Just because I’d always heard that having an emergency fund was a good idea doesn’t mean I ever thought I’d have one.
You know how it goes. You plan on transferring money to a savings account and then, without fail, something comes up. A car repair. A cheap flight to Mexico City. (Guilty.) And then there’s that moment during rent week when you realize you don’t have enough money in your checking and transfer any you have saved right back again.
Well, here’s the thing. As of writing this, I have a savings account that can cover four months of expenses (including rent!), and I did only one thing: I started paying myself first.
THE MAGIC WORD: AUTOPAY
Late last year, I took The Fiscal Femme’s 30-Day Money Cleanse and while the whole experience improved my relationship with my finances, I’d say that by far and away the most important takeaway was based on Ashley Feinstein Gerstley’s sage advice that everyone should make saving automatic.
Think of it this way: when you have to pay something (such as your electricity bill), you find a way to do it. Right? So as soon as your paycheck gets deposited in your account, why not automatically pay yourself first? You know, before you have time to spend the money that’s there. My method is to set up two monthly transfers that coincide with my biweekly paychecks, which I send to a savings account at a different bank (this is key for me. Because it takes like three days to transfer money back, it’s harder for me to just “dip in”). The transfer before rent’s due is smaller than the one from my mid-month paycheck, making this the easiest way to save big bucks which I barely ever think about.
And so, autopay is your best friend. But it’s not just for your savings account—automating your spending works in all other sorts of magical ways as well.
HOW TO AUTOMATE IN WAYS YOU’VE (MAYBE?) NEVER CONSIDERED
Autopay Recurring Bills on Your Points-Based Credit Card
I have an awesome credit card that gives me points on all sorts of things (it’s the Chase Freedom card if you’re wondering—an old coworker told me it was the best one out there, but there are plenty of reviews out there for you to read). Each month, my bills that I can autopay with a card (admittedly some places require you pay with a checking account, so this doesn’t always work) get charged to my points-based card. I also pay for things like my annual Thrive Market and Amazon Prime memberships with my credit card first. It’s money I need to spend, but I’m getting cash back points on every dollar of it.
Set Calendar Reminders to Reorder Items You Know You’ll Need Again
There’s a very real issue we don’t talk enough about: the $10 Toilet Paper Scandal. See also: marked up bags of Purina cat food and $15 mediocre olive oil. This is what happens when you suddenly realize that you’ve failed to pick up an essential item, and so you wind up buying it at, like, a 24-hour Walgreens at 10pm. You know you’ve spent dollars more than you should have, and you only have yourself to blame.
If I buy my recurring essentials on Thrive Market, it adds up to literally hundreds of dollars saved a year. (My favorite brand of olive oil is $8.99 versus the MSRP price of $13.19 on there, and if you consider the fact that I buy probably a bottle a month…). The challenge is remembering to reorder. But lo! Thrive Market actually has an “autoship” feature where you add the items to your cart just once and set up a recurring order. Once a month, you’ll get a box full of those items (and will also get a reminder ahead of time in case you want to delay the box or remove any items you don’t need yet).
You can apply this solution to other products you’re constantly buying as well in the form of iPhone reminders. “Hey Siri, remind me to re-order toilet paper.” …Or paper towels or batteries, you name it.
Give Yourself A “Fun Money” Allowance
Calculate your cap for extraneous expenses—going out to meals or drinks, movie tickets, that latte habit—and take out cash to cover it. Yes, cash. Because once it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s horrifying how quickly it disappears when you do it this way, but it makes you hyper-aware of what you’re spending money on and whether it’s actually worth it.
An alternative way of doing this is to set up a separate checking account for the fun stuff that you auto-transfer funds into after each paycheck (see? There’s the automation again) and use that as your “going out” debit card. It doesn’t work quite as well as paying for everything in cash but you won’t wind up with pockets full of nickels and pennies.
Another great way you can save time and money is by shopping on Thrive Market (who sponsored this post)—everything is shipped right to your door! They’re offering Career Contessa readers 25% off their first order and a free 30-day trial, so get to it! Thank you for supporting the brands that support Career Contessa.