This means doing regular checkups with your money. Here are three key things to put on your calendar for the start of each month to ensure the cash you work hard to earn is helping you build the life you want.
Take a look at your account statements
The start of the month is a great time to settle down with a glass of wine or beer and your monthly statements from anyone you do business with, including your bank, credit card company, retirement account, HSA bank account, internet provider, student loan servicer and mortgage provider.
First and foremost, check for mistakes or problems. Did your bank forget to credit you for a deposit, or is there a suspicious charge on your credit card statement? You may have a limited time to file certain types of claims — usually around 60 days — so call right away as soon as you notice the problem.
Finally, the fun stuff: Check how your debt balance has declined and how your investments have (hopefully) increased. If you calculate your net worth — and you should, because it's a really good measure of your progress — update it.
If this all sounds like a hassle, streamline the process by using a budgeting app that lets you link all your accounts so you can sign into a single site to see all your transactions as well as your changes in debts and investment balances — Mint is a prime example of one such app.
Figure out how much you spent last month
Making a budget is the easy part. Living by it is harder. So at the beginning of each month, compare your actual spending from the prior month to how much you budgeted. (Don't have a budget? Here's how to get started.)
Did you stay on budget for discretionary spending like eating out, groceries and entertainment? If you did, or spent less than planned, transfer a little extra money to savings. If you didn't, it's time to adjust for the next month.
"Checking in on your budget and expenses monthly by setting and scheduling recurring money dates into your calendar is key," Mary Beth Storjohann, founder of Workable Wealth, told Credit.com. "This gives you a chance to review inflows and outflows and make adjustments as necessary."
If you find yourself consistently overspending on a particular category, you're obviously not being realistic. Adjust your budget going forward, making cuts elsewhere if necessary to ensure spending doesn't exceed income.
Next, take a quick look at your budget for the next four weeks. Did you accidentally forget you have to budget for that awesome birthday dinner out with Tiffany, or perhaps neglect to budget for a Mother's Day gift? Tweak the budget to account for your planned spending.
With your budget in good shape for the month, the only thing left to do is follow it.
Set a money goal for this month — or year
Finally, set a goal that will help you get smarter about your money. The more you understand about your finances, the better you'll be at making big decisions throughout your life.
Some ideas to get you started: Learn a new skill so you can DIY instead of having to hire someone to say, paint your apartment; come up with a real plan for how you will save an extra $500 by Memorial Day so you'll have more "fun" money in your budget this summer; or commit to saving an extra $100 a month for retirement.
Your monthly money goal could be as simple as learning more about managing your money. Learn about the different kinds of retirement accounts and figure out if you've got the best ones. Read up on the differences between stocks, bonds and mutual funds if you want to invest more. Then teach yourself how to diversify your investment portfolio.
If you're doing something every month to improve your financial knowledge and make your money work harder for you, you're on the fast track to financial success.
Sign up for The Payoff — your weekly crash course on how to live your best financial life. Additionally, for all your burning money questions, check out Mic’s credit, savings, career, investing and health care hubs for more information — that pays off.