Monday, August 23, 2021

Getting started with Income Companion

Income Companion is the only software on the planet that is designed for the sole purpose of managing your household income. All aspects of your day-to-day money are included. 

The program is organized into functional pages equating to each part of your everyday money as illustrated above and below. Your Incredibly Cool Budget is maintained by the program to give you a clear picture of how you plan to spend your money over the next twelve months. In addition, there are pages you use to measure your progress toward your financial goals by tracking your net worth and debt-to-income ratio.

 

Getting Started

During your startup process, the program remains inactive. There is no pressure to finish your startup quickly. Doing the startup steps typically only takes a couple of hours. You have a generous 60-day free trial period to complete your startup and to get comfortable with the program.

 

When initially using Income Companion, there are seven startup steps. First, collect all of your money information. Then you can pay bills using the program


  1. Decide which checking account (cash reservoir) you will be managing with the program.
  2. Optionally, set up the default budget space for your cash reservoir.
  3. Add all of the income streams that you will be depositing into your cash reservoir.
  4. Add all of the bills that you will be paying from your cash reservoir.
  5. Add all of the credit cards that you will be paying from your cash reservoir.
  6. Choose the weekday and amount for your weekly allowance and set up your allowance.
  7. On a day you choose, pay bills using the program.
    1. Calculate and give yourself a one-time “startup” allowance.
    2. Enter an “Other” deposit to initialize the balance of the Cushion ledger to agree with the balance in your cash reservoir.
    3. Add all new charging activity for all credit cards.
    4. Schedule credit card payments.
    5. Pay bills

After paying bills the first time with Income Companion, the program “goes live.” You begin using the software full time to manage the money in your cash reservoir
.

Friday, August 20, 2021

How to stop living paycheck to paycheck

Living paycheck to paycheck is a habit people get into when they first enter the workforce. It makes sense - do something with your money when you get paid.

Stopping living paycheck to paycheck requires doing a few things that, at first blush, don't make sense. It involves replacing the intuitive payday habit with new, counter-intuitive spending habits.

1. On payday, deposit the entire amount in your checking account. Use direct deposit, if possible. Record the deposit. Do nothing else with the money.

2. Control your spending by giving yourself an allowance on a weekday and in an amount of your choice. Remove your entire allowance from your checking account. Where you put it is up to you. The goal of your allowance is to have just enough spending cash to last one week. Knowing that you are never more than six days from getting your next allowance is comforting and will tend to reduce the need to use credit cards.

3. Pay your bills twice a month. On the 1st, pay the bills that are due on the 1st through the 14th. On the 15th, pay the bills that are due on the 15th through the end of the month. When you pay bills you will be using money that is already in your checking account. Paying bills will no longer be tied to paydays.

Adopting these spending habits frees you from living paycheck to paycheck. In addition, you may find that, instead of increasing credit card balances, the balance in your checking account will increase. When that happens you can begin to look at using the extra money for paying off debt and saving.

This is the basic strategy for managing household income upon which Income Companion is based. To learn more, read the book "Getting Comfy with Your Money" which you can order from lulu.com/shop (search for the book's title).

 

Getting Comfy With Your Money - The backstory

Are you familiar with the term "more month than money?" That's the situation that happens when you run short of money before the end of the month or before your next payday. It's a condition with which most wage earners are familiar. It was my problem for many years.

I've been married to my wife, Lois, for more than 55 years. We raised two daughters. I've had several careers and I've always had a decent income. What I didn't always have was an effective way to manage my income. I'm not an accountant…just a breadwinner who, when I first got married, could not make the “bread” go far enough. 

For about the first ten years of our marriage, I used trial and error money management. Even though I had a good job with a decent salary, I never seemed to consistently have enough money to pay my bills and for day-to-day expenses. One payday we would have more than we needed; the next we would run out of money long before the next paycheck. It was a continual cash roller coaster.

Like most people, I had not received any kind of formal or informal training to prepare me for the awesome responsibility of managing my income to effectively support a growing family. I was on my own with no financial roadmap as I searched for any type of money management method that would work for me. I was looking for a way to both:

  • pay my bills on time, and
  • smooth out the amount of money available between paydays

I tried budgets and found that keeping track of every penny spent was something I didn't care to do. My budgets started off great, but they didn't last long. I tried bill consolidation loans and, after doing several, realized that consolidation loans by themselves are not the answer. They served only to increase my debt instead of helping me to control my finances. Keep in mind that this was all happening well before the advent of personal computers. There weren't any software options for personal financial management.

Over the years I gradually, without any premeditated idea of what I was doing, developed a system for paying my bills, which also evened out the cash highs and lows between paydays. These were the two features of a money management system that I wanted. This "system" was nothing more than a consistent way of looking at my finances twice a month. I was doing this all on scratch paper with no formal structure.

When my very simple approach to cash flow management evolved into something that I could consistently use is impossible to pinpoint. All I can say with certainty is that while I was paying bills one month in 1975, it dawned on me that what I was doing on scratch paper could somehow be organized into formal records. After experimenting with designing forms, with a ruler and pen over a couple months, I managed to create a system of paper forms that replaced my scratch paper.

With my new forms in place, my informal system had matured to the point that I was able to pay my bills when due without financial strain, and I had a consistent amount of cash for day-to-day expenses. I was quite pleased with how my own personal money toolkit had turned out. It was a process that I, nor anyone else to my knowledge, had ever seen or used.

A friend of mine (let’s call him Fred) became interested in my little form system. I had told Fred how pleased I was with the effectiveness of the process at a time in which he was searching for a better financial scheme. He had an excellent income, plus a generous monthly dividend from a trust fund that his grandparents had set up. Despite his above-average income, Fred's financial condition was also characterized by "more month than money." He had large credit card and charge account balances to which he forfeited substantial interest every month and was constantly concerned about his ability to pay his bills. He was in the same boat I had been. At his request, I agreed to create a set of forms for Fred to try.

After I copied the forms and instructed Fred on the methodology of the system, Fred became very dubious that my toolkit would be any help at all. He initialized his set of forms to fit his financial situation and it immediately became painfully clear that Fred's finances were a disaster; bad enough that he doubted his ability to ever get his finances under control.

In addition to doubting the usefulness of my forms, both Fred and his wife were afraid that using the system would put unwanted restraints on their lifestyle the same way monthly budgets tend to do. Despite their concerns, Fred and his wife decided to give my system of forms a try. They had nothing to lose. Their finances were in such bad shape that they doubted my system could make things worse.

The results Fred and his wife achieved with my initial system of manual forms amazed both them and me.

After using my system of forms for less than three months, Fred's finances had stabilized. All of his credit card and charge account balances were under control to the extent that he no longer paid interest on any of his credit cards or charge accounts. Furthermore, Fred and his wife were very pleased that their concerns about having constraints on their lifestyle proved groundless. They were actually able to begin pursuing many interests which, prior to using my system of forms, had been too expensive. As Christmas approached that year, they were able to do virtually all their gift buying without incurring any debt. In the eleven years they had been married, that was the first Christmas that they had gotten through with virtually no additional debt.

The turnaround in Fred's finances due to use of the original set of forms I had provided him was nothing short of incredible. In a few short months, Fred consistently faced the pleasant problem of having excess income every payday. His income had not changed, only the way he managed it.

Our success with the original set of forms was difficult to keep secret. It wasn't long before I started receiving inquiries from both people I knew as well as strangers, some of whom lived out of state. Since I couldn't make copies of the forms and personally instruct everyone on how to use them, I decided to write a how-to book. The resulting three-ring binder, titled Payday Management System, was self-published in 1976. I still have two copies.

Without exception, everyone who purchased a copy of that first how-to book had the same success in gaining control of their finances that Fred had experienced. I began receiving letters from very pleased customers. Sales were slow since all advertising was strictly word of mouth, but it appeared that, given enough time, sales of the Payday Management System could have taken off. So why haven't you heard about that first book in the last 45-or-so years?

At the time I was still very much involved in my military career. I had no time to be a book publisher. Shortly after publishing Payday Management System, I was transferred to my next tour at sea. Before heading for my ship, I put the book aside. I went off to sea and forgot about it.

It has now been 45 years since my personal money management system was formalized. After my last sea tour, I was remiss by not returning to using my own money management technique. Between retiring from the Navy in 1980 and moving to Idaho in 1992, I managed to get involved in a failed business venture and ran up considerable credit card debt. In 1993, Lois and I filed bankruptcy. That was an experience I vowed to never repeat.

When a friend asked for financial help in 2000, I got back on track. After setting up a spreadsheet using the algorithms from the original workbook, our friend repeated the same phenomenal financial recovery that I and others had experienced. However, the spreadsheet proved cumbersome to maintain. I was inspired to write a software application. myOwnPayday rolled out on the 2 Good Software website in 2002.

It soon became clear that myOwnPayday was not getting positive reception. The underlying theory upon which the software was built is so different from generally accepted day-to-day financial management techniques that users of the program were lost. They couldn’t understand how to use the program because they didn’t understand what the program was trying to do. The fact that the program was hastily written and clunky to use contributed to the aversion. A review of myOwnPayday published on a reviewer’s blog was not complimentary. I removed the program from distribution. As far as I know, I was the only user of my first attempt at software.

After more than 13 years of using myOwnPayday to manage our personal finances, I decided in December 2014 it was time to totally redesign and rewrite the application. With myOwnPayday as a well-seasoned prototype, the intent was to create an application that is much easier for everyone to use and understand.

The new version of the software, released in August 2016, was titled Your Money Made Easy. It was my sincerest hope that people would find this software as beneficial to their financial peace of mind as had everyone else who has been exposed to the techniques embodied in the program. Unfortunately, I was still off the mark in terms of user-friendliness (as well as choice of name which was blackballed by Facebook). The new program, while much easier to use, suffered from a similar flaw that doomed myOwnPayday: the instructions for setting up Your Money Made Easy were not easy to understand. In addition, the program’s user interface lacked some features that would have made the software easier to use.

After Your Money Made Easy was exposed to the marketplace for about two-and-a-half months with literally no interest from potential users, I removed it from distribution. The program, while technically sound, has been rebranded yet again with, hopefully, a much friendlier name: Income Companion. The user interface has been enhanced to make the user experience intuitive. In addition, the program’s user guide has been rewritten to make the program setup process much easier to understand and follow.

Income Companion was first released in January 2017. This time, others took an interest in using the software. It has taken another four years working with these initial users to further work out the kinks in both the program and the user guide. I believe the software has successfully evolved into a planning tool that anyone can use. This book is the next logical step toward helping people understand the concepts upon which the program is based so that using the program will be as natural as buying a latte.

Everyday money works the same for everyone. It’s taken me over 45 years to learn what that means. I hope that by sharing what I have learned over the past four-and-a-half decades, you can get as comfy with your money as Lois and I now are with ours—but much quicker.

Getting started with Income Companion