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Un-automating your finances can help

Many bloggers recommend automating your financial life as much as possible, but sometimes that takes the sting out of where your money goes.

By MSN Money Partner Apr 29, 2011 4:52PM

This guest post comes from J. Money at Budgets are Sexy.


My recent post on quarterly taxes was pretty cool. Not because I wrote it and it felt good to get it out (it did!) but because of the discussions and ideas going on in the comments.

I know I say it all the time, but that's my favorite part about blogging. Especially when it generates future post ideas like today's. Here's a comment from Ashley of Money Talks  that got me thinking:

I think our country would be a different place if everyone had to write a personal check and send in their taxes like this. When people really saw what they pay (or don't pay) I think they would feel differently about taxes.

I agree. And if we apply this to other aspects of our finances, I think it would make even more of an impact.


I know how we bloggers like to preach about automating finances and how much better it makes us save/pay off debt/etc., but I think there's something to be said about manually doing this too. I haven't read Baker's e-book "Unautomating Your Finances," but I have to believe this is one of the reasons he wrote about it.

When we physically do some of this, it really forces us to *think* about what we're doing and, more importantly, whether we're still on the right path or if we need to take a step back and re-evaluate. That's something automating your finances can take away if you're not careful. (When was the last time you checked your auto-paid cable bill or cellphone statement?)

Here are a few things that might change your perspective:

  • Getting your paycheck in straight-up cash (instead of direct deposit). Have you ever HELD one paycheck's worth of money before? I have, and it's crazy. It's really hard to fully comprehend how much you're bringing in until you physically feel those stacks of $20s in your hand. I can guarantee you, it's a lot harder to spend it when you're seeing it in person rather than on your online statement. And it hurts giving it away more, too.
  • Paying your mortgage manually. This is actually the last thing I personally haven't automated besides my cell bill. I want to feel the burn every time I send that check in to remind me of how stupid I was to buy it in the first place (and how far I've come in understanding what I need in life). When it's automated, you still see it go out of your bank account, but it's a lot easier to move on with your day than when you have to stop and make a point to schedule the payment.
  • Paying for your car outright. This would be the ultimate face-smacker. Imagine rolling up to the dealership and cutting a check (or bringing cash) for the entire amount right there on the spot? Without any loans, debts, etc. I honestly don't know if I could do it.

Well, actually that's kind of a lie -- that's how I bought my current Caddy -- but $3,000 is much easier to swallow than a car at $10k or $20k.  In those cases, a $200- to $300-a-month car payment seems much easier to swallow than a lump sum wiping out your savings. But just because that's what we're used to doesn't mean it's the smartest. If you had to pay outright, wouldn't you end up with a cheaper car? Probably.

You can probably think up some other ways to change your mindset too. And usually, if you're anything like me, your thought process would go a little something like this -- all in a matter of seconds, perhaps, but still better than no thinking at all when the payment is automated:

  • Is this ____ still worth it?
  • Is there a way I can cut it down a bit?
  • What's the best way to pay for it right now (credit card, check, cash)?

Again, some of this could literally take seconds, but the point of it all is that you stop to do it, even if you don't change much through the process. It's all about deciding for yourself right then and there what the next course of action is. With automation, you don't get the "ping" every month because it's already doing the thinking for you.


All that being said, though, I'm still a big fan of making my life easier, so don't get me wrong. I think automating has a huge part in managing our finances, and I'll continue doing it for 80-plus% of my financial life.


But, and this is a huge but, I've also been consciously monitoring my finances for well over four years. Not only do I have a good understanding of my own situation, but I also check my accounts every single day too. And I think that until you can get to that same point yourself, some of this stuff is actually better kept un-automated. 


You'll learn a lot more about the financial "you" this way than you otherwise would, I'm certain. It's really about paying closer attention.


More on Budgets are Sexy and MSN Money:

Apr 30, 2011 12:45AM
I never liked the idea of automating bills.  I'm too a...-retentive.  I will say, though, direct deposit is an excellent thing.  I want my paycheck there now! Open-mouthed
May 5, 2011 2:16PM

Even though I automate I still have to see each payment twice (once in Quicken about two weeks before and then the email from the bank notifying me that it has happened). Yes the automation takes some of the "sting" out of it (it is just numbers right? :D) but having goals that we are saving for gives us the motivation to reduce or remove all the bills we can so we can watch those automated savings accounts grow faster and faster. Money

May 2, 2011 8:04AM
I do not automate my bill paying mostly because a few of the bills have moving due dates, not just my credit cards which are (in)famous fro that tactic. I do pay with an online bill pay system and spend the time to set the amount and also when to pay it at times. As to not doing direct deposit like was suggested in the article, many places are going to direct deposit only instead of allowing a physical check (it likely saves them money to do it)
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