget. For a long time, I've used not being great with money and not being very organized as an easy cop out for just doing the bare minimum. There comes a point in one's life when "tracking your finances" has to mean something more than checking your account everyday to figure out if you're out of money.

All of this self-effacing isn't just for kicks and giggles. I am sharing this because I want to start making changes in the new year. I want this year to be a turning point for my family. I'm not unrealistic, I don't expect to pay off all of our debt in a single blow, or change every bad habit in a matter of a few months. Still, I have to start somewhere, especially if I want to prepare for the future of my children and set a good example for them.

So, this year, I am taking a few steps towards responsibly managing my money and sharing it here, in a column, with all of you. I'll be addressing some of my most detrimental and embarrassing money managing habits (i.e. the sophisticated filing system I call "just shove everything in the bottom of my purse/diaper bag") with the help of financial gurus, retirement advisers and even a therapist. I hope to come out on the other end a little smarter and with a little less debt and I hope you will learn something (besides how not to manage your money) from following along.