How to Budget: Into the Dragon’s Lair

Disclaimer: I am a literature major. I believe stories and metaphors are helpful tools that allow us to 1) infuse dry subject matter with levity and 2) create distance between ourselves and the topic, which helps in allowing us to consider opinions or ideas we may have otherwise ignored.

On this journey that is your life, it may be helpful to think of yourself as the hero going forth into the unknown; for what is life but continual discovery of what is to come?

You may have goals and plans for yourself and your family (and they’re good things to have), but the future cannot be predicted. All you can do is fortify yourself in the present moment to confront the unknown adversity and adventure that life will visit upon you.

Planning your finances—having deliberate spending habits and a solid financial base—is an essential element of preparing yourself for the future.

If you are reading this article (or following this series), then chances are that your financial base may not feel too solid at the moment. In fact, it may feel a lot more like a dragon, exhaling hot blasts of black smoke as it slumbers restlessly, while you sit at the mouth of the cave, praying desperately it won’t awaken.

This dragon may have you paralyzed with fear, but you probably know deep down: enough is enough. You’re the hero, remember? Doesn’t the hero always vanquish the dragon, win over the princess’s heart and become crowned the kingdom’s sovereign?

It’s time to strap your sword to your hip, grab your shield, and venture forth into the dragon’s lair to defeat the monster within.

(Just think of your money as the damsel in distress waiting to be rescued).

Have you guessed what your next task is?

That’s right—you’re going to log into those accounts you bookmarked in your finance folder, and you’re going to take a long hard look at the balance owing in every one of them.

At the very minimum, I recommend that you login to all of your checking and credit accounts; but, ideally, you want to login to every single online account for which you carry a balance.

Your two tasks are:

1. You must login to the account
2. You must look at your balance.

That’s it.
There is no need to do anything about what you see. 
You must just look.

Why do I not recommend doing anything about what you see, yet?

I believe that it’s important to take the time to confront the facts of your reality before you can even think of taking any kind of action. You can’t know what offensive or defensive tactics to implement if you don’t know the nature or state of your opponent.

Believe me: not knowing what the dragon looks like (or if there even is a dragon) is much scarier and intimidating than knowing exactly how big and angry the dragon is. It’s no less a dragon, but at least you know the parameters of what you’re up against.

There are months when I’m not as diligent as I know I should be about keeping track of my spending. Knowing I’ve gone over my budget, but not knowing the exact amount I’ve gone over causes me a hundred thousand times more agony, shame, regret, stress, and anxiety than the times when I know exactly where I’m at in my spending—even when I’m over budget.

The unknown is always worse. 
Always.

It’s imperative to know where you’re at, not only so you can know what to do, but also to assuage your financial anguish.

If you’ve done the preparatory work of setting up your finance folder, bookmarking all of your account login pages, then you know exactly where to start this task

Remember the 1-to-5 minutes rule: Don’t try to tackle all of your accounts on the same day.
Take it one account at a time, five minutes at a time.

A few things to consider:

Your email address associated with the account: For now, I strongly recommend that you link all of your online accounts to your main email account. By main email account I mean the one that you check every single day (or the most regularly). I will explain why this is important when we discuss e-statements and invoices.

Some accounts require usernames: Whenever possible, I recommend using the same username for all of your accounts. My 3 credit card accounts have the same username, so I never have to scratch my head and wonder which is which. I use my old university identification number. Use whatever makes sense for you.

Never use the same password for bank or credit card accounts: I don’t think this rule matters as much when it comes to accounts such as Netflix/phones/internet/other subscriptions, but I do think it matters a lot when it comes to online debit or credit card accounts. None of my 5 accounts (2 debit and 3 credit) have the same passwords. This is a little bit annoying because you have to keep track of multiple passwords. I recommend writing them down and keeping them hidden somewhere in your house. I think that’s as safe as recording it online or in an app that can be hacked. If you have children or roommates that you worry about getting your hands on your passwords, just be sneaky and discreet. Hide the list somewhere that is not so obvious someone is going to find it right away and not so unobvious that you’ll never find it again. I do not recommend keeping these passwords with your finance tracking pages that we will be using in the future. Keep it separate, that way if someone finds your finance records, they don’t also get access to all your accounts.

Decide if you will use automatic login: I personally do not automatically login, but I recommend setting up automatic login for at least 3-6 months until the habit of checking your finances and budgeting is well established in your routine. In the beginning, I truly think that speed and convenience are of the utmost important. If your finances terrify you, or if you’re very reluctant to budget your life, then any little obstacle will be cause to put off the task. If that’s the case for you, I strongly recommend that you set up automatic logging in so you cannot trick yourself out of getting your finances in order. Over time, you can revisit the issue and make the decision you feel works best for you.

The only thing you have to do this week is login. Nothing more. Nothing less. But, trust me, that’s no easy feat. Figure out which username goes with which password for which account, and record that somewhere so you can refer to it later when you’ve forgotten (trust me: you will forget).

What matters in this step is that you set up this process so that it is quick and easy for you to access in the future. When starting any new habit, convenience is key.

If this seems too easy, or if you already know all of your usernames and corresponding passwords, ask yourself: When was the last time you changed your password? If it’s been over a year since you’ve changed the password to your accounts (or if you can’t remember when you last changed your password), then you should consider doing so now.

That’s it for now. Remember, all you want is to get a good look at the foe you’re up against. If the dragon is still slumbering, there is no reason to poke it awake just yet. There will be ample time to get fighting. For now, just observe. 


Head over to the series masterpost to start the series from the beginning or to find a specific article within the series.



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