The Back-to-school season, be it pre-school or kindergarten, marks the end of summer and new beginnings. During this time of change it is easy to put managing your own lives on the back burner so that you can focus on helping your children transition smoothly. Before you know it, it is the holidays and you put it off even longer. The end result is that another year has gone by and you do not feel any better off than you did at the end of last year.

Do something different this year! Follow the three simple steps below from September through December and make the rest of this year count.

Step 1: Knowledge is Power.  Just like when your children start school, the teachers want to know what they are capable of doing. Can they sit still for circle time? Can they follow directions? You need to know what you are capable of and where your money is at this point in time.

There are many free online personal finance resources to help you know where you are financially. For example, Mint.com, Personal Capital and Wikinvest are a few. These tools are very robust and can seem overwhelming. Tip: Decide what “your” goal is for using the online service. Is it tracking your expenses? Or is it getting a holistic view of several portfolios of investments? If it is for tracking your expenses, focus on that only (for now) until you have a good sense of where your money is going.

Step 2: Pro-actively plan your expenses. You cannot control the economy but you can control how much money you spend. A Canadian study has shown that people that stick to a budget have higher net worth than those you do not.  Set a budget for one month and then focus on your biggest spending problem area for the next month. Tip: To help cut unplanned indulgences, leave your credit cards at home if going to the mall or shopping center as a family excursion. Just try it.

Step 3: Do your homework and review your progress. This is by far the most challenging step for parents. With little time to spare, months slip by and even the best laid plans are forgotten. When you start this process in September, make one 30-minute Money Meeting with each other  each month until the end of the year. Make these Money Meetings high priority and non-negotiable. Take these 30-minute meetings to review Step 1 and Step 2. Identify any obstacles and progress made. This will keep you motivated to continue an active role in your finances and alleviate anxiety of not knowing where you are financially. Tip: Do not schedule the meetings between 6-9 pm at night when everyone is tired from a long day. Find time during the day or on the weekend for this quick 30-minute Money Meeting.

Managing your family’s finances takes time and know-how. By following these three simple steps, you are giving yourself the building blocks to taking a more informed and active role in shaping your financial future. If you do not do it, no one else will.

I hope you take this four month challenge!