Automating your finances fixes everything, right? Well, only if you’re still monitoring your money on a regular basis, it turns out. The Wall Street Journal interviewed a handful of money experts about the biggest ways people waste money. And we won’t talk about what they said about that, because this Lifehacker vertical is a latte shame-free zone.
But this one caught my eye. CFP Ellen Weber admitted:
Are you one of those people who has resisted automating your bill-paying tasks each month, for fear you’ll lose track of what’s due when? Or have you automated so much that you don’t even know the login for most of those online bills?
If you’re feeling a little too automated, here’s how to set up a system to make all that automation (thanks, technology!) a bit more mindful.
Review every autopay
It gets worse before it gets better, and this first step of the process can be messy. Grab every statement that still comes in the mail and log into your bank account. Make a list of every bill that automatically gets paid, and note the amount and date it gets deducted from your account. If you pay bills from various bank accounts or credit cards, this may take some time.
If you already have these dates and accounts noted somewhere, like in a budget spreadsheet, you’re halfway there. But do take this opportunity to check those line items to make sure they match what’s on your monthly statement.
Actually log in
The email you get each month from your service provider reminding you of your bill is not enough! Half those notices don’t even show you the amount of that month’s bill, leaving you to either assume “Yeah, that’s probably right” or actually dig up your login info and look.
If you can’t remember the last time you logged into your cable/mobile phone/gym/clothing surprise box account to check what you’re paying for, it’s time to give it a good once-over.
And while you’re there, you can fill in the blanks on the rest of your autopay list.
Grab your calendar of choice and start putting down those recurring auto payments. It doesn’t have to be fancy: Maybe ‘Netflix $9.99’ is all you need to list for the 12th of every month when your internet bill hits.
The idea is to make it easy for you to flip from your calendar, wherever you manage it, over to your financial accounts when you check in regularly.
Having these dates and amounts on the calendar you use for everything else will help you internalise those dates and balances, making you more alert when you’re glancing over your recent transactions for discrepancies.
Sure, some of your bills are going to fluctuate each month. But the more you know about what’s in the “normal” range for all your bills, the better equipped you’ll be to catch a potential issue before it balloons into an actual problem.