J2 writes:

Dear Organizing Diva,
I have been having trouble keeping my finances organized. While I have never watched my spending too closely, I feel like now more than ever my financial disorganization is beginning to affect my daily life. This is leaving me feeling very stressed and financially unstable. Any tips on how to get this aspect of my life back on track?

Wow, J2, that’s an amazing “ I-want-some-change-in-my-life” kinda question. I could write a chapter on organizing our finances, but I will try to give you just a few key tips here on budgeting. Just for the record, I am not a financial planner, just someone who can share about creating budgets and financial paper organization.

First, you have to keep track of both your income and your spending/expenses.

This is easier for those who make a consistent income and have consistent spending. It’s a little more complicated for those of us, like myself, who have a variable income and changing expenses month to month. The key is to make sure that you have a reliable and consistent tool, such as using the free software at mint.com or using an Excel spreadsheet. Email me at if you would like a copy of an Excel spreadsheet that I use that keeps track of all income and expenses and shows your net income from month to month.

With either tool, you want to set up clear and all-inclusive categories for spending/expenses. It’s easy to indicate categories like rent/mortgage and car payment and less easy to remember to include incidental spending on the go (Starbucks, anyone?). But it’s so important to record all spending—even the self-indulgent kind like getting manis/pedis. In fact, financial guru Suze Orman points out that incidental spending, such as grabbing coffee at your favorite cafe every morning, is the real culprit of our runaway spending. I find the best way to do this is to get a receipt for EVERYTHING (that’s right, get a receipt even for the bottle of water that you pick up at the gym several times per week). I recommend that you do what I do and spend a few minutes every day entering your numbers into the spreadsheet with a calculator. Now it becomes a routine, just like brushing your teeth.

Once you see where all your money is going, you are less likely to spend without intention. Buying everything with cash is also one way to curtail spending since you actually fork over your hard-earned dollars instead of mindlessly paying with a debit card.

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Good luck Sweetie and keep me posted on your progress,

The Organizing Diva