My first impression of money management came from my mother. I remember her regularly sitting at the kitchen table, updating a leather-bound ledger of our family’s accounts.

With her yellow ballpoint pen, she would jot down each purchase and bill payment and deduct the tally from the last day’s total. She couldn’t disguise the look of satisfaction on her face when she compared her ledger to the official bank statement at the end of each month. If it didn’t balance to the penny, some serious handwriting and analysis would ensue.

She was a terrific money manager — and the good news is that you can be too with even less time and detail than my mother had to commit. No leather ledger book required either.

“The best thing you can do for yourself, financially, is to face reality.”

Your financial tool kit

Online tools — most of which are free — can help you get smarter about money. Your bank or a simple online search can point you in the right direction.  Here’s where I recommend you start:

→ Track your spending and income.

The best thing you can do for yourself, financially, is to face reality. How much are you earning? How much are you spending, and where? What fees are you being charged? Answer these questions by first reviewing your online banking records — and if you primarily use cash, keep receipts. Consider using programs and secure services that can track where your money goes, with charts to give you a clear picture of how well you’re living within your means (or not). With these tools, you can likely spot spending patterns worth curbing.

→ Get real about your debt.

Find out what your debts are really costing you by using an online debt calculator, entering the amount you owe and the interest rate you’re paying. If you don’t like the idea of giving financial institutions all that money, it’s time to put together a plan to demolish that debt.

"Investing doesn’t have to be complicated."

→ Plot your goals and create a budget to match.

Want to become debt-free? Use online budget worksheets and dynamic debt calculators to create a realistic strategy. Looking to retire as early as possible? Begin with retirement cash flow planners and calculators to find out what you need to put away each month. Hope to buy a home someday? Use a mortgage calculator to discover what you can afford. Want to help your kids go to university? RESP savings calculators and university cost calculators are a click away.

→ Become investment-savvy.

Investing doesn’t have to be complicated. Asset mix and portfolio benchmark calculators, as well as net worth statement tools, can help you better understand your investment results when discussing options with a financial advisor. Grab your laptop and get started on a better financial path.