9 Life-Improving Tricks Every Financial Hot Mess Should Memorize

By Friday, September 11, 2015


Last week, I paid a six-month lump sum of my car insurance from my debit card. (That would typically go on credit, but this had to be paid immediately, and my credit card was being re-issued because the bank was concerned about a potential fraud.) Later that day, I got a text from my bank saying my debit card balance was at $38.00. I went online, looked for the problem, and immediately found that my full rent had been taken out on the same day as the insurance payment, and while my roommate had sent me her share of the rent via Venmo, I’d never cashed the money into my account! So, by my own mistake, I’d ended up with far less money in my checking account than I’d planned for, when both payments were taken out.

Even though I’d done the calculations correctly, and accounted for each bill coming out, I’d forgotten a step along the way that almost caused me to clean out my checking account completely. For someone who is fairly type-A and loves organization, completing tasks and crossing things off lists, I’m pretty forgetful. And the amount of important things I misplace is honestly regrettable. I’m learning that you could have the best money instincts on the planet, and still get yourself into trouble, if your finances are just not organized enough. I still need more organization for my finances, and a cure for my genuine ability to be a space cadet.

Luckily, I’ve put a few remedies in place to protect myself from my own forgetfulness, and occasional tendency to be a financial hot mess.

Here are nine remedies:

1. Set alerts for when your checking account drops below $50, just to be safe.

If you are with a major bank, they will likely have this feature on their online portal, and you can turn it “on.” I’ve signed up for the alerts I need via text, because I’ll ignore an automated email from the bank, but will open the text immediately. One of my financial issues, that I’ve discussed on TFD, is that I keep my checking account balance relatively low, so when I make a stupid mistake, like the one above, I don’t have a safety net. That text reminder saved me from overdrafting, or getting my card denied at the grocery store.

2. Buy a calendar (to mark when all of your bills are due).

In the early 2000s, my dad used to buy me a calendar every year around the December/January holidays. But now that we’re in the age of the smartphone, they’ve gone out of vogue. Reclaim the calendar, hang it on your wall (make it a focal point), and write down when all of your bills are due. I’m working on decorating a wall in my room, currently, and next to my first-ever ~inspiration board~, I’m hanging a calendar.

3. Organize your keychain, keep the cards you need on it, and remove the additional junk.

For the first year I lived in LA, I didn’t have a card for our biggest grocery chain. Every time I went in I would pull the “oh! I don’t have my card” line, and it was the most ridiculously, counterproductive practice. Finally, one day, I got sick of my own hot messiness, and took apart my key chain, which hadn’t been organized since my senior year of college. I got rid of all the cards specific to places I’d moved away from five years prior, and added all of the necessary LA cards (pharmacy, grocery, library, etc.).

I’m giving up my status as the chick in line at the pharmacy rummaging at the bottom of her bag for a CVS card. And I feel pretty damn good about it.

4. Buy a file box and label the sections, so you can just throw pay stubs and receipts in their respective compartments.

Put in the organizational work up-front, so you won’t have to worry about it later. I used to never keep my receipts, because they filled up my wallet, and then I had no place to put them. I own a small file box and I just sectioned off a “2015 receipts” section, so I now don’t have any excuses. I put my receipts in my purse, and then drop them in the file box at the end of the day (or week).

5. Set up everything that can be paid automatically (within reason) and then keep a list of which payments are linked to which cards.

Knowing which payments are linked to which accounts is crucial. Protect yourself, in case your card gets stolen or canceled, because it happens more often than we’d like to admit. It doesn’t seem like it would be an issue, but forgetting about one payment, and not setting it back up if something happens to your card, can make you late on your monthly bill.

6. Always keep your wallet in the exact same place. 

I have friends who struggle with misplacing their wallets in the same way that I can never find my keys. Designate a spot where you put your wallet every single time you take it out (a specific compartment of your purse maybe), and get used to the ritual of always putting it back in that pocket.

7. Make a tiny sign that says “LIGHTS” and put it on the inside of your front door, so you see it every time you leave your apartment.

This way, you’ll have a reminder to make sure all the lights (and the air conditioner, if you have one) are off, so you’re not losing money on your electric bill.

8. Bring cash to the bar.

Hear me out on this one. Bring a finite amount of cash to the bar, so you don’t forget to close your tab out and leave your card at the bar. I wouldn’t advise leaving your card at home (just in case there is an emergency), but tuck your card into a hard-to-reach corner of your wallet, so you won’t be tempted to grab it.

9. Downsize (your wallet and your purse, if you carry one).

The number one cause of forgetfulness and disorganization in my life is clutter. Clutter in my wallet, junk in my purse, messiness in my file folders. First, I’ve completely given up big purses. I was so tired of “losing my keys,” and realizing they were at the bottom of my bag 15 minutes later. I carry a tiny, crossbody bag everywhere I go. I hate the bag itself (it was once very nice, when someone else owned it, but is now incredibly old and worn), but it forces me to carry only necessities, and I can always find something when I reach into it.

I also have a tiny wallet, which is 100% on purpose. All the old library cards from different states were living in my big wallet, as were important documents I should not have been carrying around. Now, I carry only the things I need in my wallet. (I also specifically have a compartment that is hard to get cards out of, which I keep my credit card in, so I’m not tempted to use it for impulse purchases.)

Maya Kachroo-Levine is a writer and editorial assistant at The Financial Diet. Send her an email at maya@thefinancialdiet.com or follow her on Twitter.

Image via Pexels

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