Set Your Financial Life to Automatic

automaticI’m not what you would call the most organized individual on the planet. My desk is a cluttered space of random pages, a typewriter, unopened envelopes from credit card companies I never plan to open up an account with, and DVDs I have yet to watch. Every now and then, I get around to cleaning up my room out of sheer necessity, but on the average it can be hard for me to navigate through it.

I’m sure there are those of you who share my messiness. Like me, I’m sure you also have trouble managing your finances. After all, if you can organize something as basic as your desk, how are you supposed to be able to keep track of all of your receipts and when to pay what for which credit card or what bill is due?

One solution is to simply give up our disheveled ways and adopt a more cleanly disposition.

Then again, our disorganization is a part of who we are. I mean, would Sherlock Holmes been half as interesting of a literature character had his apartment been kept in pristine order, rather than an incomprehensible clutter of medical experiments sharing the same counter space as former case documents and disguises?

I doubt it.

Thankfully, for all of us, there are several ways to compensate without losing that precious aspect of our imperfect selves. Here are a few of them which I have integrated into my own life. I hope they work for you as well.


1. Go paperless for bank accounts by receiving e-statements

This one has almost all benefits and little, if no, downsides. Not only do you save paper, and trees, but not getting your bank statements in the mail (a plus for you environmentalists out there) but you also will be able to keep track of them in a neatly fashion by inspecting them on an email. Trust me; keeping an email account organized has been tenfold easier for me than arranging my room so that it makes any logical sense. Some banks even give incentives, because it saves them money as well. You also get the statements instantly, rather than waiting for it to arrive in the mail.

Additionally, you will also lower the risk of identity theft. As I have stated before in previous columns, identity thieves go dumpster or garbage diving in order to harvest information about you. Bank websites generally have good security measures in place to prevent hacking, so you are at a very low risk
This way, you will never have to worry about losing that bank statement underneath the sofa or accidentally putting it into the fireplace along with the other junk mail you get.

Warning: Be wary of emails you receive claiming to be from a financial institution. Phishers will send emails to people pretending to be their bank or credit card company, asking you for account information. Do not, under any circumstances, reply to these emails or attempt to login to your account using a link they provide in the email. The link they provide may be for a phony site that collects your username and password in order to gain access to your account. If you have concerns about any sort of financial transaction, call the bank or credit card company. Or, close your current browser, open a new one, type in the home website, and then login. Most of the time, your email will filter them out into junk mail, but some of the time they get through.


2. Set your credit card to scheduled, automatic payments

I have a Discover credit card which I make monthly payments on, and one of their features is the ability to schedule payments to be made automatically before each due date. Most credit card companies have this feature, as well. This is a great option for those of you who have enough funds in your account to make the full payment every month rather than the minimum. Otherwise, you either have to make a note of it on your calendar or keep mental track of when they are due. You can get away with it if you just have one credit card, but when you have three of more it is easy to lose track of what is due and when; missing a payment is not something you want to have happened because you had the money but simply forgot.


3. Make online payments for things such as utilities, cell phones, car insurance

Let’s face it; there is a reason the United States Postal Service is suffering from a lack of business. Aside from Christmas letters and bulk deliveries, what else is there for them to ship? Certainly not bills. Just like your bank statements, you can receive email receipts for pretty much everything. My car insurance through Geico is automatically billed to my credit card, rather than sent to me in the mail. This way, when I make my credit card payments, I am paying for numerous bills by lumping them into a single payment. This can also be used to pay for electricity, plumbing, cable, Internet, recycling and garbage, and a variety of other services you use.


4. Limit the number of bank accounts you use for spending

There’s nothing wrong with having numerous bank accounts. You don’t want to have all of your eggs in one basket. Yet, using five debit cards to purchase things makes it a pain in the neck when you’re trying to balance five different checkbooks. Ideally, you’ll want to have two checking accounts, one for big purchases, one for small purchases. For married couples, it really depends on what your financial preferences are. Some families have a single bank account, while others prefer to have an individual account for each spouse. Some families even have accounts for their children to use with their own debit card, but be warned in advance; if you intend to closely monitor their spending, it can be a hassle, which brings me to my next point.


5. Encourage your children to get jobs, even if it’s part-time

(Disclosure; I have yet to have any children myself, but this is advice I give based on my childhood experiences)

I know some parents like to spoil their children, and this is not always a bad thing. But when parents are handing out their credit cards like candy, it gives kids the wrong concept of how money is earned and spent. If you have kids, and they pressure you for money to purchase something as though they are entitled to it, suggest that they get a part-time job. Here’s the reason; simply handing them a credit card or cash gives a child the impression that money is simply there, rather than put there through hard work; forcing them to work a job teaches them important lessons about finance management, instills good work ethic, and gives them a sense of independence. They’re also going to spend their own money more wisely than they would yours, and you won’t have to keep an eye out on what they’re buying, since they have an incentive to be frugal.