Time is Sinking

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:

  1. Entering my receipts into my spreadsheet – 30 minutes/week
  2. Reconciling my bank accounts into my spreadsheet – 30 minutes/week
  3. Reading a bill – 5 minutes per bill per month (35 minutes per month)
  4. Paying my credit card bills – 5 minutes per card per month  (20 minutes per month)
  5. Paying my cell phone bill – 5 minutes per month
  6. Paying my electricity bill – 5 minutes per two months
  7. Paying my internet bill – 5 minutes per month
  8. Re-evaluating my (auto/condo/umbrella) insurance choices – 30 minutes/year
  9. 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.
  10. Paying my rent and apartment building utilities – 5 minutes/month. No longer have to do this!
  11. 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!
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. Renewing the tabs on my vehicle – 10 minutes/year.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. Reading emails from various financial institutions – countless minutes.
  18. Filing reimbursement reports with work – 10 minutes/month.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. Re-calculating savings amounts – countless hours.
  22. Evaluating health insurance plans at open enrollment time – five hours/year.
  23. 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?

23 thoughts on “Time is Sinking

  1. Mint has really helped me spend less time on our finances as it aggregates all of our accounts and transactions. I still keep a big picture spreadsheet with a monthly budget and annual savings goals.

    I use auto bill pay for almost all bills except credit card. That I pay manually, but online so it is still super quick.

    Can you shop online? That’s where I do most of my shopping and it saves a ton of time.

    • I tried Mint, but I hated having to categorize manually when it didn’t work (re: lots of the time) and didn’t really like their default categories very much. Mint also can’t bring in my 401(k) for some reason, so it was significantly off on the net worth calculation which drove me crazy. So, I’m trying to find ways to make my spreadsheet way take less time. Reconciling with the bank accounts less frequently is key, I think.

      I’ve been doing a lot of shopping online lately. Way easier to try stuff on and you can even return it by going to the stores downtown, which are a short walk from my office, or to a UPS drop-off, which isn’t too far of a walk/drive from my condo. Way less time and they have better size selection online! I wish I could grocery shop online as well, but that’s a bit trickier since those services tend to have high minimums. My solution has been to only grocery shop once a week, with a list. I buy a lot of stuff on Amazon for convenience and if I can’t buy it there, I try to either find it at the grocery store or do one big trip for that kind of stuff at some point.

      Filtering my email notifications has been a huge help!

  2. I definitely automate all bills right on to my credit card, but manually pay the credit card after I check it to make sure there is nothing fishy on it.

    Glad to hear you are so busy with life!! :)

    • I noticed you haven’t been posting your graphs anymore! I don’t know what it is, but January/February always seem to be super busy for me. Do you have any tricks to share?

  3. I have looked at several ways and or methods to making life simpler when it comes to keeping track of ALL of my financial aspects of life and it seems like nothing really works well as a total package.

    I too spend lot of time keeping track of finances. All of my bills and reoccurring payments are automatic payments from the bank so I don’t spend time with any of that now that it is all setup.

    The biggest time consumer for me was being more of an active trader the past couple of years. It has really helped me learn a lot about the different markets and sectors of the investing world so it was a time investment of my own for personal reasons. It has yielded quite nicely, but I don’t like spending 5-6 hours a week doing research on companies and market segments it is a lot of time that I could be doing other things. So I am now taking most of my money and going the long road with Vanguard low cost index funds. I’ll still hold some individual equities in my brokerage account but much less time involved with that.

    I love online shopping. It reduces trips to the store and saves on gas and mostly my time spent walking around looking for things that are at my finger tips.


    • Agreed. I like that you converted to index funds after a few years of active trading. I can only imagine how much time that took, but I’m sure me figuring out investing and index funds was a similar amount of time…just an upfront investment.

      Online shopping is nothing short of amazing. If only accepting packages wasn’t such a hassle, haha! Sometimes though, when I’m not sure what I need exactly, I find it easier to go into a store. Or there are other things that I want to see in person first. The best part about online shopping is that it tells you the dimensions of things, making it far easier to determine if they’ll fit where you want them to go.

    • I’m working on it! Isn’t it funny how five minutes here and five minutes there is actually a lot of time??? Are you having a similar experience now that you’re back stateside?

      • A few minutes here and there does add up. My financial life is not as complex as yours so it doesn’t take me long. Monthy bills consist of rent, electric, and cell phone. Insurance for bike is paid yearly and bi-yearly for the truck. I do spend a little bit of time with tracking expenses and looking at monthly brokerage and retirement accounts. However, for those I consider myself fortunate to even have such accounts so it’s not a bad trade :-)

        • I miss the days when my rent was deducted from my paycheck, I had no insurance needs, and my only “bill” was my prepaid cell phone! So much simpler.

  4. I think most of your time sucks are related to your obsession with constantly checking up on your finances. I was the same way once, and still a little bit now. I switched to conscious spending rather than budgeting every single cent. So I stopped entering my receipts into a spreadsheet (I used to enter it into excel on my phone right after I purchased something). Mint helps with this since I only really care about my total expenses for a certain time period. I used to obsess with this every week, then I relaxed it to a month, now I only really check my progress every quarter. Hopefully, I can relax to a yearly checkup. Isn’t that the point? Not to worry about your finances.

    • I agree with you HappyFund. I think we all go through that time commitment as a growing pain and keeping focus. It is also more important with you are starting out getting things going.. Once you have your saving account, spending account, and retirement accounts built up to where you can just live off of them and not worry if there is money in there to cover expenses then you can go on living and enjoying your life.

      If you are conscious about living and enjoying life and not spending crazy amounts of money your financial plan should sustain itself for easily a quarter or 2 providing you don’t have any major life changes or emergencies… and then eventually when things stabilize it should pan out to a yearly check up or so…


      • I certainly don’t worry about whether there is money in my accounts to cover expenses – I have far more than enough for that. At my age, life changes are still pretty frequent though, which is why I’ve been reviewing and adjusting my financial plan so much in the last few years. I think that things will be a bit more stable now that I’m in my condo.

    • I agree completely, which is something that I’m trying to work on. I’m trying to make things simpler while still maintaining the part that is important to me – being proactive about my finances rather than reactive.

    • I do, but they’re all with separate logins and websites. I can’t collect them all at one site. So at the very least, I get emails for them and there is no paper to shred.

      • Also, with your excellent earnings / savings habits, cut yourself a break! Buy some free time with the services of somebody who can take something off your plate. I’m sure, in the long run, it’d increase your productivity / earnings / or at least your enjoyment of things you like doing.

  5. wow, that looks scary. I do not even track my time spent in finances and blogging. Fortunately my wife understands me. My week days are usually totally burnt by work and late at night blogging, Saturday is the only family day, Sunday is spent by the Church activities ans Scouting… I need more days in a week!

    • I don’t really track them, but recently with the increased commute time, I was trying to figure out where all of my time was going each week. I’m definitely with you on wanting more days in the week!

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