Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My Sister’s Keeper: Sharing Financial Goals with an Accountability Partner

“Don’t you have any tips for single folks?” I’m often asked. Like any writer, I tend to write from my own experience — that of a married man. Fortunately, there are plenty of single people in the GRS community who are willing to share the things they’ve learned. Here’s a guest post from Kinley Levack about how she and her sister hold each other financially accountable.

Over Christmas 2007, my sister Michelle and I started chatting about our finances. We had independently come to the same conclusion: we each needed to get our act together. We decided that beginning 01 January 2008, we would help each other move in the right direction.

Sharing accounts and goals
We started by baring it all. We both made lists of our debts, accounts, etc. I had already spent about two years knocking down a credit card balance that had crept up to nearly $6,000. But I had virtually nothing in the way of savings, and had only recently begun contributing to a 401(k).

Michelle's goals were primarily related to debt reduction. She had accumulated a couple of store credit cards that she wanted to pay off, as well as an outstanding amount due for a class at a local university. She had fairly limited savings.

We each created a document listing:

  • The amounts we contributed to our savings and investment accounts each month
  • The amounts paid toward debts each month
  • Our monthly goals
  • Our major expenses each month
  • And so on…

A simple Microsoft Word document with a page-per-month view worked best for me.

Performing a monthly review
At the beginning of each month, we send updates to each other with that month’s set of goals, the most up-to-date figures for each account, and a quick recap of how we did with the previous month's goals. My updates are never more than one page in Microsoft Word. They take about 20 minutes or so to pull together.

Some goals are very specific. One of my goals in January 2008 was to increase my 401(k) contribution from 3% to 6%. But other goals are more vague. Michelle noticed that her Starbucks spending was getting out of control, for example, so she worked to be more aware of what she was spending there.

Each January, we also develop year-long goals.

Over the past 18 months, Michelle has nearly paid off all of her debts. (She has a little left on her primary credit card.) She has also substantially increased her savings, and in the past five months alone has raised her credit score nearly 100 points. I have increased my savings to cover almost three months of expenses, fully funded a Roth IRA each year, and set up a holiday fund that I contribute to monthly to cover Christmas expenses. (That seems to be a budget-buster for me every year.)

Providing support!
This has been a great accountability system for both of us. As sisters, we have no problem calling each other out when we think the other one is being irresponsible. But we are also incredibly supportive of each other. We’re both in our twenties, so we have plenty of time before retirement, but we needed to get the ball rolling toward being financially fit.

This partnership also works well because we have similar mindsets about saving and investing; we have a lot that we want to accomplish, but we also want to enjoy ourselves now and have about the same tolerance level for shopping, dining, and travel. I think it's important to have a counterpart with roughly the same idea about saving versus spending. If one of us was a big shopper and the other super-frugal, we'd probably just irritate each other.

Michelle and I haven't ever discussed an end point to this system; we just keep learning as much as we can and making bigger goals. We'll see how it all turns out. So far, so good!

When you have a spouse or partner, you generally have built-in financial support. I think Kinley and her sister have discovered a great way to lend each other support, even while remaining single. Photo by Snippets 101.

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