Category Archives: spending

Money Mechanics

DSCN1787Getting into a better place with your money is about mindset and mechanics.  As you know, I focus on the mindset piece because it’s the piece everyone likes to “step over”, and it’s truly crucial to really being effective with your money.  That having been said I’d like to point out that the money mechanics are also important.

And guess what?  Just like most things about money, no one tells you how to do the basics around paying your personal bills.  By basics I mean having an easy, fundamental, simple system.  Mostly we tend to be at one end of the spectrum of the other with the mechanics of money.  At one end everything is all over the place.  There is no organization.  Bills are piled.  They may not even be opened.  It’s both maddening and overwhelming!  On the other end is someone who has a complex system with everything sorted, labeled, filed and date stamped.  That way can have people spending way more time and energy than needed.

These two extremes are pretty typical in all money thinking.  We are spenders or savers.  We are way too messy, or way too organized.  No surprise that, just like many other areas of money, I’m all for the mechanics landing more in the middle.  So based on running into some of these extremes lately with some folks I thought I’d share my personal system for paying bills.  You can, of course, use it or not.

The first, and in many ways most crucial thing, is the Basket.  Find a basket, something big enough to put bills in, and hopefully fun (like the one in the photo).  Put it somewhere that’s easy to see.  Now put the actual bills, receipts, checks, insurance papers and the like in the basket every day.  Open the mail by the basket.  Throw out anything that isn’t important like ads, or in my case the return envelope since I pay bills online.  What’s going to be in the basket is only things that you have to do something with.  Bills you need to pay.  Checks you need to deposit.  Receipts you want to record somewhere.  Things that require an action. Only put in the basket things that are related to your personal money. Also, as a bonus, the basket is an easy process for a couples that shares finances.  You both just put the bills, checks and receipts in the basket.  Ta da!  And if you also have a business just have a different basket for the business.

Now twice a month when you pay bills (or more often if need be) you just empty out the basket, create a couple of piles and do what is needed with each pile.  There’s not a bunch of junk to sort through, just the essentials.  When you are done the basket will be empty unless there is something that you aren’t ready to handle yet.

While you are handling the stuff in the basket I suggest one other tool: a form for the basics of each months bills.  I call the one I invented “Handy Dandy One Glance, Single Page Financial Obligation Overview Tool”.  I like the irony of giving this one page goody a complex name!  It’s a simple list of all my bills, with columns for each month.  I put a check mark in the current month column next to the vendor’s name each time I pay the bill.  Thus it’s really easy to see at a glance what’s been paid and what hasn’t.  On the same page there is a place for noting when Subscriptions/Dues/Renews are due; those things that aren’t monthly.  So one page for the whole year.  You can create something like this yourself, or email me at and I’ll send you a PDF.  Easy.

Next, if you are a “cruncher” you can post the payment or receipt to your spreadsheet, or accounting program.  If you aren’t a cruncher you can skip this and go directly to filing.  Personally I have a file for “filing” and only do it every so often.  Remember, I’m a recovering accountant so I tend to crunch, keep paper, and have it all well organized!

What you want is simple money mechanics that keep you up to date, paying things on time, depositing money as it comes in, and not having to hunt and fret over the process.  This system has worked well for me for many years.

Give it a try…and use a fun receptacle.  It’s great to start your bill paying each month with a smile if not a giggle.

For a copy of the form, or more support on simplifying your Money Mechanics give me a call at 503-258-1630, email me


Shell Tain, The Untangler

Protective & Effective

carpMuch too often we have an “all or none” perspective about things.  Money is one of those places.  We spend it or save it.   We hoard or bet it all.  We miss the all-important middle.  Working with a client the other day we hit upon another one of those extremes:  Protective vs effective actions.  In this money knot we either feel frozen in trying to protect what we have or create ineffective actions that leave us spinning wildly.

A good definition of protective is: “having or showing a strong wish to keep safe from harm.” When we are being protective we are being cautious.  There is, of course, value in being thoughtful and deliberate.  There is value in considering how to use your money in ways that align with what’s important to you.  This cautiousness gets to be a challenge when it goes too far.  Most of us remember some of the typical oddities about the way our “depression era survivor” grandparents behaved around money.  There are funny stories about basements with giant balls of saved scraps of tin foil (aluminum foil of the 30’s) and plastic margarine tubs by the dozen.   The idea was “Waste not, want not.”  Be careful.  Who knows what may happen, what disaster may befall us.  This behavior often went from being careful to the extreme of never actually recognizing that things got better and that they really didn’t need to “scrimp and save” for ever more.  Unfortunately, this protective nature gets really hard to even partially let go of.

Let’s look at the other word, effective.  It’s all about producing a desired result; solving a problem.  It actually requires action, lots of action.  The words thoughtful and deliberate come up here too, don’t they?  But in a different way than with protection.  We want an investment to be effective and make money for us, don’t we?   We try new ways of making money.  We hopefully lean on our talents to earn a living in a way that is more easy than arduous. Being effective is all about trying different ways of doing things.  Somehow it relates to trial and error and experimentation.  Figure out what works and what doesn’t.  Finding the way that gets the best results and perhaps even “more bang, for our buck”.  This works best when we are clear and intentional about our actions.

These two words can be and often are on opposing sides.  The protective side doesn’t want to risk something by acting.   Or the effective side may be so “gung ho” as to risk too much.

Here’s the deal: this is not an either/or situation.  It, like most things around money, will benefit from an application of both.   You do better by being protective and effective at the same time.  Find the middle. Combine the best of both money strategies.

Whichever one you tend to lean towards more, challenge yourself to “swing” out a bit and try the other one.  See what happens when you purposely pull yourself more toward the middle.  Money is really about the middle.  It swims toward us and away from us.  We earn it and spend it.   We give it and get it.  For it to work, and for you to do well with money, you need to find your personal balance between the extremes: between being protective and being effective.

I’m here to help you untangle all your money knots.  Just give me a call at 503-258-1630 or check out my website at


Shell Tain, The Untangler

Growing Money

The Money Knot this month explores a book from 1926, The New Mathematics, by John C. Stone.  (If you would like to sign up for the Money Knot and get a copy of this month’s issue, “The Good Ole Days” click here)

 I was so intrigued by this book because, even though it’s a “Math” book, it has extensive sections on how to deal with money.  Good things like the basics of banking and budgeting.

I was tickled by this table.  Who knows, it may be the original table for the concept of “Dollar Cost Averaging” since it’s actually about saving a dollar a year!  

The idea was then, and still is now, that if you sock away even a small amount and it grows by some percentage of interest, then that small amount becomes big.  Just a little bit makes a difference over time.  Our table shows that $1 invested over 40 years becomes between $61 or $164 dollars, depending on how much annual interest you are getting (2 – 6 %).  Note: this chart and our numbers are “compounding” once a year.  Most places do it more often than that, but we are keeping it relatively simple here.

The problem these days is that scale.  Somehow we scoff at the chart.  40 years!  Who can wait 40 years!  And only $100?

To see the value of this concept for yourself, bring it closer to home.  Don’t think of how much money Barbra Streisand’s Malibu house is worth ($12 million)…okay, now you’ve thought of it.  Bring it back home.

How much do you make an hour?  If you put what you make an hour in a conservative investment at say 4% for 40 years you would have 100 hours of savings.  Stated another way saving 1 hours gives you about 2.5 weeks of pay.  Yes, I know inflation will erode some of that, and does that circumstance make it less of a smart thing to do to take an hour a YEAR and save it?  What if you took an hour of pay a week? That’s like 50 or 52 hours a year.  Now take that at 4% for 20 years.  That comes out to 1,600 hours or about 40 weeks of pay, over 9 months of pay.

So the real question is would if be worthwhile for you to work an hour a week for your long term savings?  It can add up!  Start now…!