Essays & Confessions

5 Important Financial Tasks I Put On Auto-Pilot That Make My Life Better

By | Thursday, March 17, 2016


Last year, it seemed everyone on Instagram was KonMari-ing their way to happiness, swapping #retailtherapy photos for overexposed pictures of lovingly folded socks and color-coded bookshelves. The KonMari method promotes mindful living through tidying up our stuff, but more important than a drawer full of neatly-folded socks, it’s having a system that helps us tidy up aspects of our lives that stress us out, keep us trying to play “catch-up,” or force us to spend too much time doing things we don’t enjoy.

One of the ways I’ve tried to tidy up is by putting things on auto-pilot. I have a system made up of small automatic habits that allow me stay on track financially, save time in certain areas, and automatically make smart decisions (in some cases), while I focus on things I do enjoy, and become more productive as a result of this exercise.
Here are a few things I’ve successfully put on auto-pilot:

1. Saving. If my mental capacity for keeping track of spending was a closet, it’d look like a “before” picture in any KonMari enthusiast’s Instagram account, messy. I don’t believe in recording every single thing I buy (nor do I want to), but I do know that saving more than I spend is critical to having a healthy financial life. So I’ve set up my finances to save first and spend later. At the start of each month, a predetermined amount automatically goes to my savings accounts, and everything else in my checking account is mine to spend or pay bills with. Within my bank account, I have an emergency buffer: a set amount that is never to be touched unless I’m in a true emergency. Everything beyond that and my savings is actually mine to spend or pay bills with. I also have a digit account that is constantly stocking away tiny/unnoticeable amounts for me, and I empty my coins at the end of each day into a wine carrier which I cash out each December.

The benefit of having my savings set up this way (aside from the obvious satisfaction of watching future-me’s money pile up) is that it actually becomes fun to have something so important happen without much effort. My bank sends me an email letting me know it’ll be taking out the scheduled amount, takes it out, and boom I’ve saved (and also earned a tiny bit of interest). Digit sends me gifs celebrating savings milestones, and my coin collection has faithfully added up to 100-$140 at the end of each year that I then guiltlessly spend on a investment piece for myself.

2. Investing. Three words: dollar cost averaging (DCA). DCA is a fancy way of describing investing a set amount at regular intervals (like once a week) to help mitigate some of the risks of investing. Setting up my investment account to automatically withdraw money from my checking account, much like my savings, gives me the satisfaction of knowing I’m putting cash aside for future me, and taking a little less risk than I would be if I waited until I had a lot of money and then tried to “time” the market before investing. DCA also gives me the pleasure of using terms like “dollar cost averaging” in polite conversation. Enough said.

3. Setting goals. If something is not on my calendar, it does not exist to me. I find that the best way for me to get myself to do something is to place it on my calendar at a time and date when I want to do it. I put my immediate financial goals and priorities on my calendar and break larger goals with actual deadlines into small tasks distributed across my days. This forces me to own up to my commitments and take my goals seriously. If I’m working toward a savings goal, it’s nice that my calendar reminds me when to check up on how I’m doing. Other small reminders like when my savings will be withdrawn, when bills are due, and of course, my actual appointments all go on my calendar, making it my backup brain and saving me a ton of mental energy otherwise wasted trying to stay ahead of life. 

4. The small stuff. Time, according to my book of surprisingly accurate clichés, is more valuable than money. I’m guilty of whipping out my calculator in a store and calculating the difference between what I would save if I buy one brand versus buying two packs of another brand that is on sale. However, I often end up spending too much time on inconsequential decisions. I now have a spending buffer for certain purchases — if a necessity is under $10, I buy it quickly and move on to the next (more important) thing.

I also play a quick “how much do I think this is worth” game before looking at a price tag to help myself make quick decisions when I’m shopping. I’ve had many moments when a clothing item was $5 more than I thought it was worth, and I felt better about leaving it than spending that extra $5. Decision made, time saved. Great.

5. Getting ready. I’m generally useless before coffee, so I’m slowly trying to put as much of my mornings on auto-pilot as possible. One of my favorite bloggers wore an outfit made up of the same basics for a long time and she realized that not many people cared (or noticed) that she was essentially wearing the same outfit over and over. I don’t necessarily want to wear the same thing every day like Obama or Mark Zuckerberg, but I do want to spend less time rooting through my closet (which has remained immune to the KonMari method) each morning. I now arrange my outfits for an entire month at the front of my closet, reducing my workday mornings to grabbing the first outfit in my closet, and then going about my day. While this may not seem like a financial task, it is a task that helps my finances. I have the urge to shop a lot less often when I know what I’m wearing for the month, and when I see an outfit that I think I need, I have a month of outfits to remind me that I don’t. Putting this task on auto-pilot allows me to fully understand my clothing needs versus wants, which is an important part of my financial life.

There are a lot of other things you can put on auto-pilot; they can be as important as setting up automatic savings or as inconsequential as buying the same brand of under $5 detergent to save time at the store. Ultimately, I’ve realized that when I put things on auto-pilot, I end up feeling better and more in control of those things, while having more time (and energy) to focus on things I actually like spending time on. Personally, I think that is just as important as sparking joy through well-arranged closets.

Etinosa lives in New York City and tweets here

Image via Pexels

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