Happy new year! it’s a new beginning. This year, we decided to automate our finances. After figuring out our monthly expenses, setting our budget in Buckets, and consolidating our bank accounts, we’re finally at a point where we feel comfortable automating everything. Here’s what we did.

Budgeting

Each time I get my paycheck, I budget our monthly expenses for the next month in the Buckets software. I budget for all our fixed monthly bills, variable expenses, sinking funds for regular or irregular expenses, and our savings and wants. I also budget for our Roth IRA contributions. The Buckets software has goal settings, such as a targeted amount. This can be used to set up monthly contribution amounts to things like car insurance bills, so that by the time our car insurance is due, we have the entire premium available.

Checking Account

We’ve had our joint checking account with Ally for several years. My biweekly paycheck is directly deposited into the joint checking account. This means that by January 31st, our expenses for February are budgeted for. I try to keep one month of expenses in the checking account and sweep the rest into our savings account.

Savings Account

We also have one joint savings account with Ally as well. This is considered a high-yield savings account (HYSA), which gives 0.5% interest at the time of this post (January 2022). While this is not great, it’s better than the 0.01% that most brick and mortar banks provide.

One awesome feature that I just discovered in the Ally mobile app is that you can setup an overdraft transfer service from our savings account to our checking account. What this means is that if our checking account was accidentally overdraft, it will pull money for our savings account to the closest $100 that your checking account is short. To do this, open the Ally mobile app, sign in, and click on your checking account. Then click on the three dots labeled “More”, and then on “Overdraft Transfer Service”. Finally, click on “Select Account”, and choose the savings account you want to use.

Automated Payments

All our monthly bills, which include rent, utilities, cell phones, credit cards statements, etc., are on automated payments. Each bill is paid by our joint checking account. To us, it doesn’t matter when this bill is due since we budget through the next month. I put what we can on credit cards in order to accrue cash back or travel miles, and the rest is directly debited from our checking account.

We use our credit cards as debit cards, which means that we only buy what we’ve budgeted for with available money. This means that we don’t spend what we don’t have, don’t accrue credit card debt, and pay off the statement balance every month.

We do this for our big semi-annual and annual bills as well. This includes our car and rental insurance bills, which is paid in full.

Automated Contributions and Investments

I set a contribution percentage to my 401k to get my employer’s match. I’ve also set automatic investments to three different, low-cost index funds according to our investment allocation (60%/40% US/international stocks, and 10% bond index fund).

I also set automatic contributions to our Roth IRA accounts. This year, I chose to invest in Vanguard ETFs, since they can be easily transferred in-kind to other brokerage firms if I ever need to do that. There’s unfortunately no automatic investments in ETFs. So, each month, I have to go into our Fidelity accounts to buy the ETFs. This, fortunately, takes less than 10 minutes.

Personal Capital

I linked our accounts to Personal Capital, which is a really cool (and free) net worth tracking website. It also lets you see how much you’re spending each month on different categories. But, I tend to look at my budgeting software for the breakdown of expenses.

Discounts

I use the Rakuten extension for cash back whenever we shop online. It gives an instant few percents cash back whenever we shop. And, it also looks for coupon codes to apply to your order.

We also use credit cards with cash back for all of our purchases. Groceries and streaming services are paid with our Amex Blue Cash Preferred card, which earns 6% cash back. Gas and Costco purchases are put on our Citi Costco card, earning a 4% and 2% back, respectively. We pay for dining with our Chase flex card. The Chase Amazon card is used for Amazon purchases. The Chase flex and Discover card also have rotating 5% categories. Finally, everything else is put on the Citi Double cash, providing a 2% cash back.

I also check Slickdeals and Doctor of Credit for occasional deals. Camelcamelcamel is also good for checking and tracking prices of Amazon items. You can also tell it to email you when something you want to buy has reached a certain price point. Raise is great for discounted giftcards, which stack with Rakuten and credit card cash back for additional discounts.

Final Words

This is how we’ve optimized our personal finances so far. It’s helped me free up mental energy I used to spent in the past, making sure all bills are paid on time, and trying to find good deals on our planned purchases. There’s still some room for improvements, such as further lowering our expenses and adding automatic savings towards bigger goals. But I’m happy with it so far.

Do you have any tips on how you optimize your finances?

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