Lately, as I’m sure you lovely readers have all noticed by my fewer posts (see January), I have felt like life is a time sink. Over the last year, I’ve been ruthless in my commitments and hobbies. It’s downright depressing. Between my full-time job, commuting, sleeping, getting ready for work, making, eating, and cleaning up dinner, sports commitments, date night with my boyfriend, that leaves me with about 3 hours/night to “relax” during the week, except when I swap one of those evenings for the gym… Saturdays and Sundays are somewhat open, but they often get eaten up with commitments too.
How does this relate to my finances? I’m realizing that I can’t spend as much time as I have become accustomed to on them. I’m trying to cut it down to 1 hour/week and then another hour or two at the end of the month. The financial tasks that I’ve been doing throughout the year:
- Entering my receipts into my spreadsheet – 30 minutes/week
- Reconciling my bank accounts into my spreadsheet – 30 minutes/week
- Reading a bill – 5 minutes per bill per month (35 minutes per month)
- Paying my credit card bills – 5 minutes per card per month (20 minutes per month)
- Paying my cell phone bill – 5 minutes per month
- Paying my electricity bill – 5 minutes per two months
- Paying my internet bill – 5 minutes per month
- Re-evaluating my (auto/condo/umbrella) insurance choices – 30 minutes/year
- Paying my (auto/condo/umbrella) insurance bills – no time! My insurance company doesn’t charge a fee to automatically withdraw the payment each month. Since I’ve had the same checking account for awhile, they just re-use that information each year. I’m okay with this since they send me a full schedule of the withdrawal dates and amounts.
- Paying my rent and apartment building utilities – 5 minutes/month. No longer have to do this!
- Paying my HOA dues – 5 minutes/year. They are the same every month all year, so I set it up in my online banking to automatically send a check to the HOA each month. Super simple!
- Preparing my income taxes – hours and hours per year. I hired a CPA the last couple of years and I spent less time this year doing it myself. It probably took me about an hour or two after compiling everything.
- Paying my property taxes – 5 minutes/year. Once I get the bill in the mail for the year’s installments, I set it up to auto pay out of my online banking in time for the due date of each installment.
- Renewing the tabs on my vehicle – 10 minutes/year.
- Buying new clothes – going downtown after work and giving up my relaxing time for that evening, so cost is about 3 hours. That’s a good reason to not do so very often! I buy shoes online which cuts down on the time cost of that a lot.
- Getting reimbursements from my FSA – 5 minutes/month. I’ve now used up the funds in my FSA, so this cost is down to zero until the new plan year starts. Since my birth control will now be covered, that will cut down on this time significantly as well. For the $100 purchases, I was doing it immediately, but with the smaller ones in the last few months, I waited to pile up enough receipts to empty the FSA and that was a much more efficient use of my time.
- Reading emails from various financial institutions – countless minutes.
- Filing reimbursement reports with work – 10 minutes/month.
- Making mortgage payments – 10 minutes/month, ignoring bonuses. This was 5 minutes/month when my mortgage and payroll deposit account were at the same institution. But now I have to log into two websites and it takes longer. I finally set up a recurring payment for in case I am out of town or something, but I will continue to make them manually so I can send extra with the payment.
- Obsessively logging into my various online banking accounts, just to see what my balances were – countless hours. I’m really trying to cut down on this. Spending less often helps.
- Re-calculating savings amounts – countless hours.
- Evaluating health insurance plans at open enrollment time – five hours/year.
- Updating my net worth – 15 minutes/month
I’m sure I’m missing something, but a recurring theme above is that paying something takes time. So the fewer things that I have to pay, the less time that it takes. The fewer receipts that I have, the less time entering them and reconciling my accounts takes. Even those 5 minute tasks add up. I’ve done a few things to help mitigate these time sinks and maybe they’ll help you too.
Step 1: Filter email notifications
Email is a huge time sink, but all those notifications for statements and bills are annoying and you don’t really need to read them right away, right? Well I would if I got a notification, especially with a smartphone. I use gmail for my personal email and I set up a filter for all of the “from” addresses that I get regular email I don’t want to read. This filter has the settings “Skip Inbox, Apply label X”. I check in on this label every once in awhile and try to clear it out once a week. I do this for bills, online purchases, bank statements, or anything that doesn’t require my immediate attention. It has been a life saver.
Step 2: Paying bills
Automate. I resisted automating for so long, but I’ve finally given in. My cell phone, electricity, and internet bills are now auto billed to my credit card with the higher limit. I will still read the bills, but this will reduce the bills I have to log into online banking to pay each month. That was a definite time sink. The two credit cards that I use regularly are now automatically paid out of my checking account that has a nice buffer in it. I get an alert if I’m using more than 1/3 of my credit limit, so if I get that alert, I would go in and make an early payment, but otherwise this should play out nicely.
My paycheck is automatically deposited in two parts: a) $2,500 to my checking account to cover my monthly spending and b) the rest to my online checking account from which I make the monthly mortgage payments. This way, I don’t need to open up my spreadsheet and do all my reconciling to know how much to throw at the mortgage from that paycheck – I just need to log into the online checking account, note the balance, log into the mortgage account, and schedule a payment for the 1st in the amount of the online checking account’s balance.
Step 3: Investments
These are better automated too. Last year, I was fidgeting with my 401(k) allocation each month. That took at least 15 minutes to determine the current allocation, what the distribution should be this month, and then update the numbers on the 401(k) plan’s website. I didn’t actually update the numbers if they were close to last month’s, but it was still a time sink. This year, I’ve set my 401(k) allocation already to get me to target at the end of the year. I’m probably a bit off, but that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be exact. I’ll make the Roth IRA contribution manually, but I already know which fund it’s going to, so that will be pretty quick.
Step 4: Online banking
The main reason I logged into online banking so much before was to verify that there were no fishy transactions on my checking account since I used it for daily purchases. I discovered that my credit union will allow me to receive text alerts when a transaction that meets my requirements posts. I set it up to text me the amount and description on *any* withdrawal. Now I don’t obsessively log into my online banking anymore!
Readers, have you tried any of my tips? Do you have any more time-saving tips for me and your fellow readers?