Make Money Management Fun

Written by John M. Grund

Hi, I'm John, and I'm addicted to... Quicken! money management software to help with smart spending 

When I bought my first copy of Quicken several years ago the sales clerk said, "You are going to have a lot of fun with this!"

At the time I thought I had encountered a new level of forced salesperson cheerfulness. Later I had to admit he was right.

I bought a money management program mostly because I had a computer and not much else to do with it. In time I came to feel I couldn't understand my life without the program. I had read about Quicken compulsives, the ones who track every penny of spending, but I never thought I'd become one. The first time I caught myself breaking out a nickel I gave to my little nephew as a "gift," I knew I had.

Like most addicts I started out small. For the first six months I did nothing more than mirror my checkbook register. But even that started to make my financial picture, previously an ungraspable column of numbers, something I could actually see. At the end of the month I'd click on the various graphing functions and the program would make sense of all the individual transactions. The first insight: I was spending more on dining out each month than groceries.

I decided to play a game: I'd try to buy more groceries than restaurant meals. I didn't succeed right away, of course, but the next month's graph showed me something fascinating; every extra dollar I spent on groceries saved me three in restaurant expense, even if I was buying deluxe deli food.

Then came the mortgage. It was frustrating to see the big monthly check chip off only $50 from the mountain of debt (early days in a 30-year mortgage). What if I canceled my cable service and put the money toward prepaying my mortgage? Quicken's calculators had the answer within a minute or two: Redirecting the $30 a month would cut five years off my mortgage and save me more than $21,000 over the life of the loan. Whoo-hooo!

Financial freedom is about maximizing choices. I think a lot of people avoid setting up a budget or tracking their spending because they believe it will be tedious or simply show them how backed into a corner they are. Or perhaps they feel the choices will be agonizing, life-saving surgery for the cat vs. a European vacation.

My experience has been that using a program to do the work is a breeze, the choices practically present themselves and are usually easy to make, and tracking your spending, even down to the penny, is (there's no other word for it) fun.

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