Make a List You Can't Miss

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, December 30, 2007

I've gone back to an old-fashioned approach to make sure I get things done.

Several months ago I purchased a large erasable board with a stand and set it up in my office. At the beginning of each week, I list all the things I need to do for my job and for my personal life. Like many people, I have an electronic organizer, but I needed something bigger. I wanted something I couldn't ignore, misplace or lose under piles of folders and papers. The board was just the thing. Making a list -- a giant one -- has made the difference in ensuring I complete certain tasks.

As the new year begins, I want you to create a list of everything you need to do in 2008 to improve or organize your financial life. I want you to start by making the list large. You can use an erasable board or a big sheet of poster board, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that it's so large you can't ignore it. Then put the list up in a place where you spend a lot of time. Most important, the list should be in a location that has the tools you need to get the tasks done.

That last point is important because putting the list up in your bathroom might remind you every day of what you need to do, but it's unlikely you will sit on the side of your tub and make the calls needed to cross something off the list.

Not sure what to put on it? Well, let me give you some help. Here are some items that can help you get in shape in 2008:

¿ Automate. Make this the year that you use technology to straighten out your finances.

Try online banking if you haven't already. You can set up a system that will allow you to pay your bills on time -- all the time -- which will greatly improve your credit rating.

Second, have money automatically taken out of your paycheck to begin building the emergency fund you keep promising to start but never do. The money should be automatically sent to an account that is not linked to your everyday checking and savings accounts. And don't carry around an ATM card for the account.

¿ Create a budget and a net worth statement. All things financial should start with these two documents. A budget lets you know where all your money is going. Your net worth statement gives you a snapshot of what you own and owe. To download both documents, go to and

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