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How to Get Your Finances Under Control (Like the Money BOSS You Are)

Working on getting your finances in order? The action steps you need to take control and get your life back on track financially.

Have you ever thought, “this is the year I put my financial life in order”…only to have trouble making that financial resolution stick?

couple on floor, smiling, working on finances together, text overlay "5 actions to take back control of your money - you've got this!"

We're going to talk about how to get your finances under control.

You know, so you feel like YOU control THEM, and not the other way around?

The tips below are going to make you the Money Boss, which is where you belong to be.

First up? I've got a trick for you that will help you take ACTION on the things you need to take action on, in order to get your finances in order.

Money Boss Tip #1: Make this Mindset Shift to Help Clean Things Up

Have you ever noticed that people (and you) act differently when they think other people are watching?

It’s only natural to not want people to think we are weird, outcasts, gross, broke, etc.

And it’s even more natural to finish projects, clean in the hard-to-reach places, fix a few things, and overall put our best foot forward when we know company is coming over.

The truth is, if you were to show up at my home on a Friday when I am given the run of my home to write, do laundry, and otherwise do as I please, you will most likely find me in my pajamas until about 2:00 p.m. (not asleep until 2:00; I typically wake up at around 7:00 a.m. But that doesn’t mean I have to get dressed!).

But if I knew you were coming over, then I’m sure I’d find the time to get dressed and straighten up a bit.

Some people may find the process of “freshening up” before company comes over cumbersome, unnecessary, or stressful.

I actually love it. Because it sets an actual deadline.

If you have company coming over, then you have an actual deadline plus motivation to get stuff sorted out. It's the same with if you know someone is going to be peeking at your financial life.

We have been blessed with lots of out-of-town family and friends visiting us over the last year. And each time I have taken the opportunity to create a bit of urgency on a project that’s been sitting too long, tackle something that was important to me but not enough to have completed yet, and given the house a deep cleaning.

Get Your Finances in Order Like “Company's Coming Over”

I wonder how you would change your financial ways if you knew others could see what you're doing? You know, if someone got to take a peek into your financial life two months from now?

For some, this happens during tax season, when they drag out all of their receipts and information and send them to someone to be sifted through (or sit there with them as they go through everything).

Probably feels a bit like them peering into your money underwear drawer.

What if you had to report to an accountant more often? Would you maintain better organization of your financial files?

I’ll bet you would. How about if someone was tracking your savings account balance? Or your automatic withdrawal amounts (or lack thereof)?

I think we can all take the opportunity to look over our finances and figure out what we would be embarrassed to tell others about. Because those are the areas that need our attention.

Psst: here's 16 more money mindset exercises for you.

Money Boss Tip #2: Spring Clean Your Finances

You need to spring clean your finances. Think about it: putting the time in now to get everything tidied up will both:

  • Show you the ugly stuff that you need to take care of (it tends to bubble up to the surface after a good clean)
  • Give you that clean-slate feeling that helps motivate you to do EVEN more

Financial Nesting Action #1: Clean Out Your Wallet

When rummaging through my wallet to pull out a credit card for us to reap reward points for a mini-project we'd like to get done before little guy arrives, my husband made a discovery: my trusty credit card that I opened 9 years ago had expired…nearly 8 months ago.


I was able to find the new cards they had sent us, activate them, and replace the expired one in my wallet.

But this got me thinking: what else is lurking in my wallet that I no longer need or that needs our attention but got lost in the haze of pregnancy?

Here's what I found:

  • An American Express gift card with $2.70 left on it (equals a free Starbucks coffee for Paul)
  • A debit card to an ING electric orange checking account (hint: this company no longer exists after Capital One bought and rebranded them as CapitalOne360, oh only about three years ago…)

Financial Nesting Action #2: Clean Out “The Drawer”

Everyone's got their drawer. You know, where you store things that seem not as important to hang out on your countertop, but too important to file away in a filing cabinet.

Ours is in the desk in our kitchen. Inspired by what I had found in the wallet, I went to the drawer and made the following discoveries:

  • An American Express gift card in my husband's pile with $15.52 left on it
  • A Dunkin Donuts gift card in that same pile, with $0.44 on it (that's a few donut holes!)
  • An old Blockbuster rental card (no joke!)

Financial Nesting Action #3: Close Down Unused Accounts

Remember that when you close down any lines of credit, your credit score will temporarily get dinged. Since we don't have any large purchases we'll be financing coming up + we have a stocked emergency fund, this doesn't matter to us. Efficiency and being able to keep track of everything matters much more.

Because of this, I did the following:

  • Closed Down a Chase Credit Card: We had opened this one perhaps a year or two ago for the $200 bonus. We no longer need it or use it. From closing our Chase Credit card, we're getting an unexpected $23 in cash rewards they're depositing into our checking account (woohoo!).
  • Closed down the Macy's Credit Card: I was surprised a few months ago when I received a change of terms document from Macy's…on a credit card I had opened ten years earlier to get a 10% discount off buying my first official business suit. Needless to say, I closed this one down.

Financial Nesting Action #4: Submit those Documents + Claims

Between 2003 when I first traveled abroad to Japan to study, and 2005 while Paul was still in Japan, I traveled several times back and forth from the US. And it turns out there's a current class action lawsuit with airlines I traveled with during this period (American and JAL) with a claims deadline of September 19th, 2015 to apply. Since I saved all my ticket stubs (with glee!), and I've had luck in the past with winning cash from class action lawsuits, I went ahead and submitted a claim. The total time it took was just under 20 minutes.

Maybe you don't have any class action lawsuits to submit info to. If that's the case, for this action step you can substitute those nagging financial things you were supposed to send in, or wanted to send in, months ago. For us, that was this.

All in all I feel really good about taking the time to close up these loose financial ends last week. Now I don't have to think to myself, “oh, I should really close that Macy's account”, or “ooohhh what if I don't get that class action in on time and miss out on some money back?” Instead I can just plaster smiles on my little guy when he arrives in the Fall and brace myself for all of the changes to come.

Money Boss Tip #3: Identify the Uglies + Action Steps

If you've told yourself “this is the year I put my financial life in order”, then buckle up. I'm about to show you the steps to take to put your financial house in order (you know, like your MIL is coming over).

Step #1: Survey Your Money Life

Use this mental shift to sweep over your entire financial life for anything that would make you embarrassed to show others.

We're talking about your:

  • Budgeting, or lack of budgeting
  • Savings account balance
  • Emergency fund balance
  • Late bill payments
  • Consistent overdraft fees
  • etc.

Here are some specific items you could add to your list: 

  • Learn how to use those financial accounts you haven't signed up for/registered for online.
  • Ask for a rate reduction on your credit card's high interest rates.
  • Choose one category where you're embarrassingly (even to yourself) overspending, and concentrate on spending less next month on it (here's how to train yourself to spend less money).
  • Find out what your credit score actually is.
  • Educate yourself on one personal finance topic you have been too ashamed to ask others about because everyone seems to know what it is (hint: always ask! Even if you're embarrassed. I'm a huge questioner…just ask my past co-workers at the TCEQ). These 41 free money management courses, my personal 29 life lessons about money, and best personal finance books of all time should help.

Step #2: Make a List of Priorities Using Red-Light-Green-Light

I like to play a game of green light/red light with a “dump” list of financial tasks or areas that need attention.

Because, let's be honest, we only have so many hours in the day. Some money tasks need to be taken cared of ASAP, while others can wait a bit.

Take your list, and color in either a green dot, yellow dot, or red dot next to it.

  • Red dots are those tasks that need your immediate attention, and/or the tasks that, when fixed, will enable you to solve other tasks on your list.
  • Yellow dots are tasks that need your attention pretty quickly, but can hold off on until you finish the immediate needs.
  • Green dots are tasks that you can hold off for a few months, if need be, to work through the rest of your list.

Rewrite your list into three columns (each column a different color, with red on the left, and green on the right), or in one long list with your red-dotted tasks on top, yellow, then green ones.

Step #3: Systematically Work through Your List

You've created your list of financial tasks, and prioritized them as they need to be! This is your list you need to work through — that list that, once you're finished, will give you so much less stress in your money life (and real life — the two are tied pretty tightly, anyway).

Start systematically working through this list — either from left to right or from top to bottom — and you'll start seeing things get better.

Systematically just means you dedicate a certain schedule or have a certain goal with your efforts. Such as:

  • I will work on completing one task per week.
  • I will work three lunches per week to fix the items on this list.
  • I vow to have all my “red dot” items completed by the end of this month.
  • etc.

Money Boss Tip #4: Conduct a Spending Audit

Part of getting your finances under control is being able to use your money for what YOU want it to do.

Take a minute and answer this question: what is it that you really, really, really, REALLY, want in your life right now?

You know, that thing (insert service, product, subscription, etc.) that, because you don’t want to take on yet another recurring monthly expense, you’re pretending you don’t want?

We’re going to do something together today. We’re going to open up room in your cash flow for the services + products that you need/want to live your best life now, and shed the ones that no longer make sense.

Hint: by shedding services + purchases that no longer make sense for you, we’ll essentially keep your spending at its same level or decrease it, but UP your quality of life big time. This is a powerful exercise!

That’s right; it’s time to audit your spending, filter out anything that used to be important to you, and make room for some spending that will make a difference in your CURRENT life.

How I Audited My Biz Spending to Make Room for a New Virtual Assistant

I recently did this in my business. There were several services that I was continuing to pay for each month that used to make sense for me.

Even just 12 months ago.

But guess what? My biz now is different from what it was at the end of 2016. And the biz I want my biz to grow into? Needs different services + products to help get it there.

Here are the subscriptions I’ve shed in my biz audit conducted last month:

  • Buffer App: $109/year, or $9.08/month
  • Maintenance Tech Help: $79/month
  • Quiz Platform: $35/month
  • Email Service Provider: $35/month

Total “found” money: $158.08/month.

And with this newfound money? I can hire out for things to make my life much easier, which will both help my biz grow + help me stay sane.

How to Audit Your Own Recurring Monthly Spending

Step #1: Sniff Out Your Recurring Costs

First you need to know what’s going out of your budget that is recurring. You can usually figure this out by just looking at two months’ worth of financial statements.

Print out the last two months’ bank + credit card statements, and take a highlighter out.

Highlight each recurring payment (the ones that you can unsubscribe from – don’t worry, I’m not asking you to, I’m just asking that you become aware of things) to places like:

  • Netflix
  • Food delivery services like Blue Apron (here's my Blue Apron review)
  • Apple store purchases
  • Anything you signed up for with a free trial
  • Cable/Internet
  • Cleaning services
  • Dry-cleaning services
  • Recurring sessions with places like masseuse, salons, therapists, acupuncture, etc.

Add up how much money each month it costs for all of these services.

Step #2: Assess which represent your old life

You’re moving you into your next chapter of your life, whatever that may look like. So, you need to shed what no longer represents where you’d like to prioritize your money in order to open up the funds.

Here are some filter questions:

  • Which services represent the needs of my old self?
  • Which services are under-delivering and over-promising?
  • Which services am I just not using like I thought I would?
  • Which services can I just cut back on but still keep to a degree (think: de-supersize)?

Add up the total amount from the services you can cut back on or want to cut out altogether.

Step #3: Actually cut those services out of your life

Take an afternoon, a lunch hour, or whatever you’ve got – for me, that’s often entertaining my 2-year old while talking to a rep on a shoulder-perched phone – and actually cancel what needs to go.

Step #4: Immediately set aside the freed-up money

There is an actual checking account gremlin. I’m sure of it.

So instead of keeping that newfound money in your checking account without giving it a purpose, give it a purpose pronto.

This means adding up all the money you just found and doing one of two things:

  • Sweeping it into a designated savings account via automatic withdrawal
  • Signing up for the new services so that the money is spent with intention and purpose towards what you’d like to accomplish or do or have next

And that’s it. Do this once a year, or at least do this for this year, and set yourself up to get closer towards where you want to be.

Money Boss Tip #5: Personalize Overused Financial Advice

I love personal finance. I’m a numbers geek and have a budget sheet {+ exploratory budget sheets} to back that up.

Me + Personal Finance = Glee

But I’ve found that sometimes when I discuss numbers and the glory of compound interest, all that is staring back at me are a pair of glazed-over eyes.

People spit out unintended-intentions at me as if they’ve run into their high school Phys Ed teacher:

That sounds great! I’ll get right on that.

Wow, I never knew that. I have some time this weekend to look into it.

Sorry I wasn’t able to get to that yet. It’s on my to-do list.

It’s not that they don’t want the best for them and their families. Sometimes it’s just a time issue. But mainly, I think I get these responses because several of the things that I and other financial bloggers discuss are levels ahead of what a person can accomplish right now {confession: we all started where you are}.

And if you can’t do something about it right now, then what’s the point? For example, saving for retirement is essential in ensuring a secure and comfortable future {don’t start glazing over on me}. But what if you are living paycheck to paycheck? Listening to this (sound) advice would probably lead you to either a) feel bad about yourself and your circumstances, or b) tune out for life.

So today I am going to take three of the best, and most-regurgitated pieces of money advice out there and break them down into bite-sized chunks that everyone can follow.

Crumbs today, whole slices of peach pie tomorrow!

Financial Advice #1 — Max Out Your Roth IRA Each Year ($5,500 Annually)

It’s true; retirement is going to happen for most of us.

And guess what else? I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan on putting all of my faith and future dreams into Social Security.

So what are you supposed to do if you can’t possibly put $5,500 away each year for the sake of your future self’s happiness?

  • Alternative #1: You find out your employer has a matching contribution to your 401(K), and you have yet to sign up for it. While you don’t think you can afford the $5,500 max annual contribution to an IRA, you know that if you stretch yourself, you can put 1% of your paycheck towards your retirement (which really equals 2% with your employer’s matching contribution). What a fantastic start!
  • Alternative #2: You take part or all of your tax return and fund a traditional IRA. And if you qualify for the Saver’s Tax Credit, then you’ve set yourself up for doubling down on those tax benefits. Now we’re talking!
  • Alternative #3: Even if you can’t afford the roughly $458/month you need to set aside in order to reach that $5,500 max by the end of the year, you can still set aside something. Set up an automatic withdrawal from your checking account (or paycheck) of $XX-$XXX per month to your IRA (even setting aside just $50 a month for the next 35 years at a modest rate of return can reap you close to $70,000. It’s not enough to retire on, but it sure beats nothing!).

Financial Advice #2 — Build an 8-Month Emergency Fund

With the economy the way it’s been going, even fancy-pants financial pundits like Suze Orman have decided to up the amount of time your emergency fund should cover your expenses from 6 months to 8 months {as if most people even had 6 months’ worth of expenses set aside to begin with}.

This is very sound advice…but perhaps it’s not reachable for you. After all, if it was easy to do this, you’d probably already have that nice little cushion earning interest on your behalf.

  • Alternative #1: You’ve probably figured out by now that the “savings” on the end of your receipts from the grocery store, drugstore, etc. aren’t actually “savings” in the normal sense of the word. If consistently setting aside a lot of money each month puts your stomach in knots, then play a savings game instead. For every receipt that you get, transfer the amount of “savings” at the bottom of your receipt into your actual savings account. Did you save $15.06 at CVS playing the Drugstore Game? Transfer that from your checking to your savings account. Saved another $17.31 at Kroger’s? Transfer that to savings. These are bite-sized chunks of manageable savings that will add up to a whole cannoli one day.
  • Alternative #2: Deposit most or all of any tax refund you receive into a savings account, and then treat it like a black hole (money goes into it, but it never comes out). Even if you do eventually take money out of it, by treating it like a black hole you will use more creativity and practicality before tapping it than you would otherwise.
  • Alternative #3: Perhaps you don’t have 6 or 8 months, but maybe you have something in an account to begin with. Make sure you are optimizing your money (without any risk, as you need to be able to access this money in the case of, well, an emergency). I’m talking about a good ole’ savings account. Interest rates aren’t too great right now, but some accounts offer 0.25% per month while others offer 0.85% per month. Choosing the account with a higher interest rate makes a difference overtime. At the end of the year, your money may have added an extra $50 of its own to your emergency savings account. Hey, every little bit helps!

Financial Advice #3 — Put 20% Down on Your New Home

Saving up a down payment of 20% is good for many reasons.

For starters, most loans make you pay PMI insurance if you have less than 20% down to begin with (a slow, steady leak of several hundred dollars out of your paycheck each month that you don’t get back, though it usually is tax deductible).

What is PMI? Mortgage companies know if they foreclose on a home, they usually will not receive full value for the home when it is sold. PMI is insurance to pay for any loss on the lender’s part when they sell a foreclosed home.

  • Alternative #1: Here’s a secret: we didn’t put 20% down on our home purchase in 2009. Why did we go ahead with it? Paul is a veteran {I snagged me a sailor!}, and so we were able to take out a VA loan which does not have that pesky little thing called PMI insurance (Note: there is an upfront funding fee that is tacked onto these types of loans, so you don’t get away completely unscathed). If you have access to a VA loan, then you can get around this PMI insurance too.
  • Alternative #2: Are you close to 20% down (keep in mind increasing/decreasing value of your home)? Calculate how much longer you will need to pay on the mortgage before reaching this because when you do you can usually get your PMI insurance removed. Not all lenders will allow it right at 20%, and it could take some time, but there is hope for you to get out of paying this fee.
  • Alternative #3: You can potentially shift the PMI costs onto the seller of the home. By finding a loan that allows prepaid PMI Insurance at closing and then having your seller cover part or all of the closing costs, you will not be responsible for the PMI despite having less than 20% to put down.

How do you think Kaitlyn Farrington was able to win the Gold Medal in the halfpipe in Sochi?

She certainly did not tune out at age 8 when she could hardly ride a snowboard at all. Something inspired her, something probably far beyond what she was currently able to do, and she implemented ways to challenge her current status quo. She upped her game, inspired by someone else’s work.

I’m not here to turn you off of personal finance out of frustration with my pie-in-the-sky ideas and suggestions. I’m here to inspire you to put your finances in the best shape possible at whatever level you are at.

An Example Money Task from Our Own Finances

I’ll start us all off with something I am a bit embarrassed about: as a frugal person who writes about finances, I have allowed us to get charged wayyyyyy too many fees for a dormant 401(K).

When Paul’s company was bought out over a year ago by another company, they no longer offered the 401(K) as an option. Essentially, we have an account with several thousand dollars in it that we can no longer contribute to, paired with a healthy dose of fees to maintain.

So while I get excited about shaving an extra five bucks off of a grocery bill, I’ve allowed these savings and more to be wiped out by letting this account sit. I need to take this opportunity (before someone peeks in — whoops!) and tidy up a bit by rolling this account over to Paul’s Roth IRA.

Does this mindset shift change getting your finances in order for you? What would you do differently if you knew someone was peeking into your finances? If you don’t wish to comment for many to see, I understand. 

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Amanda L Grossman

Personal Finance Writer and CEO at Frugal Confessions, LLC
Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 13 years, her money work has helped people with how to save money and how to manage money. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Real Simple Magazine, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here or on LinkedIn.

Bill in Houston

Thursday 21st of December 2017


Maybe for 2019. We have to see how much we can afford to pay off SBA for our home repair loan, and pay off our "new" cars. The Army Corps of Engineers flooded out most of my subdivision back in August. We got 18" of toxic gunk in the house and are remodeling.

I haven't seen a post from you in my e-mail for a while. I hope all is well. When I get time I'll revisit your site and catch up.

Take care,



Sunday 31st of December 2017

Hi Bill!

I'm so sorry to hear that your subdivision was flooded out back in August -- that is a major thing to deal with.

We lost both of our cars in flooding from the Hurricane and such, but are otherwise doing okay.

Thanks for popping in and saying hello. Happy New Year to you + yours!

Generations Thrift Store

Sunday 23rd of August 2015

I have a desk drawer that I keep saying I am going to clean but I continually add to it instead of cleaning it out. I have numerous credit cards that are closed or I no longer use that I need to get rid of.


Sunday 16th of August 2015

I love decluttering. Especially when it comes to decluttering financially. That's the best kind. I clean out my wallet quite regularly, although I should probably tackle the "drawer". ;)

Amanda L Grossman

Monday 17th of August 2015

That stinkin' drawer...;). Maybe I should call it the "treasure chest" and that would make me want to tackle it more often.


Thursday 13th of August 2015

We got new chip credit cards from Discover and I've been putting off activating them since so many things are auto-paid by that account and would need to be changed to the new info. So I finally had a few hours today, took the opportunity to switch everything to our 1.5% cash back CapOne Visa instead, and actually got a $20 refund from Weight Watchers for the recently charged but unused monthly membership of my hubby (and cancelled the account for now), and got a refund of $16 for HBO that I cancelled 3 weeks ago but apparently it didn't take (and made sure HBO was actually cancelled now). Pain in the butt, but got $36 right now for it and $36 saved monthly...plus the additional .5% cash back on all the bills now. :-)

Amanda L Grossman

Monday 17th of August 2015

Alright! I love it when there's an immediate financial payoff to doing these kinds of tasks:).


Wednesday 12th of August 2015

Why have I not thought to clean out my wallet!?!?! I'm on it! Thank you for the great tips.

Amanda L Grossman

Thursday 13th of August 2015

Glad to inspire you. It's so freeing to get rid of some of that wallet clutter:). Make room for more money -- muhahahaha!