How to Build Good Financial Habits

Quick Look

  • Regular financial upkeep is about creating healthy financial routines.
  • Financial upkeep falls into four buckets:

    • Tracking Your Numbers: Know your liquid cash, current debt, short and long-term savings, and net worth. Know how much you’ve spent and saved, and get a rough idea of your projected expenses and savings opportunities.
    • Making Adjustments: By tracking your numbers you know where you stand and can make adjustments as necessary. For example, if you’ve spent more than you planned or made less than you expected, ask yourself what can you do in the coming days, weeks and months to make up for it.
    • Planning Goals: Set annual spending and saving goals. If applicable to your job or side hustle, set earnings goals too. Break those goals down into quarterly and monthly benchmarks and as part of your financial upkeep, see where you are. If there’s no chance of hitting your original goals, make adjustments.
    • Following Up & Taking Action: As your life changes and as you learn more about financial topics that apply to you, you need to take action. This might mean setting up a college savings fund for your child, adjusting your paycheck deductions after you get married or have a child or even just learning more about a newly applicable topic. Your financial upkeep means looking at “follow-up” items and taking action in a timely manner.


Building a Financial Routine is Key

Everyone handles their finances in slightly different ways. No single product, advisor or plan will work for everyone. But one remarkably consistent feature of those who have and maintain financial success, is that they have a healthy financial routine. “Every year I do ____, ____, and ____. Every month I do ____, ____, and ____.”

Why is having a financial routine so important? For the vast majority, financial success isn’t achieved overnight. Instead, achieving financial success is something that happens through a series of consistent and often small steps that move us in the right direction. 

Unfortunately, the challenge for many is that these small steps, while important, are rarely urgent. With busy lives, it’s easy to push financial tasks to the backburner. Doing so for a day or a week may not have much of an impact. But delaying important financial tasks for months or years can have serious negative consequences. Regular financial upkeep with tasks that fall into each of the buckets listed above, ensures you can stay on track and achieve your financial goals. 

How to Create a Financial Routine

Consider the financial upkeep routines listed below and apply what you feel is most relevant to your situation. Using your MoneySwell tools can help you develop healthy financial routines for many of the tasks detailed below.

Important Components of Strong Financial Routines

What Description Frequency
Review & Update Account Values Check your values daily or weekly to understand where you are and spot check for unexpected withdrawals or deposits. In Assets & Liabilities, you can sync your linked accounts in one click. We recommend updating your manual accounts at least once a month to develop your personal historical record. Daily/Weekly (check), Monthly (update)
Update Savings Numbers If you have dedicated savings accounts, use Cashflow Goals to add your monthly savings contributions. If you use a tool to track your investment accounts, track your contributions first and foremost. While the overall account value may fluctuate with the value of your investments, in the long run, making regular contributions to a diversified portfolio is your best bet for achieving your goals. Monthly
Update Liquid Cash Projections Tracking how much liquid cash you’re likely to have allows you to confidently save, invest, and spend while knowing you’ll have enough in your accounts to cover it all. You can use a spreadsheet (or wait for this MoneySwell feature to come out!) to enter the dates and amounts for all regular deposits and withdrawals for the month. When possible, you’ll likely want to enter cumulative expenses (e.g. a credit card payment) rather than each individual expense to keep things manageable.  Monthly or Quarterly
Update Overall Spending Use Cashflow Goals to track overall spending. For credit and debit cards, look at the “purchases” line on your monthly statement and if necessary, subtract any refunds. For checking accounts, add up all withdrawals for relevant transactions and subtract any reimbursements. Monthly
Review Goals Write down financial goals and take a few minutes every month to review these goals. Ask yourself if you’re on track or if your goals need to be adjusted. Be honest with yourself.   Monthly
Add One-off To Dos Much of your financial life may be automated but there will always be more to learn and research and other tasks that come up. Add these notes to a place where you check off your financial tasks. As Needed
Follow-up on One-off To Dos Don’t put off taking action on your to-do list. In most cases, following up on one-off to does every other week is sufficient. But make sure you give yourself the time for these often mundane but important tasks. Your future self will thank you.  Bi-Weekly
Financial Check-in If you have a partner, staying on the same financial page is one of the most important things you can do for your financial wellness. While one person may manage the more frequent financial upkeep, put some time on your calendars for a holistic review of where you are.  Monthly / Quarterly
Sync Retirement Accounts When you sync your investment accounts, don’t worry about values going up or down (assuming you have a well diversified portfolio). But keep an eye on the numbers and use a retirement calculator to ensure you’re on track with your long-term goals. Remember, focus on your account contributions more than the precise account values at a given time. Annually
Set SMART Goals Setting goals annually is a good level-set for the year. Acknowledge your successes and challenges from the previous year, and build on those as you set your sites on the upcoming year.  Annually
Educate Yourself Whether it’s content on or any other content on or offline, making personal finance education a regular part of your week will ensure you are informed and maximizing your chances for success. Add “personal finance” as a topic in your news feeds on your mobile devices, subscribe to a newsletter, blog magazine or podcast or read a book about personal finance. Weekly
Pay Your Bills If your bills aren’t paid automatically each month make sure you pay them. If they are paid automatically, do a quick double check to confirm everything went through as expected and for the right amount. Monthly

Additional Reading

  • Charles Duhigg, The Power of HabitIn this fascinating book with wide-ranging applicability, Duhigg makes it clear that much of what we do is not from conscious choice but because it’s part of our routine and is an ingrained habit. Because habits are done without much thinking, developing healthy habits is key to achieving success.
  • Laura Adams at US News – Her article on micro habits has some interesting and easy ideas you may be able to incorporate into your routine that can improve your financial wellness.

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