Darren Braun

There are times when keeping up with your personal finances can seem like an overwhelming, migraine- inducing task capable of sending you into a black hole of despair. Which is why we’re here to tell you about the daily money manager. (You’re welcome.)

After years of dedicated study and writing about personal finance, when I see a phrase like bank overdraft charge or hear someone say “this is a call to collect a debt,” I know exactly what it means: Namely, that I manage my own financial life about as well as a basset hound could fly a spaceship. So, when my editor suggested I write an article about daily money managers from a first-person perspective, I figured I could use the help.

A daily money manager is sort of like a personal bookkeeper crossed with a Navy SEAL — it’s someone who will go over your financial accounts and, if you’re being an idiot about something, order you to do 500 pushups or, if the infraction is severe enough, garrote you on the spot. Enter Elizabeth Ball, a British expat who lives not far from me in Austin, Texas, and who works as a daily money manager. Because of her accent, financial acumen and underlayment of spring steel, I find it convenient if somewhat colonial to think of her as Mary Poppins in an eyeshade.

Much of Ball’s work consists of helping senior citizens open their mail, understand and pay bills on time, and learn how to make sense of various legal documents. She also works with disabled individuals, as well as young, healthy people who are too busy to handle these mundane tasks themselves. I’m not too old, too ill or too busy to do better on finances but, as Ball discovered, I have my own issues — primarily laziness and unwillingness to face unpleasant facts.

I found Ball through the American Association of Daily Money Managers, a professional organization in Bellefonte, Pa., that provides an online directory of its members. She was one of only two listed in my metropolitan area, so it was just by sheer luck that she happened to live a few miles away. We decide to meet in a coffee shop to discuss what I’m looking for and what she can provide.

Elizabeth Ball in her Austin, Texas, office.

Ball, as it turns out, actually spends a lot of her time with what could be mistaken for a TV show about hoarders. Frequently, she’s called in after the death of a loved one to help the remaining family deal with dozens of boxes of papers (and large amounts of junk) piled in a garage.

“After copious cups of tea, I go through the boxes,” she says, with a sigh. 
Although many of us would prefer a tax audit to tackling a paper-packed garage, Ball says the work often yields pleasant ­surprises.
“I’ve found land titles and mineral rights and enormous amounts of cash,” she recalls. “There will be little envelopes with thousands of dollars.”

She feeds the worthless scrap into a shredder and organizes what’s left by establishing a paper-flow system intended to keep the piles from returning. She also helps clients create a budget and teaches them how to use personal financial-management software. She doesn’t, however, give advice about things like investments.

“If you have big financial decisions to be made, go to a financial adviser,” she says.

I’m different from most of Ball’s clients primarily because of my belief, unsupported by evidence, that I know what I’m doing. I feel as if I’m fairly well organized and I can point to several file drawers of more-or-less-alphabetized files — and I use a popular financial-software package to track all my financial affairs. My hope is that she can identify some unexpected places to save money and help me figure out what to do about my debt.