I’m going to lay this out right off the bat: I never learned how to properly balance a checkbook growing up. I was taught how to write a check in the third grade (in school no less!), but I missed out on the skills necessary to write those checks responsibly. I had my own account and debit card in high school, and actually managed to go the entire three years from when I started working at 16 to when I went to boot camp at 19 without ever logging in to my online banking site.
As a result of my underwhelming financial education, one of the biggest challenges I’ve had managing my finances is staying on top of everything. Between bills, retirement accounts, surprise expenses, and everything else, I constantly felt like I was being pulled in a million directions at once. I also have the attention span and short-term memory of a half-baked goldfish, which creates huge problems when trying to track every penny that’s passing through all of my accounts.
“That’s what a budget is for, stupid!” some of you may be saying… and you’d be correct. What’s the point of tracking your cash flow if you have no idea how much you should be spending in the first place? That was the biggest missing piece. Because I was only casually watching my online banking balance every few days, I was constantly several steps behind my spending.
Once I realized that, making a budget was the next logical step. I sat down, added up all my expenses and discretionary spending (read: fast food, beer, and video games), and figured out exactly how much my lifestyle was costing me. Once I did that, I patted myself on the back and said, “Self, great job being such a responsible adult!”
That pat on the back was premature, however. I was still spending ridiculous amounts of money on my lifestyle and paying no mind to savings, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t keep track of anything resembling a budget. These habits continued even after I got married and had kids; Mrs. CD wasn’t any better at budgeting than I was, and we kept spinning our wheels.
Then one day I picked up a copy of The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach and everything changed. If you haven’t read it, David is a big proponent of automating your finances and I was a perfect candidate. I was able to split my expenses and savings evenly and set up automatic transfers into my bill pay account, so that my finances looked the same across every pay period. No more having to decide which bills to pay with which paycheck! And since I had already calculated how much I needed to spend on things like groceries and gas, I was able to put my finances almost entirely on autopilot.
That was about six months ago, and since then our automated finances have helped us save thousands of dollars and eliminate a huge chunk of our wasteful habits. Automation has basically saved us from our hot mess selves.
Have any of you experimented with automating your finances? What works or doesn’t work for you? What tools are you using? Let me know below!