Keep It Simple, Stupid! You’re probably familiar with the KISS Principle. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your finances, you can reduce financial stress and improve your quality of life by reducing, consolidating, and automating your finances. Here, we will be covering a few ideas to help you do just that.
1. Automatic Deductions
You are paying yourself first, right? Before your pay even hits your bank account, you should be making automatic deductions to fund your retirement savings and other tax-advantaged accounts.
If your company offers a 401(k) Plan, be sure to set up an automatic deduction to fund your plan. While you’re doing that, make sure you set up the investments inside your plan and have the money automatically invested. Also set up an automatic portfolio rebalancing schedule if your plan offers the option.
At the very least, you should contribute enough to get all of the company’s match. It’s free money. You don’t have to start with a lot; usually, 6% is a good place to start since most companies match “50 cents on the dollar” or “a dollar on the dollar” up to the first 6%.
After a few paychecks, you won’t even notice the small amount deducted from each paycheck.
HSA and FSA Deductions
While you’re talking to HR, also set up an automatic deduction for your Health Savings Account and Flexible Spending Accounts for Health and Dependent Care. You may or may not need all three accounts, but if you are in the position to use them, you should! These accounts are great for reducing your income taxes.
2. Direct Deposit
If you’re still getting physical checks from your employer, or your side hustles, you need to switch to direct deposit. What’s the point of waiting for a check to arrive in the mail, spending the time to deposit the check, and then disposing or storing the check?
For almost all of your income sources, you should be able to direct the employer or client to deposit the money directly into your account.
Almost all of my income checks are directly deposited into my checking account with very few exceptions. One of these exceptions is rent payments for my rental properties, but I am starting to automate this using the free service from Cozy.co.
3. Automatic Investing
If your company doesn’t offer a 401(k) plan, or if you want to invest even more, your next step should be setting up an automatic investment for investing.
You can do this with any brokerage account. You can set up an IRA or an investment account with a broker, then direct them to automatically take money from your checking account on a regular basis to invest in your brokerage account.
This step is super easy with M1 Finance. You can set it up to automatically add money to your investment account, purchase new shares, and rebalance your portfolio with each purchase. I am currently doing this with my Dividend Income Portfolio using M1 Finance.
4. Automatic Bill Payment
Next, set up automatic payment for all your bills (or as many as you can).
Credit Card vs. EFT Payments
Using Credit Card
If you have the option to choose between paying a bill with your credit card, or paying with an EFT from your checking, choose the credit card.
When you pay with a credit card, you have additional protections that credit card companies offer. But the most significant benefit is getting the cashback reward form using your card. Start with these 5% cashback reward cards to find the best card to use for your automatic bill payments.
Unfortunately, you cannot pay all bills with a credit card. For example, my mortgage payments and credit card payments do not accept credit card payment. In this case, set up automatic bill payment using your checking account.
In case you’re wondering, yes, you should pay your credit card bills automatically. We set this up to pay in full each month so that we don’t have to pay any finance charges and never have to worry about late fees.
While you’re setting up automatic bill payment with your utility companies, you should ask about a budget payment plan or level payment plan.
With these plans, they analyze your usage across the past 12 months and bill you a fixed amount each month instead of billing you the amount you used for the month. This is a good way to smooth out your budget and avoid getting stuck with large electric bills during the summer months, and huge heating bills during the winter months.
Online Bill Payment
If you can’t set up an automatic payment, then you should pay your bills online. There are many advantages to paying your bills online:
- You don’t have to spend money on checks or stamps
- You can pay from anywhere and any time
- You can occasionally use your credit card to pay and get reward points or cashback bonus
- You are less likely to be late, thus reducing the chance that you’ll have to pay late fees
5. Consolidate Your Accounts
Do you need 3 checking, 5 savings, 7 credit cards, and 9 investment accounts? I highly doubt it. Another idea to simplify your finances is to consolidate these accounts and move them into a few that serve you the best. For instance, instead of three separate checking, savings, and investment accounts, you can consolidate them into one brokerage account that offers all the services.
401(k) and IRA accounts
If you still have old 401(k) with your former employers, this is an excellent time to roll them over into one IRA account. Here’s how to rollover your 401(k) into an IRA.
You can also combine your IRA accounts as long as they are the same kind.
Insurance is another good place to look when consolidating. You might have your auto insurance and homeowner’s insurance with different insurers. If you haven’t reevaluated your insurance policies in a while, this is a good time to shop around and consolidate them into one insurer.
6. Cancel Unused Subscriptions and Services
Just like having multiple financial accounts, you might have unused subscriptions and services that you’re paying for but not fully utilizing. Take a close look at each one and evaluate if that is something you want to keep paying for. Some of these money vampires include:
- Gym memberships
- Website memberships
- Insurance options
- Credit cards with annual fees
- Cable TV, Internet, and Phone options
7. Go Paperless
Are you still getting paper statements in the mail? They either take up a lot of time and energy to organize and file away…never to see the light of day again. Or they take some effort to properly disposed of because they contain your private information and you have to shred them.
Instead of dealing with these unnecessary paper statements, you should just set up everything on electronic statements. You can set them all up to go to one email address where you can easily file them online.
8. Automatic Financial Dashboard
Now that you have everything mostly streamlined, you can take it a bit further by signing up for a free account with Personal Capital. Link all of your accounts to Personal Capital, and you can log into one place to see everything you need to know about your finances:
9. Set Up a Financial Calendar
Next, you can set up a financial calendar to automatically remind you of important events. In addition to renewal dates and contract expiration dates, we have put together a Financial Checklist of 25 Important Tasks To Do Each Year that you can review and add to your personal calendar.
Set up reminders with your calendar so that you can take care of all the important tasks and not miss a deadline.
10. Pay Off Your Debt
Most debts are bad for your finances. The only notable exception is your home mortgage. All these extra debt accounts are just more complexity in your financial life.
Why not consolidate what you can and pay the rest down as fast as possible. We have a lot of information covering this topic, you can start with this article: How to Get Out of Debt Fast.
Pinyo Bhulipongsanon is the owner of Moolanomy Personal Finance and a Realtor® licensed in Virginia and Maryland. Over the past 20 years, Pinyo has enjoyed a diverse career as an investor, entrepreneur, business executive, educator, financial literacy author, and Realtor®.