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 30, 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.
Caveats I’m Aware Of
I’m quite aware that I’m the only me who exists. You are not me.
A lot of things affect your financial situation.
That’s fine. You do you. I’ll do me.
But you can still follow these money management steps to start wrangling your finances and set goals for your future.
1. Review and Record My Net Worth
Time to set up: 10 minutes
I need to know what I’m starting with. Thankfully, it’s not a lot, so this part’s easy.
I created a spreadsheet for all of my financial information. On the “net worth” tab, I included my:
2. Plot My Income
Time to set up: five minutes
Next, I need to know what money is coming in. This is mostly simple for me, because I’m paid a salary — the same amount, twice each month.
I also do some freelancing on the side, so I have to factor in the less reliable income. It’s a little trickier to plot.
Your income may be challenging to plot, too, especially if you rely mostly on inconsistent freelance work, fluctuating hourly wages or tips.
In that case, use this method to get an idea of your average income, and work with it. You’ll just need a little extra time to get started on this process.
These likely won’t be consistent, so don’t include them in your monthly income. Instead, make sure you’re noting how much is coming in when it does, and have a plan for how you want to use it.
3. Negotiate Monthly Bills
Time to set up: 25 minutes
To streamline monthly bill payment, I’m:
1. Negotiating rates to save money.
2. Entering the info for all accounts into a spreadsheet.
3. Scheduling automatic bill pay for everything.
I spent about 20 minutes studying the details of the service, finding PDF copies of my bills online and submitting them. BillFixers saved me $60 this year on my Internet bill.
I also spent five minutes setting up automatic bill pay for every bill, including rent.
To avoid a mishap leading to an overdraft, I turned on my bank account’s low balance alert.
If you want to completely take the guesswork out of it, set up a separate checking account just for bills and allocate a portion of your paycheck there either through direct deposit or an automatic transfer.
Or partition your budget with Mvelopes. This app helps you create a budget and designate your income toward bills, necessities and other spending.
4. 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.
I use Mvelopes to create a budget for these necessities. The web and smartphone app organizes my income into digital “envelopes” so I can better allocate my income:
I split my monthly necessities into these categories:
- Groceries (weekly)
- 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.
The next step is to tackle debt.
5. Get My Debt Under Control
Time to get estimate: 10 minutes
My major debts are student loans, one closed credit card and a car loan.
I’ve never had a problem paying on the car loan, but the others are racking up interest and weighing me down.
Debt consolidation and student loan refinancing are a little more complicated than some of the other budgeting steps I’m taking.
But I got off to a good start using CommonBond. In about 10 minutes, I was able to get estimates on available personal loans to pay off my debt and student loans.
I can add these estimates to my budget and move forward with refinancing — and finally get out from under these debts!
Finally, I can start saving — and decide what to do with my “leftover” money.
6. Decide What Small Stuff I Need to Save For
Time to set up: 5 minutes
I think of savings as two separate things:
- The short-term things you’ll spend money on but can’t afford with one month’s pay
- The long-term savings you don’t plan to touch until you buy a house, retire, travel the world or achieve some other gigantic life goal
These two goals require different approaches to saving money.
The first is more tangible: I need to decide what short-term goals I want to save for.
My biggest savings priority is travel. I can do it frugally, but I also want to allocate as much extra money toward traveling as I can.
Where is the money going to come from, and how am I going to save it?
Instead of holding myself to a set amount each month, I want to draw savings for these extras from extra money.
To do so without thinking about it, I created an automatic savings account with Digit.
Digit links to my checking account and monitors my spending habits and income. Every two or three days, it determines a small amount of money to set aside in an FDIC-insured Digit savings account.
I spent five minutes setting up my Digit savings account and connecting my checking account for automatic withdrawals.
My Digit balance will grow automatically every few days.
When I want to access the money for my small goals, I can transfer any amount back into my checking account just by sending a text. It’ll be there the next business day.
The service is fee-free, but these savings won’t accumulate interest, which is why I like them for short-term goals.
For long-term savings, I’ll need a system that allows me to take advantage of compound interest and other financial terms I try not to think about.
7. Automate Long-Term Savings
Time to set up: 40 minutes
I’m not sure what my gigantic life goals are. But since I now have a job, I know I’ll at least probably retire one day. So I’m going to need money.
I already contribute to a 401(k) at work, which took about 15 minutes to set up.
I spent another 15 minutes using this tool to ensure my 401(k) is sufficient to get me through retirement.
For one more super-simple investing method, I use 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.
For more automation, check out these IFTTT recipes for saving and managing money:
- Save receipt details to a Google spreadsheet just by taking a photo.
- Send friendly reminders to the people who owe you money (friends or clients).
- Use IFTTT with Qapital to automate savings based on your pre-set trigger events.
8. 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 twenty-something, and I like to live for today, man.
But I also work in the personal finance world, so I’m constantly reading about 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. It accumulates .05%-1.5% interest, depending on your balance, and I can access it when I need to with my debit card.
I designate 5% of each paycheck to this fund, which was easy to set up automatically with my payroll manager.
9. Call My Mother
This step isn’t 100% necessary… but she’s going to be so proud of me!
10. Check in Once a Month
Now I can just check on my monthly bills and bank account periodically to make sure nothing is out of order.
I spent just two hours upfront getting my money situated, so now I only have to think about it for a few minutes each month.
The best part about all this automation is I don’t have to keep any of this information in my head. Bills are paid automatically, money is saved automatically and my debts are under control.
The money left over from my paycheck is mine to spend however I want. I don’t have to think twice when buying something as long as I have cash on hand.
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?
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).