My Weekly Personal Finance Routine

net worth workoutAlmost as soon as my review of Susan Feitelberg’s The Net Worth Workout was posted, several readers wrote to me with great interest about my own weekly personal finance routine. One came from Alex:

How exactly do you fill an hour and a half each week working on your personal finances? I only need to spend a few minutes. Isn’t an hour and a half kind of a waste of time?

I should point out here that I actually spend a lot more than an hour and a half a week thinking about personal finance – after all, I spend a lot of time doing research explicitly for this site. I spend my weekly personal finance session focusing entirely on my own financial situation, although it quite often produces a good handful of ideas for The Simple Dollar.

So, how do I fill this hour and a half each week?

I make sure all my bills are paid. This involves going through all of the mail received in the last week, pulling out the bills, and paying them using online banking. I also pay several bills by checking their balances online on the first Sunday of the month and paying those with online banking.

I check all of my accounts just to make sure they’re in good standing. This usually involves logging onto a small handful of websites and checking my statements and recent transactions there.

On the first Sunday of each month, I prepare a monthly personal finance statement. This usually takes about an hour or so, since it requires collecting a lot of data from various places, organizing it, and doing a lot of comparisons to earlier months (mostly for my own interest).

I read prospectuses for the index funds I’m invested in or considering investing in. Lately, I’ve been reading a big pile of prospectuses from Vanguard. This way, I gain a strong understanding of what their funds are actually indexing and whether or not I want to invest in them myself.

I do research for upcoming major purchases. Lately, this has mostly involved research into automobiles. I take down a lot of notes, then compile them into useful “talking points” for the decision my wife and I are making.

I engage my wife in discussions on some of these issues. We talk about our goals. We talk about how our investments and income are doing. We talk about our plans for big upcoming purchases. We talk about our dreams, too, and about how they’re constantly evolving and growing and changing.

Each week, I try to learn about something new. Sometimes it’s a skill that could be useful for saving money. Other times, it might be learning about how a specific type of investment works. Quite often, the things I learn about here translate directly into Simple Dollar posts, but I do this learning for my own personal growth and I’d do it regardless of whether or not I was writing The Simple Dollar.

This stuff easily fills an hour and a half. In fact, the “hour and a half” is usually just the length of my children’s nap. If they nap for longer, I dig a little deeper and keep reading.

Because of this routine, I feel myself understanding more and more about some of the nuances of how to manage money. I’m more in touch with my risk tolerance, for one, and my knowledge about specific investments seems to be growing by leaps and bounds.

Why not give it a try? You don’t need to spend an hour and a half – just set aside a half an hour each weekend to do this and grow it from there if you feel it’s appropriate.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.