I'm obsessed with organization. You know—one of those people who writes something down just so they can cross it off. While I'm overly organized in most areas of life, one area I could stand to improve in is financial planning, and one practical way I could do this is to create a proactive financial calendar. After all, I have a daily/monthly/yearly planner and smartphone calendar for everything else... why not apply this to finances? Here are four key purposes this kind of calendar could serve in not only getting more organized, but getting ahead.
Help Remembering Time-Sensitive Tasks
This is perhaps the most obvious benefit of a financial calendar. Sure, you may pay the bills on time without reminders, but it's easier to lose track of less frequent tasks like paying quarterly taxes, filing a yearly FAFSA, scheduling the appointment to have your taxes prepared, or signing up for medical benefits during open enrollment. All of these are time-sensitive, so plugging them into a calendar with built-in reminders will ensure you meet and beat deadlines without overtaxing your brain.
Breaking Up Overwhelming Tasks into Smaller Segments
Some time-sensitive tasks like gathering tax documents are also notorious for inducing universal procrastination. The more overwhelmed we are at the thought of tackling a nasty financial project, the more likely we are to put it off until the last possible second. This is where a financial calendar can provide more than just an annoying reminder that you haven't done it yet: it can actually help you break up a large task into several smaller, more manageable tasks. For instance, one chunk of a huge project might be gathering paperwork, making phone calls, printing statements, labeling files, or maybe just taking the time to purchase the organizational tools you'll need. Of course, the size of these sub-tasks will depend on the amount of time before the entire project needs to be done (in other words, the sooner you start planning, the better).
This is what I need to work on the most, especially when it comes to vacation planning, holiday spending, and starting to set aside money for likely future expenses and savings goals. Planning ahead for vacation can literally save hundreds of dollars on plane tickets and hotel rooms; setting aside small amounts of money each month all year can make holiday shopping less of a budget-crunch... the list goes on.
Looking forward is important, but so is looking back, especially when your finances change. Financial advisers recommend reviewing your credit report on a yearly or bi-annual basis; it's also a good idea to re-assess your medical and vehicle insurance coverage. Another important thing to re-assess is your budget—at least on a yearly basis, in addition to whenever you experience a change in income or recurring expenses. Some of these won't be anticipated, but most people know when they'll be getting yearly performance assessments accompanied by raises. Not only does re-assessing all of these things on a regular basis keep you in tune with where you're at, financially—it can save you a ton of money.