For as long as I’ve been working, I can only remember living from one month to the next, usually with no idea whether I would be able to make ends meet. Large purchases such as a car or holiday were made with limited knowledge of how it would impact on our budget, and my wife and I spent well over a decade living deep into an overdraft.
I tended to avoid looking at my bank statements as they served as a stark reminder of how I was struggling to keep on top of them without giving me any indication of how I could start improving my situation.
Years ago, I had tried to set a budget using a personal finance management program. It wasn’t able to link to my bank account, leaving me with the onerous task of inputting lots of data each time I logged in to get any idea of where my true finances were heading. I ended up losing interest. The one feature I did like was a graph that showed an indication of how my balances would look over a few months. I looked for similar systems over the years but never found anything that was easy enough to implement. We had a written list of expenses, but it was never any use in predicting balances.
It was a change in circumstance that led me to reassess our financial situation once again. My wife had just qualified as a nurse and was about to bring in a salary that was more than the minimum wage jobs she’d had for many years. My daughter was starting university and we knew we had to pay towards her upkeep, and my son was moving away to start college and train at a rugby academy.
We knew that although my wife was bringing in more money, we would be spending a lot more on the kids. My son, for example, is costing us at least £800 per month in accommodation, food, travel and equipment. However, what really swung it for us was when I decided to move bank accounts to First Direct, which had a good reputation for customer support and online facilities. I decided with all the changes going on, I needed to make another attempt at organising our finances.
The initial aim was to simply be able to afford to pay for the children, but there was also a feeling in the background that if we were able to take a tighter control on our finances that we could stop renting and buy our own home.
As soon as I started using Money Dashboard I was impressed. It’s easy to use, intuitive and many times better than anything else I’d used or looked at. I was immediately sold on it – so much so that I even bought shares in it when it appeared on a funding website!
Seeing my finances laid out in front of me like that was actually a pleasant surprise. I could see that I was in a better situation than I first thought and could see instantly where I was frittering money away. Where I had previously avoided looking at my finances, I was now excited to look at them. I would call my wife over to look and she would refuse, worrying that what she would see would stress her, but when she eventually looked, she too was pleased.
For me, being able to update my balance by linking directly to my bank account is what initially led me to downloading Money Dashboard. Being able to create a calendar of payments using previous transactions made it so easy to set up – previous systems had me trawling through old paper statements and inputting each transaction by hand.
Again, my favourite element of the system is the graph. Being able to actually see how much money is predicted to be left over at the end of the month was a game changer, and knowing that we had excess money after so much monthly expense inspired me to believe I could actually buy a house.
With this goal in mind, I started using the end of month predictions generated by Money Dashboard to squirrel away money to save towards a deposit. I was also able to use that to calculate how much extra we could afford to pay for a mortgage and insurance and set our sights on buying a house that would not stretch our budget to the limit.
Within a couple of months of making the decision, we put in an offer on a house, and were able to move with the certainty that we could afford it and that we could continue to live comfortably.
Now we’ve reached our goal, I continue to use Money Dashboard to track our outgoings in different ways. The nature of our son’s studies and training means we often have to travel back and forth across the country to watch him play rugby, which in itself is quite a cost. Being able to look at our finances and get a quick view on how much money we have over the month ahead to pay for this helps us prioritise which matches we can afford to go and watch. We are also looking ahead to buying new furniture and holidays, so keeping an eye on our finances is still essential, and very reassuring.