Thursday, September 19, 2013

Is it possible to set your finances on "autopilot?"

Technology can be a great thing sometimes. It helps us stay healthy, lets us keep our entire music collection in a little, tiny package so that we can listen to it whenever we want, and, not surprisingly, it also lets us manage our budgets more easily and quickly than ever before! With all this seemingly magical newfangled technology floating around, you’d think that it would be high time for us all to get on the bandwagon and set all our finances on autopilot. The problem is that there isn’t really a bandwagon, yet. 

This isn’t for lack of trying, of course. There are numerous companies out there today, software developers who wish to help you live a more balanced financial life, and many of them have the software applications necessary to make this dream a reality. The problem, of course, is that not everyone in the sandbox wants to play nice, so if you think you can simply flip a switch and automatically pay your bills on time every time, you might just have a bit of a rude awakening come the start of next month when you figure out that more than a few of your bills might not have paid on time.

While security is an online necessity, it also does double duty in that it blocks many time-saving and budget-friendly programs from accessing your data. This is because the security features of your bank or credit card often don’t discern very well between what is a friendly robotic software program accessing your account information, and what is a piratical robotic software program bent on hijacking your account information and stealing your loot! It’s simply safer to say “no.” This makes it just about impossible to “set and forget” your finances, but just because you get a “no” in one way, doesn’t mean you have to hear that answer for all financial situations!

First off, it is extremely critical that your budget is rock-solid. There should be plenty of extra cash on hand so that your bank account never depletes, and you should always monitor exactly how much cash is in your account at any given time. That being said, there are ways that you can streamline your finances. 

The first thing you need to do is get your mortgage payment out of the way. The simple, easiest way to do this is to sign up for a checking account at the bank or credit union where your mortgage is held. (bonus points: some banks give a discount on the interest rate for having a checking account that automatically drafts your mortgage payment every month!) Next, have your paycheck direct deposited to this account.

Next, you’ll need to get your fixed (or at least semi-fixed) expenses in order. Hopefully, you’ve got a solid budget in place, so these should be easy to track down. Sometimes, loan payments such as car or personal loans can be automatically drafted, as can most utility payments, so get these signed up with your shiny new checking account, as well. 

For non-fixed payments, such as your monthly entertainment expenses, grocery or gas, you have two options that will help you tremendously: The first is to simply pay cash out of an allowance that you parcel out from your fixed budget every month, and the second is to use a credit card. Obviously, it takes a great deal of discipline to track and use a credit card, but it can be done, and usually, this card will accept payments from sources that don’t take bank card payments. Additionally, most cards also allow you to pay off your balance every month automatically! 

So you see, it is possible to (in a somewhat roundabout way, mind you,) put your finances on autopilot, but it does take some planning and strategy, as well as a strong budget to begin with. Once those are in place, though, paying your bills will be easier than ever!

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