How to best use a paper day planner to help you meet your money goals, according to experts


If you're hoping to get your finances on track in the New Year, start by getting organized on paper. Incorporating your budget to-dos with your everyday tasks in an old-school paper day planner can help you keep your financial goals at top of mind, organizational experts say — and actually achieve them.

From 2017 to 2018, U.S. consumers spent $210 billion on organizational systems and supplies like bullet journals and day planners, according to data from The NPD Group. Hashtags like #plannercommunity and planner-focused Instagram accounts like @passionplanner have grown in popularity, with members sharing tips on planner products and layouts.

Even if you use a virtual calendar or spreadsheet, keeping a daily planner as well adds an extra layer of accountability. Plus, an elegant or colorful planner can make the process more enjoyable. "Finding a strategy that you enjoy when it comes to budgeting is a game changer," says Kelly Smith of Freedom In A Budget.

Here's how to best use a day planner to reach your financial goals.

Factor financial tasks into everyday life

Keeping a budgeting spreadsheet is useful, but one way to factor your budgeting into your everyday life is to incorporate it into your daily planner.

"I like to section off my planner into what's on my to-do list," says Smith. "Or a lot of times I'll have a section in my planner where I can write down what I'm thankful for that day, and then having another section for expenses and different bills that I have to pay that day."

Schedule time within your week to revisit your budget and check in with yourself to figure out what needs to be added to your planner. "Make it part of your daily habit," says Smith. "Set aside time every morning when you first wake up, or every night before bed to revisit your planner and update it or track your progress."

How reverse budgeting can relieve money stress

Video by Courtney Stith

Take advantage of the planner format

It's important to come up with a system that motivates you to want to use it, says Allison Strickland, the blogger behind Financial Flamingo.

You might color-code your activities or expenses, use stickers to highlight bigger goals, or try out colored markers or pens. Check out Pinterest or Instagram for money planner layouts and doodles that could inspire you.

"If I have a meeting it's a certain color, or a training, it's another color," says Strickland. "I always try to do a little extra something that's fun and will keep me organized."

Courtesy Allison Strickland

Set goals and timelines

At the start of the year, and the start of each month, sit down and come up with a list of big and little financial goals for that period.

Break up bigger or long-term projects into smaller steps. Mark down key to-dos and dates in your planner so that you're reminded of the milestones you want to hit, and can track your progress toward them.

For example, if you're aiming to purchase your first home before the end of the year, set deadlines for yourself to help you achieve that goal. That might mean vowing to have paid off a debt by a specific date, aiming to have your credit score higher in six months or, by the end of the year, having saved up enough for a down payment.

Setting goals and realistic timelines for yourself can keep you accountable to those goals.

Courtesy Allison Strickland

Track your progress

After you've set your goals, creating some kind of tracker within your planner that shows you how far you've come is a great way to keep the momentum going. Grow spoke to one couple last year who managed to pay off $18,000 in just two years by using a whiteboard to visually track their debt-free journey.

"For my student loan debt, I've created a chart in the back of my planner that, as I chip away at the balance, I can fill in," says Strickland. "So, every time I make a payment towards my debt, I can cross out a portion of my chart and it's motivating to see that progress."

Something as simple as a bar that you fill in each time you put more toward a goal can give you small wins to celebrate and the motivation you need to keep going.

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