I Don't Balance My Checkbook Like My Mom

May 5, 2016

Photo credit: Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Thinkstock

My mother would kill me if she knew. And now that I’m admitting it on the Internet I’m going to have some serious explaining to do.

Growing up, I remember my mom sitting at the desk in our living room and meticulously balancing the checkbook and paying bills. After I got my first job as a teenager, she sat me down and taught me how to balance my own checkbook. For a long while, like the dutiful daughter I am, I was diligent about following her lead.

But somewhere along the line I lost my way. For a while I moved from the checkbook register to entering debit card receipts into Excel. I even dabbled in Microsoft Money for a minute. The truth is, about the time I began paying all my bills electronically, balancing my checkbook my mom’s way started to feel passé.

These days, I keep an eye on my checking account online. I know when money is coming in, when money is going out, and whether I’ll have enough to cover all my bills. Every month I look over my bank statement to make sure there are no unexpected charges.

At some point that once-a-month check-in started to concern me. What if there was a fraudulent charge at the beginning of the month? It could be 30-plus days before I noticed anything was wrong. That’s plenty of time to wreak havoc on my financial well-being.

That’s when I signed up for account alerts from my bank. Most banks allow for endless customization of the alerts you receive. I now get a text immediately if there is any withdrawal from my savings account or from my checking account above a dollar amount I set. Every few days, I get a summary email with all charges from my account.

I’ve found the alerts to be helpful because they force me to keep an even closer eye on my finances. Beyond alerts, your bank’s app or website is a good place to start if you’re looking for a money management system that works for you. Mint is another popular (and free!) choice. It’s especially powerful in analyzing your spending and helping you set up a budget. ClearCheckbook is another alternative, although you’ll pay to use some of the premium features.

In the end, I no longer feel guilty about not balancing my checkbook the traditional way. I have a system that makes sense to me and keeps my finances in line. What works for some of us, is absolutely terrifying to others. But understanding how different people handle their money allows us to tweak our own system.

P.S. Mom – I asked around, and I’m not the only one of your children who doesn’t balance their checkbook. But we’re all very sorry… public apology on the Internet kind of sorry.

What tools help you manage your money?

This post was written by Lisa Fedak, Creative Services Manager at Colorado PERA. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please email us at dimecontact@copera.org.