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

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 working 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.

I’m adulting like crazy — but even as an adult, I don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about my finances.

I want my money under control, but even more? I want it off my mind.

If you’re in the same boat, here are a few steps you can take today to ensure you won’t have to think about money for more than a few minutes every month.

1. Create a Budget for Necessities

Time to set up: 10 minutes

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

I use the chatbot Trim to keep an eye on my spending and see where my money’s going. One of its best features? Seeking out and eliminating unused subscriptions.

We all sign up for stuff. Sometimes it’s easier to put subscriptions on a recurring payment and forget about it — looking at you, Netflix. Trim helps you  keep track of them all.

Once you sign up and connect your bank account, Trim analyzes your transaction history for recurring payments. When it finds one, it lets you know. If you don’t use, say, that dusty gym membership anymore, go ahead and cancel it right from Trim.

Once you cut away the fat, organize your spending into a simple budget. I prefer the 50/20/30 method — because it’s easy and leaves room for me to do all that hard living I mentioned.

2. Get Your 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 lets you see your free “credit report card,” which lists all of your debts and monthly payments, your credit score and steps you 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!

3. 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). Now, I just need to make sure it’s doing what I need it to.

There’s a robo-advisor for that. Blooom, an SEC-registered investment advisory firm, will optimize and monitor your 401(k) for you.

It gives you an initial 401(k) checkup for free, and you’ll get to know your account a little more intimately. Find out if you’re paying too many hidden fees, have the appropriate amount invested in stocks versus bonds, that kind of fun stuff.

After that, the tool is $10 a month to use to continue to monitor your retirement account. Let Blooom know your target retirement age, and it can help you get there by investing more and less aggressively.

4. 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.

It takes less than 10 minutes to set up an Acorns account through the app — and you’ll get a $10 bonus when you make your first investment.

5. 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.

To simplify savings, open a second account for a dedicated purpose. One of our favorites is the Aspiration Account — there are no monthly fees, and you’ll earn up to 100 times the interest rate of other banks.

This online-only account comes with a debit card and free ATMs, so you can easily access your money when you need it.

After you open your Aspiration Account, use it to split your income:

  • Automatically deposit a portion of your income into your existing bank account, and use that to cover basic expenses like rent and bills.
  • Deposit what’s left into your Summit Account to use for fun stuff, like eating out, shopping or going on vacation.

6. 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 writer 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.

Credit Sesame helps you avoid this situation by keeping a watchful eye on your finances. (Yeah, it does that, too.)

Credit Sesame’s free identity theft protection will alert you to important changes in your credit report (like someone trying to apply for credit in your name), and it offers $50,000 in identity theft insurance.

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.”

7. Negotiate Monthly Bills

Time to set up: 5 minutes

Monthly utility bills start sprinkling in, and you’re wondering when it became so expensive to have internet.

Enter BillShark, an online tool that’ll negotiate your internet, home security, satellite TV and satellite radio subscriptions to save you up to 25% each month. All you have to do is pass along your bills, and the Sharks will handle the rest.

If they can gnaw your price down, you’ll get 67% of the difference. (The Sharks have gotta make money, too.)

Plus, they have an 85% success rate. Not bad!

8. Call Your 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 an hour upfront, I only have to think about money for about 15 minutes each month — and it’s more under control than ever!

And with all these tools to keep an eye on out for me, I never have to feel guilty about spending money on all the hard living a girl’s gotta do.

Dana Sitar ([email protected]) is a branded content editor at The Penny Hoarder. Say hi and tell her a good joke on Twitter @danasitar.

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