A good hack is all about efficiency: hacking a task might accomplish it better, but mostly it’s about making things happen faster and less painfully. Personal finance is full of simple, slow-and-steady tenets to make you secure, stable and maybe even rich, like spend less than you earn and pay yourself first. They require discipline, commitment and an utter disinterest in the Joneses.
Personally, though, I’m more interested in hacking my finances–planning, for me, is about putting in effort at the exact moment where the smallest work will have the greatest payoff, allowing me to be lazy and stay safe and happy.
In the interest of laziness, here are the three things that keep my finances in order and off my mind. They aren’t foundational wisdom, and there are lots of ways to take care of your money–these work for me.
Anticipate. Yeah, y’all, budgeting is my top life-simplifying hack. Sorry, I mean planning–that’s a better word, anyway. Finance is one area in which it’s way, way easier to ask permission than beg forgiveness. At the beginning of each month I open a clean copy of the spreadsheet with my fixed income and expenses, and add in any extra information. This usually takes about twenty seconds (Seriously, how long does it take to click File > Open in Excel?) . Every six months I figure out what major expenses I expect to come up in that time period. Maybe half an hour, and I can do it while I watch a movie.
Aggregate. I use Geezeo, and I like that it’s very simple, but there are a bunch of free account aggregators available online, as well as software you can buy. I don’t know if it’s the best thing for me emotionally to see my student loan balances every time I check my bank balances, but I do know that I like having my credit, checking and savings accounts all in one place. It did take a little while to set up, but now I can check everything at once.
Automate. If you’re not using direct deposit, with automatic 401(k) contributions and automatic savings, and whatever automatic billpay you have available, I assume it’s because one or some of these options are not available to you. It all needs to be checked up on occasionally, of course, because nothing is perfect, but I think these automated systems are way less likely to make an error than I am.
How about you–I know we all have tricks to make us richer, but how do you keep yourself sane while you get there?