Good enough money management

Good enough. It’s a concept that doesn’t get much attention in a world fixated on Pinterest-inspired perfection. But it’s become a popular parenting topic. Good enough is a sanity saving concept for parents who fail live up to their own unrealistic expectations. It’s permission to say no when you really don’t have time to volunteer, to leave the house a mess and read to your kids, to hit the drive thru every now and then.

I’m a big fan living the good enough life, and not just as far as parenting is concerned. Good enough exercise. Good enough household management.

But my favorite place to apply the concept of good enough is to money. I’ve embraced financial imperfection—and you should too. We’re all living it anyway. 

Money stuff can be so overwhelming. That’s why denial, neglect, and magical math are common financial fallbacks. 

By embracing the idea of good enough money management, you will feel more empowered to make decisions and less overwhelmed by all of the possibilities, the unknown, the events outside of your control.

Choose your own starting point from the list below. You can do everything on this list, or just one thing. But the first rule of good enough money management is that doing something is better than nothing.

Save for retirement. Most Americans (53 percent) have yet to calculate how much money they’ll need in retirement, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute. Maybe it’s because there are so many variables to consider, or it’s too depressing. But not knowing how much to save isn’t an excuse not to save. If you have a workplace retirement plan such as a 401(k) and fail to use it, you are leaving tax savings on the table. Even worse, if your company matches a certain percentage of the money you save, and you haven’t gotten around to signing up, you’re basically telling your employer you don’t want free money, thank you very much.

It’s not all or nothing. Once you turn an eye to your finances, odds are you’ll find several areas in need of improvement. If you find yourself wrestling with how to prioritize, promise me you won’t let indecision paralyze you. If you have debt, pay it down in bite-sized bits. Generally speaking, attacking the highest interest rate first is a solid tactic. If you’re lamenting the lack of a college fund, set up a 529 college savings plan with as little as $25. Then set recurring transfers of $20 a month, or request contributions from relatives in lieu of birthday gifts. To give your general savings a boost with minimal effort, try SavedPlus, an app that transfers a percentage of your choosing each time you make a purchase.

Don’t budget. Blasphemous, right? Well, maybe back in the days when we also religiously balanced our checkbooks. These days, setting up simple account alerts offered by most banks for low balances and the like will keep most of us in the black. If you want to take it a step further, free personal financial management tools such as mint.com offer dozens of alerts for everything from bill pay reminders to warnings that your behavior may be damaging your credit score.

Reduce spending on just one thing. Takeout. Lattes. Pedicures. Most of us have a running list of spending areas that could use a nip and a tuck. But trying to cut back in all of those areas at once, or making vague cost cutting promises, is tougher for most people than choosing a single target and setting a reasonable goal. So if you go to a coffee shop every day, maybe you scale back to four days instead. Or you switch to a cheaper beverage. 

Learn something new. Americans tend to be fairly confident about their financial know-how despite consistently failing financial literacy quizzes. If we’re being honest with ourselves, most of us could use a refresher on how banks calculate credit card interest rates, or how the bond market works. Instead of buying an 800 page financial tome you’ll never read, why not have a little taste of financial education? If you enjoy games, watch brief money lessons on saveup.com in exchange for points to enter contests. Or hit the special online courses devised by Bank of America and free online education site Khan Academy at bettermoneyhabits.com.


Kara McGuire is a personal finance writer and a St. Paul mother of three. Send comments, questions and story ideas to 
kmcguire@mnparent.com.