I am lazy. There are very few things that sound better to me than ordering in dinner, pouring a glass of wine and sitting in front of the TV to binge watch a new show. Even if I make plans, I very often dread them until I’m actually out the door and on my way. I know this about myself. I will put things off until the last possible second…you can call me the Queen of procrastination. I’m also a rule follower, so missing a deadline would be worse than doing the work. My life is basically a balancing act of procrastinating and then hurriedly getting the job done. Might not sound like a joy ride, but it works…almost always.
What does my laziness have to do with my finances? Well, it means that if I don’t make things as simple as possible, they won’t get done. Saving money doesn’t have the same sort of ‘deadline’ as other tasks. Excuses are easy to come by…’there’s always tomorrow’ or ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ or ‘I don’t have extra money’. I’m not immune to this, but I do have use one trick that makes it easier to be good than to be bad.
There is nothing that works better for me than to pull the old ‘set it and forget it’. Automating every possible bill payment and saving deposit means I don’t have to think twice about late payments and I’ll hit my savings goals before I know it. It’s a one-time set-up instruction that will save you time and money in the long-run.
There are very few payments that can’ be set to run automatically. The only two I have that are like this are my car registration, which I have to do in person every year, and my credit card payment. I could set up my credit card, but because the amount varies every month, I take care of that one manually. It allows me to make sure I pay the balance in full and because I put almost all purchases on my credit card, I can see exactly how much I’ve spent and if I need to reign in my spending.
There are two parts to automating your finances; paying yourself and paying everybody else. The everybody else is your bills; all those corporate jerks who want your money 😉
As I said above, I charge everything possible to my credit card (because points!), and that includes my auto-pay bills. Not everywhere allows you to pay by credit card but most places do. For me, the exclusions include my mortgage, property taxes, and power bill. These three are still automated but are deducted directly from my chequing account.
At this point, the default for many companies is to have you on auto-pay because it’s also safer for them. You don’t have to remember to pay them so there’s a much better chance they’ll get paid on time and in full. Whenever you’re setting up a new recurring service you’ll want to ask:
- Can you pay by credit card? and
- Will the payment be deducted automatically?
You may also want to see if you can specify which date the payment is deducted, especially if it’s coming out of your bank account. I don’t keep much of a cushion in my chequing account because it’s not earning me anything. The closer to payday I can have bills come out the better.
If you are currently paying off debt from multiple sources, then it can also make sense to automate the majority of those. Figure out what your minimum monthly payment is for each one, round it up slightly and then set that payment to recur every month before the due date. Usually, it’s just one more checkbox when you’re paying the bill through your online banking. Look for a button that asks if you want to set this up as a recurring event. I would do this for all debt payments except the one you’re focusing all your extra money towards. That one you should keep doing manually.
Contributions to your Future Self
The second part of automating your finances is making sure your future self is taken care of by setting up contributions to your emergency fund, savings accounts, retirement accounts, and tax-free accounts. When you’re young, it can be too easy to talk yourself out of making your RRSP contributions. You have so much time to worry about that, and you want those new shoes NOW. Don’t cheat your future self out of that money by making those deposits happen automatically (out of sight, out of mind).
If your employer offers a matching program for retirement contributions and you’re not doing it, then I’m not going to call you stupid but…
This is non-negotiable. You would never give up a portion of your salary every month, right? That’s precisely what you’re doing if you’re not getting that match. So step one in rocking this automation plan is to sign-up for your benefits and have whatever amount will get you the full matching benefit taken off your paycheque. You won’t miss it, I promise. I don’t recommend contributing more than the amount that will be matched. Most work plans are limited in their investment options, so you’re often better keeping that money and investing it yourself.
Emergency Fund / Savings Accounts
If you don’t already have some cash sitting on the sidelines in case of emergency, then you’ll also want to work on that. I recently had to dip into my emergency fund to pay for dental surgery for one of my pups, so I’m working to top that back up. Of course, I’ve got it automated to move $100 from my chequing account to my saving account every payday.
I also advocate for having separate savings accounts for any other short-term goals you have. I make recurring deposits to a travel fund and either a Christmas fund or a Summer fund depending on the time of year.
These are the two accounts I use for investing. I have them ear-marked for the long-term (retirement) which means I can take some risks since time is on my side. I contribute equal amounts to my RRSP and TFSA each month. That way I get the benefits and flexibility (or lack thereof) from each account. If you want to know more about that, then click on those links in the header.
The best part about these contributions is that not only do the deposits happen automatically, so does the investing. Most investment firms will allow you to have funds withdrawn from your bank account any day of the month and then they’ll set up an automatic buy to get those funds invested ASAP. Depending on what you are investing in you may need to go back periodically and diversify your portfolio, so you aren’t too heavily weighted in one sector.
Consistently investing like this gives you the added benefit of buying in across a range of market conditions. Sometimes you’ll be buying high and sometimes low. That will average out over the long-run and reduce your timing risk.
What steps do you take to simplify your finances? Is automation one of those step or do you prefer to be more hands-on?
This post was proofread by Grammarly.