Today’s fast-paced world means that we are more likely to be pressed for time when it comes down to everything – including managing our personal finances. Whether you’re a busy professional, or working two jobs just to get by, sitting down to track spending and pay bills can feel like a huge annoyance. And forget about trying to plan for the future – you’re just trying to keep your head above water.
Here are four suggestions (and warnings) for streamlining your finances when you’re always on the run:
Automate Your Finances
If a large part of your finances are automated, you have much less to worry about in terms of tracking expenses and paying monthly bills.
Every utility vendor at our place of residence now offers automatic bill-pay, where the appropriate amount is deducted from our checking account each month without having to lift a finger. That takes care of utilities.
Monthly subscriptions are handled in a similar fashion. Companies love to bill your credit card because they can keep their billing costs down and stop chasing you to get your bills in on time.
Our transfers to savings and retirement accounts are also automated, as our payments to student and car loans.
Word of Warning: One of the biggest complaints about automating finances is the inevitable overdraft fee. You must build a large enough buffer in your checking account (you set the number – we keep about $1,000-$2,000) so that if payments clear early or checks take longer to deposit than expected, you will be okay.
Once a buffer is in place, an amazing thing happens – you can stop checking your balance every 3 hours and worry about more important things. Plus, it acts as a nice emergency fund in case of a fast need for cash.
Use a Broad Budget
If you barely have time to track your expenses, don’t put a bigger burden on yourself and track every detail and transaction in your register, trying to organize it in one of 65 different budget categories.
A simple budget can have as little as 10 categories or less and still provide enough detail to understand if something’s going wrong. Before I committed to an envelope budget (which for us, works better in the detailed form), I used only 10 categories – Cash, Charitable, Home, Home Business, Insurance, Loans, Planned Expenses, Services, Unplanned Expenses, and Taxes. Savings were treated as transfers, but I suppose you can call it #11.
Setting up as simple a budget as possible prevents getting frustrated with it and lets you go about your day in peace. Just make sure to set aside weekly time to review your bills, ensure that your automatic transactions completed successfully, and that your budget is on track for success.
Stop Paying for Urgency
Several months ago, my wife needed to send a small package overseas with a couple of Valentine’s Day gifts. She put it off for over a week as the holiday approached. Before she realized, there were only five days left to get it there.
I knew I had to take the trip to the post office with her, or she was going to over-spend. Sure enough, when we got there, the express shipping would cost over $30 and take an (unguaranteed) 5-7 days. Regular shipping was $4 and 7 days.
The strangeness of the post office’s delivery times aside (and I may be off by a few days, but not too far) paying almost 10 times the price to potentially get it there 2 days earlier was not acceptable.
Lessons learned? Don’t let your own procrastination back you into a corner you can only get out of by paying more. You will always pay more for urgency, and companies know and bank on this.
Use Cash to Cap Everyday Spending
This is an extension of my first tip (automation) and the second tip (simple budgets). I recently wrote about using a cash-only diet, but you can opt to take the same concept and apply it long-term. It’s one of the easiest options for automating your spending and ensuring that your budget is met every month (without having to actually refer to it all the time).
The concept is simple – use cash for all daily expenses where you’d normally pay with a debit or credit card.
Setting a weekly spending limit allows you to both satisfy your need for simplification (you don’t need to worry about what you spend on, just staying within the limit) and need for automation (you can take out cash on a regular basis – a form of automatic “payment” to yourself). In essence, it becomes a spending “salary” you pay yourself every week, knowing that the remainder of your money is assigned to work for you in various ways.
What do you always over-spend on when in a hurry? How do you deal with a lack of time to manage your finances? Please share your tips in the comments!
8 thoughts on “Saving Money When You’re Always in a Hurry”
“Use Cash to Cap Everyday Spending”
– That’s one advice I follow everyday. It’s easier to save and maintain your budget if you see exactly how much money you’re spending. You’re forced to buy only what you can afford. More importantly, you miss out on paying interest.
@Anthony – Precisely! When we did it for 3 months, it was both an eye-opening experience, and very beneficial for our spending in those months.
I totally agree. We’re not always on the run, but our situation is similar. I am the main financial person and I have chronic fatigue plus severe depression. My husband has some health conditions as well. So there are plenty of times when we have to a) plan ahead to try and avoid urgency, like you said and b) keep things simple to avoid getting/feeling overwhelmed.
With a lot of unexpected health expenses, I’m still feeling our way through the whole budgeting process. And we definitely allow for reality. I think that’s the other big point. Even when you’re always on the run, or have health problems, you will probably want to believe that you’re going to be plenty frugal. Then you just get disappointed, frustrated and may end up quitting.
I suggest an alternative: reality. Accept your limitations. Budget for them. You can always work on them as you go along. For example, right now, neither my husband nor I are feeling well. My depression has been very bad lately. His health problems have been acting up. So we haven’t been cooking as much as we’d like. Which is to say, at all. We mostly scrounge around on the fast, easy meals that we stock up on: frozen foods, hot dogs, etc. And we budget for the fact that we will generally eat out or order in at least once a week, despite our best intentions. Sometimes we manage to avoid it. Generally not. While I do want to work on this over time, I am also sick of setting unrealistic goals that inevitably make me feel like a failure, rather than a person who is very sick.
@Abigail – That sounds like a tough situation, and I hope that you are getting better. You’re absolutely right – failure is probably the biggest reason people are scared of budgeting, because they create an idealized world in their mind that doesn’t come to fruition. We will always have unexpected expenses in our lives, and we will always spending on dining out, entertainment, and other categories where perhaps we’d like to cut back. Eliminating these all together is a setup for frustration and disappointment.
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.
My biggest waste of money when I am in a rush – jumping into a taxi instead of using public transportation in the city. Taxis are so much more expensive. Fortunately it doesn’t happen often.
Ouch! Mile for mile, I would bet you’re paying 10x more for the taxi trip than public transportation. Sometimes we have no choice and have to bite the bullet, but I try to plan ahead and avoid situations where I’m forced to take the more expensive option. The problem is premiums on urgency are extremely high, but people are still willing to pay them because they need it NOW! I guess human nature is hard to change. 🙂
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