Give Me Back My Five Bucks

The case for un-automating your finances

So many personal finance bloggers and professionals will tell you that automating your finances is one of the best ways to manage your money. Nowadays, everything can be automated if you want it to be – your pay cheques, savings, RRSP, investment contributions, as well as all of your monthly recurring bills.

But even though you may think you’re making your life easier by automating everything, you might be doing more harm than good. Automating all of your finances can lead to bad spending habits, because you aren’t conscious of where your money is going. And, when all of the work is being done for you, you might not check up on your accounts as often as you should be.

I personally only automate my retirement savings. Everything else – such as utilities, cell phone, internet credit card bills, and short-term savings – I make manually every two weeks when I get paid. Here’s why:

My income fluctuates

Even though I have a full-time job, my income can fluctuate wildly from week to week depending on how much money I bring in from my freelancing jobs. While it’s possible to budget and automate when your income varies, I find it a lot easier (and a lot less stressful) to manually pay my bills. Especially when not every company offers monthly billing cycles that end at the end of each month. I keep track of when my payments are due in Google calendar – that way I always know that I have money in my account to pay each invoice.

I like moving my money around

This might be the personal finance nerd in me, but is extremely satisfying to click a few buttons and see bills getting paid, or my savings account growing. It’s proof that my hard work is worth something, and it reminds me that my goals are real and attainable. It’s a feeling you can’t get when the bank does all of the work for you.

Don’t forget to read the terms and conditions

Sometimes life can get busy, and by the time you get around to looking through your cell phone bill, you might have already had the payment automatically deducted from your account. I used to work in a call centre for a company whose terms and conditions stated that receiving payment is your acknowledgment and agreement to all of the charges on the invoice. So it’s important to look through your invoices in a timely manner, as well as carefully read through your terms and conditions of service with each company.

It forces me to pay attention

Since I started taking control of my finances, I’ve made it a habit to log into my online bank accounts at least three times each week. Over the years, I’ve caught three different fraudulent charges on my credit card – one was for a larger sum so it was more noticeable, but the other two were for recurring charges of under $10/month. If my credit card bills were on automation, I would be much less inclined to check my accounts as often, or as closely, so I might have missed catching and disputing those charges.

Also, companies make it so easy to automate payments. From your Netflix account to your gym membership to those domain names you’ve never used that keep auto-renewing every year – sitting down to pay your bills might take an extra hour each month, but it really forces you to see where your money is going and what expenses you can cut. It helps you have a better relationship with your finances, and you might realize that you’re paying for a lot of things that you just don’t use.

What bills do you have on automation?

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


Comments

  1. KC says:

    Great points! Many of my friends automate their credit card bill only to have a NSF fee charged because the bill happened to be higher than normal. Yeah, not fun!

  2. Jennifer says:

    I think it’s only a problem if you don’t track your spending. I take the time to track it in YNAB, but living without the automation seems unnecessary when I am checking things often.

  3. Steven says:

    Hi Krystal,

    New reader to the blog here and appreciative of your post.
    The main message I’m reading is that your case for un-automating finances is that it forces you to pay attention to the expenses and money transfers.

    Echoing a similar, previous comment a bit, but I feel that is would still work well with automation. In fact, your post makes a great case for being extra vigilant when you are automating!

    On that point, gotta agree with Jennifer and say that YNAB is a useful program that mixes automation with active reconciliation. The newest version does sync with banking accounts, but you have to approve the transactions that it downloads!

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