6 Monthly Money Tasks That Allow Me To Think About My Budget As Little As Possible
This article is sponsored by Wealthfront
In the five years I’ve spent creating and directing content for TFD, the thing I’ve learned is that — unless maybe you reach a specific income threshold — it’s impossible to completely eliminate thinking about money. My husband, Peter, and I are very comfortably what I consider upper-middle class, but while we’re nowhere close to struggling financially, we still have to plan out our financial decisions in order to make sure we’re on track for our long-term goals.
That said, I don’t ever want to feel like I have to constantly be thinking about money. That’s why I started automating certain parts of my finances, like using Wealthfront to invest strategically, but without doing any of the heavy lifting. Below are six things I do on a monthly basis to make sure I’m always on top of my money, without thoughts of my budget taking over my day-to-day life.
1. Create my discretionary budget.
Okay, so I get that it sounds counterintuitive to spend time creating a new budget at the beginning of every month/pay cycle. However, I find that it’s impossible to stick to the exact same budget from month to month, especially now that we’re vaccinated (!!), the world is opening back up, and our social calendars are filling up.
Peter and I sit down each month, not to adjust our entire budget (our incomes don’t fluctuate and we set aside the same amount in savings each week, so there’s no need to redo the entire thing), but rather to adjust the amounts we assign to different spending categories. Do we have family coming to visit, meaning our restaurant budget should be larger than other months? Are there major purchases we need to account for? We try our best to anticipate what our spending will be so we don’t have to think about the amounts accounted for later. We tag purchases on our credit card accounts as they get charged so that they are automatically sorted by category. (We purposely run every purchase through our credit cards each month to maximize points, and we always pay it off in full.)
2. Automate my investments with Wealthfront
Confession time: I don’t want to think about investing. As much as I genuinely enjoy certain money tasks, like creating a budget and deciding where to spend my monthly personal “allowance,” I don’t derive any joy from researching ETFs or how to diversify my portfolio.
But I know how important it is to invest early and often, so I’ve been maxing out my IRA ever since I was able to afford to. And I’ve been a longtime user of Wealthfront because it lets me automate my retirement investments without doing anything.
Wealthfront is a robo-advisor that first assesses your risk tolerance and then builds you a personalized portfolio that their software can constantly monitor and manage for you. In practice, this means answering some questions when you open an account so that the software can assess your finances and goals and create the right investment strategy for you. This means I “set and forgot” my investments in line with my goals, while also protecting myself from unnecessary risk.
Wealthfront offers a wide range of investment accounts, including taxable accounts and both a traditional and Roth IRA retirement account. (When I got married, my new household income meant I was no longer eligible for a Roth IRA, and Wealthfront’s team was super helpful in helping me reallocate my contributions to a Traditional IRA.)
Setting up an account is also super easy — you need a $500 initial deposit ready, and then it just takes a few minutes to open an investment account, and they’ll take care of the rest. Wealthfront’s annual management fee is just 0.25% of your assets annually. And right now, TFD readers can get their first $5,000 managed for free. So if you open an account with our link and grow it to $10,000, your monthly management fee would be just about $1. Click here to get started!
3. Use a sinking fund.
Each month, we have a set amount that gets automatically saved into a savings account to cover certain expenses, like travel, annual expenses, and gifts. Then, we pull from that account whenever we need an expense in the specified categories covered, such as a plane ticket or a credit card fee.
This is what’s called a “sinking fund,” and I’ve found it to be the most effective way to cover larger recurring expenses without having to create a super-specific savings plan. We set aside a specific amount of money we can afford to part with every month, which gets automatically deposited into a dedicated account, and then we withdraw money as we need. It’s a rotating savings account, so there’s not a specific goal in mind — it’s spending we’ll always have, so we’re always anticipating and saving for it.
4. Leave a buffer in checking.
Comparatively speaking, Peter and I have very few transactions going through our checking account — our paychecks get deposited, then that money goes towards paying a few recurring bills we can’t put on our credit cards (rent, electricity, Peter’s student loans, etc.), our various savings accounts, and then to pay off our credit cards after every billing cycle ends. We have most of our expenses automated (and calendar reminders for everything that can’t be), but I always make sure there’s a buffer of a few hundred dollars in the account just in case something happens.
We’re of course incredibly privileged to be able to leave any amount of money in a checking account “just in case.” If you have the means to leave anything extra in your checking account at all times, I do recommend it for the extra peace of mind. I check the buffer about once a month to make sure it’s still at a level we’re comfortable with — if I think it needs to be larger for whatever reason, I’ll transfer some money from our sinking fund.
5. Check on the big picture.
Every month, I take a look at our updated net worth, just to give myself a visual for how our efforts are paying off. It’s difficult to “feel” things like paying off student loans every month when those payments are automatically deducted from our checking account, but seeing a lower debt burden and higher net worth every month makes it feel real! It’s also a good reminder that the little things we do really are paying off in the long run.
6. Look over my credit card statement.
Spending some time looking over my credit card spending is something I’ve done for years at this point, and it’s always helpful. I used to go through and highlight every purchase I didn’t remember making (boring desk lunches and random drinks out, mostly) so that I’d know what to be more intentional about going forward.
I don’t do the highlighting exercise anymore, though I do still recommend it to anyone trying to get control of their spending for the first time. However, I do still comb through my credit card statement to make sure there’s nothing that looks like fraud (though my CC company is pretty darn good about catching these things) and to see if I notice any purchases that ended up not being worth it.
I hope this outline of my monthly system doesn’t seem overly complicated — this all takes an hour at most, and I find that initial planning always makes the followup much easier. (This goes for everything in life/work, not just money!)
Again, I definitely recommend Wealthfront for anyone looking to get started investing, no matter where you are in your financial journey. Click here to open your account and get your first $5,000 managed for free!
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