Updated on 02.16.07

31 Days To Fix Your Finances: A Wrapup

Trent Hamm

Would you like to download this entire series all at once in a handy PDF format?

During the month of January, The Simple Dollar has been running a series entitled “31 Days To Fix Your Finances,” a series of activities that can enable anyone to improve their financial status by centering your financial life around your own core values. Instead of supplying a bunch of budgeting sheets and asking you to commit yourself to a program, this series is about figuring out what you want out of life and reorganizing your finances so that you can have it.

What follows is a summary of the entire month’s activities, with links to each individual day. If you’re at all concerned about your personal finances or find yourself often feeling strangely guilty about the money you spend, you’ll find some value in the activities of the month.

Let’s get started.

Stage 1: Figuring Out Your Goals And Values

Day 1: Your Five Main Values
Day 2: Defining Your Goals From Your Values
Day 3: Create A Plan For Each Goal

The underlying challenge that most people have with their finances is that they see money as distinctly separate from the rest of their life. Money is an antagonist, an enemy that keeps you from doing what you want to be doing. The truth is that money is merely a tool, and when you find yourself feeling as though money is an antagonist, it is no different than a person attempting to learn how to use a heavy sword; it’s unwieldy and dangerous.

The first step for learning how to integrate money into your life and use it successfully as a tool is to figure out what exactly you wish to build with that tool. Without underlying values, goals, and plans, money is no different than swinging a hammer around without building something. Thus, this first stage is crucial: what exactly is most important to you, and what will it take to adequately support those values?

Stage 2: Evaluating Your Situation

Day 4: How Much Did You Earn Last Year?
Day 5: How Much Did You Work Last Year?
Day 6: Your True Hourly Wage

Once you’ve figured out what is central in your life, it’s time to take a serious look at what you have to work with. How much do you make, and how much time do you spend making it? This seems like an easy question, but it’s not. How much of your income do you spend maintaining your job, via transportation, career development, clothing, and so forth? And how much time do you spend doing things devoted to your job, such as going to work, coming home from work, attending work-related functions, and so on?

When you calculate these new numbers, you might be shocked both at how much time you actually spend working in an average week, as well as how little you actually earn. You can drive this point home especially clearly by calculating a number that we’ll use throughout the month, your true hourly wage. How much do you really make for each hour that you spend devoted to your job? It’s not nearly what you might think, and that alone might shock you into considering some different avenues.

Stage 3: Building Your Own Life Budget, Not Following Someone Else’s Prescription

Day 7: Work For Your Dreams, Not Your Money
Day 8: Breaking Down Your Expenses
Day 9: Cleaning Up Your Expenses
Day 10: Fitting Your Expenses Into The Bigger Picture
Day 11: Dividing Up The Rest and Finishing Our Time Budget
Day 12: A Flexible “Budget” That Reflects Your Reality

Once you’ve taken a hard look at what you actually earn, you can begin to set up the basic framework of how to spend that money that is in line with your personal goals. This isn’t about printing out worksheets and trying to jam your life into the pigeonholes that someone else has created for you; instead, this is about defining how you spend money and working from there.

It’s almost unfair to refer to this as “budgeting,” because budgeting carries with it some very bad connotations, much like putting on an uncomfortable suit. This process is much more like going to a tailor, who uses you as the basis to construct a custom suit that fits you. This process will create a custom budget that fits your life with your values and goals as a basis. We’re not talking about restricting you to spending $20 a month on “dining expenses,” but instead creating a structure where you can decide what’s appropriate because you can see how it relates directly to your dreams.

Stage 4: Looking At Your Life, Piece By Piece

Day 13: Pay For Your Dreams First
Day 14: Get Rid Of Debts (Slowly But Surely)
Day 15: Coming In Under Budget and An Emergency Fund
Day 16: Evaluating Your Expenses – Home and Auto Insurance
Day 17: Evaluating Your Expenses – Life Insurance
Day 18: Evaluating Your Expenses – Energy
Day 19: Evaluating Your Expenses – Automobiles
Day 20: Evaluating Your Expenses – Food
Day 21: Evaluating Your Expenses – Housing
Day 22: Evaluating Your Expenses – Monthly Services
Day 23: Evaluating Your Expenses – Bank Fees
Day 24: Evaluating Your Expenses – Entertainment and Hobbies
Day 25: Evaluating Your Expenses – Credit Cards

Once you’ve got a basic budget in place, it’s well worth spending some time carefully evaluating those numbers that represent you and see if there are any places where there is excess fat – and simply trimming it away. Is your electricity bill pretty high? Maybe there are a few simple ways to reduce it. Getting tired of paying that life insurance bill? Maybe you don’t need it at all – or can utilize something less expensive. Getting dinged over and over again with bank charges? Look at what they’re charging and do something about it. Credit card finance charges eating you alive? There are some easy ways to reduce them.

We’re looking for ways to trim away fat (things that make you uncomfortable when you look at them) so that the meat (your goals, dreams, and values) have room to thrive. You don’t have to eliminate that daily latte if it brings you joy – just look for the many things you can do without or that you can reduce without significant pain and you’ll have the money to chase your dreams.

Stage 5: Setting The Stage For Lifelong Success

Day 26: Refining Your Budget
Day 27: Keeping Good Records
Day 28: Preparing For The Inevitable
Day 29: Paying Cash
Day 30: Live What You Love
Day 31: Keeping It Up

Now that the complete package is coming together, there are some basic methods for keeping the momentum going. What do you do with the fat you’ve trimmed away? How do you keep track of all of your financial information so that it’s not chaotic and incomprehensible? How do you ensure that you’re not ensnared in loan debt over and over again? How do you keep this good thing going?

If you follow this plan and keep these principles in mind, you can easily live your dream. It’s all up to you, and it takes just an hour a day for a month to get things going.

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  1. Cindy says:

    Thank you Trent. I’ve enjoyed every day! You are an excellent writer.

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  3. Leo says:

    Trent, I’ve loved this series all month long. Excellent job.

    I also posted today about how to stop living from paycheck to paycheck, but it’s more of a stopgap measure than what you’ve provided.

  4. Jonathan says:


    Do you happen to have a full one-page of the entire series?

    Better yet…hmmm…have you thought of making an eBook out of this yet? Just a thought.. :-)

    It’s very sound advice and a great read.


  5. Nick Crellin says:

    … I was blown away by the candid and honest approach to viewing “the cost of something” and equating that to “number of hours I worked for it.” …

  6. Ranjan says:

    I have been following your blog since a month and this post tells me what I’ve missed earlier.

    I have started an online weekly on personal finance with an Indian perspective and your posts have inspired me in many ways. And you are part of my weblinks.

    I guess making it into an ebook is a good idea.


  7. Ruthann says:

    Hi Trent
    I work with college students every day – and the scary thought that they do NOT have any saavy about credit, budgets or how to manage finances. I have a great opportunity to work with them fairly young – before they get into serious trouble with the credit card offers that come pouring in.
    Your information is easy to use and friendly enough that they are open to it – THANK YOU!

  8. Dan M. says:

    You should consider posting the 31 Days to Fix your Finances as a Kindle book. I know you are frequently on Amazon so I’m sure you’ve seen all of the ads for the Kindle. Less well known is the self-publishing capabilities. The review on the Motley Fool talked about how he had self-published a manuscript in less than an hour.
    Could be one way to start replacing some of the lost ad revenue.
    Keep up the good work!

  9. BlueRadioVan says:

    I like the 31 days you talk about. One helpful thing to add to the downloads would be a spreadsheet that has all the things you talk about making lists for so they are easy to keep track of. I made one for myself and my wife, if it would help others, let me know. Thanks and keep up the great work!

  10. Stellan says:

    Wonderfully written! And packed with useful tips.

    I might actually turn out to apply these steps to the first month of 2008.

  11. Fran says:

    It’s good to see dreams as a priority! So often in the effort to put out fires (financial and otherwise), they get lost or abandoned. Yet with a little self discipline, one can create a safe space to nurture them!

  12. Dana says:

    I just got on, and I’m really impressed. What a great resource! Thank you so much for such a useful, valuable tool for those of us still learning how to make money and make our money work for us.

  13. Shaun Rosenberg says:

    Good advice but you forgot to mention investing. Thats very important too.


  14. just what I’m looking for..
    now I have a game plan to take charge of my personal finance..

    I’ve made an online journal about this which I decided to follow in a regular basis, 31 days of fixing personal finance in the eye of an overseas worker..

    thanks and have a nice day to all

  15. just what I’m looking for..
    now I have a game plan to take charge of my personal finance..

    I’ve made an online journal about this which I decided to follow in a regular basis, http://www.wisewealthbuilder.com/wealth-building-where-do-i-begin ; 31 days of fixing personal finance in the eye of an overseas worker..

    thanks and have a nice day to all

  16. Some great advice – thank you.

  17. Cameron says:

    I always keep in mind how much I have earned versus the amount of expenses. Just hope its a positive number.

  18. operagal says:

    A friend introduced me to your website. I ordered your ebook and took the 31 day challenge. This past weekend I saw the fruits of my labor. After figuring out what my hourly wage was (pathetic for all the hours I’m working) I found myself changing my plans because an evening out wasn’t worth 12 hours of work and preparing my breakfast burriots instead of stopping for a breakfast sandwich.

    At the end of a two week pay period, I’d finally manged to pay off two of my debts completely, split an additional $200 into debts/dreams, put $600 into my emergency fund and still have $300 at the end of the month. I’ve told everyone about your website and am helping my friends who are afraid to look at their finances commit to one small task a day. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You were able to shift my perspective in the course of 31 days.

  19. Kristie Tamsevicius says:

    Wow! Being newly divorced, I am suddenly fending for myself finance wise. I am trying to get my financial house in order. This 31 day plan is just what I needed. I also have an article on 3 Sneaky Things that Blow Your Budget Every Time that your readers might find helpful over at our blog – http://www.myloansusa.com/blog/?p=13

    I will print out the ebook and let you know how it helps me. Thanks!

  20. Heard about you on Real Estate Radio usa, and it was just the thing I needed. I have been keeping up to date on your blog, when having time, reading the back pages, etc.

    Thank you!

  21. Cindy says:

    I have a question. When paying off credit card debt (approx $30,000) would it be wiser to go and get a loan at the credit union or bank for a fixed rate of interest or is it smarter to pay the lowest balance first and then take that money and apply it to the next lowest and so on until they are paid? Thank you.

  22. Insightful and wonderfully written! And packed with useful tips. Thank you!

  23. Victor says:

    Thanks for the practical and down-to-earth financial tips. I converted the list of articles into a booklet readable on java enabled phones and shared them with my friends. They loved it.


  24. Kaitlin says:

    well i think my best wibsite is google because i have a igoogle its a e-mail and im like lttle not that little im a teen! :)

  25. elioth says:

    Here’s a good article about fixing your credit score


  26. Coupon says:

    Very good article! you list many really good ways to fix our finances.

    Another way is: improve your abilities to earn more money. such as: go to graduate school or professional school to learn more knowledge or skills, then get better job with higher salary.

    thanks for sharing!

  27. Vaporizer says:

    Great steps to follow, very great way to manage finances…however only a select few would actually follow this method and be able to effectively finish this process.

  28. Debt Consolidation Regina says:

    This is brilliant guide! Thanks for sharing. Very informative, detailed and comprehensive financial tips. A must download for any individual seeking quality advice on how to manage and fix your finances.

  29. Finance says:

    Another great article by thesimpledollar ! If one was to follow their step by step methods as well as use our free tool to manage their money, then that persons finances would be in perfect order

  30. Mimi says:

    I wasnt sure about this at first but I saty thropugh a live webinar with the CEO of the company. Check out “How to Make Money Like the Banks and Replace Your Income in Less Than Three Years.”
    You cant miss this one

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