This is What I Learned When I Finally Set My Finances to Autopilot
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I’ve spent the past few months setting my personal finances to autopilot.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I don’t have to think about money anymore. I still obsessively monitor my budget.
But it does make paying bills, saving money, and even making money, a heck of a lot easier.
Overall, I’m feeling more financially confident. Plus, I have more time to, well, waste… or to write about money-saving tips.
I know, I know. You might feel iffy about letting go, even just a little bit. But here are some solid reasons to automate your finances — plus tips and tools tol help you get started.
1. You’ll Protect Your Hard-Earned Money
I’m a fairly paranoid person. Worst-case scenarios generally take up a good chunk of space inside my brain.
But when it comes to identity theft and data breaches, I should probably be a little more paranoid. After the Equifax breach, I joined the 59% of consumers who didn’t check to see if their data was affected.
Why? In part, I was busy, and I’d always think about it at the most inconvenient time — like on a flight or in the shower. I also thought the process would be a lot more involved (spoiler alert: it’s not). Plus, I had already signed up with Credit Sesame earlier this year.
Credit Sesame not only shows me my credit score and credit report — for free — it also allows me to sign up for text and email alerts. If anything fishy is going on, or something dramatically changes within my accounts, the service automatically lets me know.
Plus, it offers $50,000 in identity theft insurance and fraud assistance if someone does steal and use my information. (You can’t see me, but I’m knocking on wood right now.)
Now, I’ve freed up more space in my head to draw up other horrific scenarios.
2. You’ll Find That Saving isn’t Impossible
Admittedly, saving money is not my forte. Even when I was living back home with my parents, I struggled to tuck money into a savings account.
Now, I’m wishing more than anything that I’d taken the matter more seriously. Looking back, I coulda-shoulda-woulda set up an automated savings account.
I’ve learned the best way to trick yourself into saving money is to automate it.
Start simply, and allocate a portion of your paycheck to a separate, hands-off account.
With Stash, you can start with as little as $5, and select how often — and how much — you'd like to invest. Be realistic. Even if it's $5 a month, you're doing something, and that's all that matters.
And because it's automatic, you likely won't miss the money. Plus, you'll be surprised with a nice little nest egg of savings — which can go toward paying off your debt if needed.
And, hey, when you sign up, you'll snag a $5 bonus to make your first investment!
Now, you’re doublin’ down on those savings… am I right?
3. You’ll Coast Along the Road to Retirement
Ideally. I mean, you never know what life’s gonna throw at you, but if you have a 401(k) set up — or any other retirement account — that’s awesome.
And if it’s through your employer, it’s automatic. No monthly reminders, and again, what you don’t see, you don’t miss.
You’ll just want to be sure your 401(k) is doing what you need it to do.
I’m reluctant to hire a financial adviser because, well, I don’t have many finances for one to advise me on. But when I logged into my 401(k) account to poke around, it might as well have been jibberish.
That’s why you can sign up for Blooom, an SEC-registered investment advisory firm that optimizes and monitors your 401(k).
Blooom gives you a free 401(k) “checkup”. It'll let you know, for instance, if you need to mix up your stocks and bonds to diversify your funds.
If you don't really know where to start with that, you can opt in for the $10 a month service. Blooom keeps tabs on everything for you.
It’s nice to know that one day I might actually be able to retire.
4. You’ll Know You’re Paying What’s Fair
For services you can’t necessarily shop around for, it’s hard to know if you’re paying what’s fair.
When I recently sought out cable and internet, I realized I had only one option. And it was not cheap.
I tried to passively haggle (definitely an oxymoron) with the sales associate on the other end of the line, but I knew I was stuck unless I wanted to forego internet — and my treasured work-from-home days.
But after installation, I uploaded a PDF of my first cable and internet bill to Trim. Trim is a website, personified by a cute little bot wearing a visor, that acts as your personal finance assistant.
After uploading the PDF, Trim’s AI-powered system got to work. It negotiates with a number of cable and internet companies, including Comcast, Time Warner, Charter and Spectrum.
If Trim manages to save you money, it’ll take a 25% credit. The rest, though, is applied toward your upcoming bill (or bills).
And you don’t necessarily have to be paying too much. Trim also negotiates with companies if there’s an outage.
In the month since I’ve started my service, I’ve earned $10 back. Others, though, have taken to Twitter to report saving even more:
— Schwifty (@Trmplstilskn00) October 20, 2017
@ask_trim thanks for saving me $28.97 for a one-day Comcast TV and internet outage! You are the best!
— Zuchini Bread (@puddlejumper83) October 18, 2017
— Joshua Lory (@joshua_lory) October 18, 2017
Trim will also show you all your subscriptions, so if you have an old magazine subscription hidden in the depths of your accounts, it’ll show you. You can then automatically cancel said subscription through Trim.
Honestly, it feels great knowing someone — or something, in this case — has my back. And that it doesn’t require sitting on hold for hours at a time.
5. You’ll Make Some Passive Income
Like a true Penny Hoarder, I’ve become obsessed with earning cash back on my purchases. Any little bit counts — and it adds up more quickly though I thought.
For example, in the past six months, I’ve earned nearly $100 through the Ibotta app.
I recently added another one to stash. It’s called Dosh, and it’s all — you guessed it — automated.
Dosh is neat because you don’t have to scan barcodes, take photos of receipts or hunt down promo codes.
Here’s what to do:
- Download the Dosh app. It’s free.
- Connect your credit and/or debit cards. Select the ones you use most frequently. For the first card you connect, you’ll earn $5. The subsequent cards will earn you another $1.
- Go about your day.
Each time you complete a transaction at a Dosh-affiliated retailer, restaurant or even brewery, you’ll earn automatic cash back. For example, I can earn 7% back at a local coffee shop. Or 2% cash back at Sam’s Club.
I’ve enjoyed the app’s passiveness. I don’t even have to check in. (Except I do, because there’s a certain thrill that comes with earning cash back.)
Bonus: If you want guaranteed cash back on every single purchase, stake out the best rewards card for you.
Here’s an option we like: It’s the Chase Freedom Unlimited card. Its claim to fame? You’ll earn an unlimited 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. Plus, if you spend $500 in your first three months of opening the card (hi, groceries), you’ll pocket a $150 bonus.
There’s no annual fee, and the cash-back rewards don’t expire. We checked Credible’s annual rewards calculator, and it estimates $417 in annual rewards based on our spending habits.* (You can enter your unique spending habits and see what you’d earn, too.)
Get signed up — and 0% intro APR for 15 months — here.
If you want to learn about more ways to set up a passive stream of income — no matter how big or small — we’ve got some ideas for you.
*Annual Rewards amounts will change based on the amounts you enter. The monthly spending category names and definitions may vary among issuers, and categories may not align one-to-one.
The information for the Chase Freedom Unlimited card has been collected independently by The Penny Hoarder. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. The Penny Hoarder is a partner of Credible.
6. You’ll Always Remember to Pay All Your Bills
Forgetting to pay a bill can send you into a spiral of late fees and overdraft fees and right on over to collections.
It’s another irrational fear I have — forgetting to pay an important bill and ruining my credit score.
I’ve started tackling this worry by setting my bills to auto-pay. Now, I don’t have to worry about paying my electric, cable and internet or credit card bill off in time because it’ll just pull from my account. (The key is to just have enough money to pay for those…)
I’m also working to automate my monthly rent payments, but I haven’t quite figured that out with my landlord. In the meantime, I’ve set up a reminder with Trim, which shoots me a Facebook message with a reminder.
(My rent is due the 12th of every month, so it’s not like it’s that easy to remember. Stop judging me.)
Although it’s not healthy to totally forget about your finances — I think that’s what therapists call repression? — it is helpful to automate a few important aspects of it to keep that well-oiled machine chugging.
Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s fond of lengthy to-do lists. Without automating some aspects of her finances, her lists would span the entire block.