I Hate Thinking About Money. Here’s How I Budget in Just 15 Minutes a Month

Updated April 14, 2017
by Dana Sitar
Staff Writer
Money management

When I became an adult, my long-term life plan was to have fun, live hard and most likely die in some fiery way around the impossibly old age of 27.

Now that I’m in my 30s, healthy and have a full-time job, I have to accept I have a life to plan for. I’m going to work for a while and, one day, retire.

I’m going to want to do big things.

And to do them, I’ll need money.

So I’m adulting like crazy and getting my money under control.

But even as an adult, money isn’t something I want to spend a lot of time thinking about.

I don’t just want it under control. I want it off my mind.

So here’s what I’m doing upfront to ensure I won’t have to think about money for more than a few minutes every month.

A quick caveat: A lot of factors affect your financial situation. Yours is different from mine.

That’s fine. You do you. I’ll do me.

You can still follow these money-management steps to start wrangling your finances and set goals for your future.

It takes me about 15 minutes each month to check in on everything, but we went ahead and included how long each takes to initially set up.

1. Negotiate Monthly Bills

Time to set up: 15 minutes

To streamline monthly bill payment, I’m:

1. Negotiating rates to save money.

2. Entering passwords and other info for all accounts into a spreadsheet, so it’s easy to find when I need it.

3. Scheduling automatic bill pay for everything, so I don’t have to think about it every month.

To cut my rates, I could negotiate with customer service myself, but I don’t want to. Instead, I recommend using an app called Clarity.

Clarity Money is a free iOS app that helps you see, organize and control your finances — and it will actually negotiate your bills down for you.

The app scans your bank statements for areas where you might be overspending or overpaying, then does the hard work by contacting the companies on your behalf.

It the company negotiates a discount for you, it keeps 33% of the savings as a fee. If it saves you nothing, you owe nothing.

Clarity Money also provides budgetary insights to help you cut your spending in other areas, plus tools to help you start making better financial decisions.

2. Create a Budget for Necessities

Time to set up: 15 minutes

After bills, I have a number of fairly consistent basic monthly expenses. That’s where my budget starts.

You can use Clarity Money for this, too, or another app like Mint to create a budget for these necessities. The apps let you organize your income and spending into categories to see where your money’s going.

I split my monthly necessities into these categories:

  • Toiletries (monthly)
  • Gas (weekly)

Now I know how much money I’m making, how much I’m spending to get by each month, and how much I have left to tackle the bigger financial tasks.

3. Get My Debt Under Control

Time to set up: 10 minutes

I don’t have stacks of credit card debt, but I do have student loans, a car loan and some lingering unpaid medical bills that are hurting my credit score.

Plus, the loans are racking up interest and weighing me down.

Deciding what to focus on first and how to fit it into my budget is tricky, but I got off to a good start using Credit Sesame.

In about 10 minutes, this app let me see my free “credit report card,” which lists all of my debts and monthly payments, my credit score and steps I can take to improve it.

Seeing it all in one place makes my debt easier to manage. I can choose which debts to focus on and budget for the monthly payments. Plus, I get to watch my credit score go up as I do it!

4. Start Saving for Retirement

Time to set up: 5 minutes

I live pretty simply, so I have just two major savings goals: short-term savings for travel throughout the year, and long-term savings for retirement.

Retirement planning is easy for me: I contribute to a workplace 401(k). I use this tool to make sure I’m saving enough to last in retirement.

If you don’t have a workplace 401(k) — or the one you have isn’t sufficient for your retirement plans — consider opening an IRA.

Lending Club lets you open an IRA by investing in borrowers, rather than the stock market. Plus, if you sign up before August 31, 2017, it’ll give you a bonus up to $3,000.

5. Automate Short-Term Savings

Time to set up: 10 minutes

For travel, I have to get creative to carve out funds. I can get around frugally, but I also want to allocate as much extra money toward traveling as I can — I’ve got a lot of places to go!

Where is the money going to come from, and how am I going to save it?

To grow my travel fund without thinking about it, I created an automatic savings account with Acorns.

This smartphone app rounds up purchases with your debit or credit cards to the nearest dollar and invests the “digital change” in a basic stock portfolio.

You can withdraw money from your Acorns account anytime and stash it elsewhere. But if you let it be, this is a really easy way to see your money grow without complicated investing or a huge upfront cost.

I spent about 10 minutes setting up my Acorns account through the app.

6. Start an Emergency Fund

Time to set up: 10 minutes

The idea of having an emergency fund makes me cringe a little. I’m a recovering twentysomething, and I like to live for today, man.

But I also work in the personal finance world, so I know how important it is to have one. Also, common sense.

So, begrudgingly and without a goal or deadline, I’m doing it.

I use my Summit Checking Account through Aspiration, an online bank. It accumulates either .05% or 1.5% interest, depending on your balance, and I can access it when I need to with my debit card.

I designate $200 from each paycheck to this fund, which was easy to set up automatically with my payroll manager.

7. Protect My Finances

Time to set up: 5 minutes

I’d hate to work so hard to pay down debt and get my finances under control and finally become totally responsible with my money…

…Only to take a hit because of identity theft.

It never seems like it’ll happen to you, but it does happen to real people. All the time.

Identity theft ruined TPH contributor Jamie Cattanach’s credit score. She was able to get it back over 700 with a lot of elbow grease, but the experience has made her extra-cautious about her finances.

A free service like TrueIdentity helps you avoid this situation by keeping a watchful eye on your finances. It sends alerts by email, phone or text if someone tries to apply for credit in your name.

As Cattanach says, “Before driving face-first into a total credit nightmare with someone else at the wheel, you might as well keep tabs on your stuff — especially if you can do it for free.”

8. Call My Mother

This step isn’t 100% necessary… but she’s going to be so proud of me!

Now, I Just Check in Once a Month

I can check on my monthly bills and bank account periodically to make sure nothing is out of order.

With less than two hours upfront, I only have to think about money for a few minutes each month — and it’s more under control than ever!

The best part about automation is I don’t have to keep any of this information in my head. Bills are paid automatically, money is saved automatically and I’m notified if anything changes.

And I never have to feel guilty about spending money on all the hard living a girl’s gotta do.

Your Turn: Have you taken any steps to automate your finances?

Disclosure: A toast to savings! Thanks for allowing us to place affiliate links in this post.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).

by Dana Sitar
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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