If you saw a mysterious $4 entry on your income-tax return, would you sweat it? What if you were a billionaire many times over? Would it even catch your eye?
It would if you were Warren Buffett. In an interview several years ago, the great man copped to taking the time to get to the bottom of the puzzling entry (a royalty payment, as it turns out).
If the Oracle of Omaha has time to track down a measly $4 discrepancy, perhaps those of us in the cheap seats should consider carving out an hour or so every few months to check in on our financial affairs. Who knows? That Buffett guy may actually be on to something.
Your $4, $400, $4,000 or $40,000 discrepancy
We all get mired in the day-to-day details of keeping our empires (or gazillion-dollar companies) running smoothly, but now is as good a time as any to host your first-ever You, Inc., audit. All you need is your recent account statements, an agenda (which I've provided below) and some snacks (that's all you).
A personal audit gives you a clear picture of your overall net worth and provides a baseline from which to determine whether you're on the right track. More to the point, this exercise will answer once and for all the burning question, "Where the heck did that $20 bill go?" (Or maybe that's just my burning question.)
In all seriousness, your quarterly financial review should answer four critical big-picture questions:
1. Are operating costs under control?
Have you overlooked new fees and unused services when feeding statement filler to the shredder? Review bills (utilities, insurance, etc.) for funny stuff, and red-flag any pending budget-busters. (Leaky roof? Arthritic pet?) If you don't have a handle on where your everyday money really goes, use the couch potato's budget tricks to get it under control.
2. Are deficits on the downward spiral?
For any lingering "bad debts" (credit cards, car loans), having a payoff plan will keep daily stress in check. (See our get out of debt advice for tips on winning the credit card game.) Note progress and obstacles, such as changes in your credit card terms.
3. Are you adequately funding your cash cushion?
Short-term savings (aka your emergency fund) are best kept separate from your day-to-day cash. Is your cash stash suitably funded? Are you earning decent interest on your dough?
4. Is your investment plan up to snuff?
Review your retirement account (IRA, 401(k)) contributions to see if you're on track to max out the accounts. Evaluate your portfolio's holdings and reassess each position using what investing luminary Peter Lynch calls the "two-minute drill" -- i.e., reevaluate the reasons you bought shares in the business and look for any red flags on the fundamentals.
For more Buffett-esque Foolishness:
Motley Fool writer Dayana Yochim is the sole proprietor of Dayana Yochim, Inc., which serves shareholders buttered popcorn and Twizzlers during its quarterly financial reviews. The Fool's disclosure policy knows the score.