I forget everything. I think it’s a combination of my way-too-busy schedule and some gene I inherited from my dad, but I’m pretty sure it’s just that gene.
So throughout the years, I’ve had to figure out ways to overcome my forgetfulness — and while I still certainly don’t remember everything all the time, I’ve come up with little tricks and routines that keep my life on track.
How your forgetfulness can cost you big bucks
In fact, I write down pretty much everything — yes, with a pen and paper. My house is covered with sticky note reminders (in places where I can’t forget about them) and I always have a to-do list — organized by work-related things and regular life stuff.
I’ve found that having a physical piece of paper helps keep me accountable There’s just something about physically crossing out an item on my list that gives me a sense of accomplishment.
I do all this because if I don’t, I’ll end up forgetting about something important — which I did recently. I signed up for a free online subscription, which of course was only free during the “free trial.”
Typically any time I sign up for something like this (a subscription, trial etc.), I set up an alert to remind myself to cancel it before I get charged. Well, somehow I forgot to set the alert (which is actually one of things I never forget). When I saw the charge go through the other day for $30, I was SO mad! Then of course it didn’t help that when I called to cancel, it was a huge process and the guy was a total jerk about it.
So I decided to channel my anger about an unexpected $30 charge into tips to help you avoid the same mistake and better manage your money — especially if you tend to forget things or aren’t the most organized person.
6 easy money tips for the forgetful and unorganized
1. Use an app that tracks everything for you
Making a mental note of bills, payments and expenses is a bad idea — even for people who don’t tend to forget things.
So tracking every aspect of your financial life is the easiest way to stay on top of your money and keep tabs on where it’s all going.
There are tons of great apps that will do it for you — all you have to do is set it up and the app will alert you when it’s time to pay a bill, when you’re going over budget etc.
Here are a few to check out:
- FileThis is a great way to keep track of all of your bills and account statements in one easily accessible place.Just link your FileThis account with all of your online accounts to get a complete overview of each account, download account statements AND get alerted with bill due-date reminders! Pretty much any online account can be synced with FileThis, including banks, wealth, health, auto, utilities, communication and retail.The app keeps track of your account statements from the past three years and downloads new statements as they become available. You can choose to have the documents downloaded to a number of different storage sites, including Dropbox and Evernote — or have them downloaded to your computer.
- Level Money keeps track of your spending and gives you a sense of how you’re doing. If you’re looking for a free app to take your financial temperature all the time, this is it. It will probably work best for those who have relatively simple and linear financial lives.
- Mint is a very popular app that helps you create a budget and then tracks your spending, monitors your credit score and keeps up with potential fraud by automatically downloading transactions from bank, credit card and investment accounts.The service allows you to combine all of your finances in one place — giving you a constant overview of your financial status. You can also set up alerts and automatic bill-pay.
- HomeBudget (iPhone only) is an app that lets you manage account balances, budgets and bills. You can set up credit and debit accounts and track balances, and it syncs data with other iPhone users and can export to a desktop. Users can take a picture of the receipt and associate it with a ‘family sync’ feature that allows members of the household to exchange information and work together within a single budget. It’s very visual and lets shared users see information quickly.
- Wally is a tool that gives you a ‘360 view on your money’ — what comes in, what goes out, what you have saved and what you have budgeted. The tool helps you get a better understanding of where exactly your money is going, and then helps you set up — as well as track and achieve — various financial goals.
2. Organize your bills
Using one of the apps mentioned above can help you keep track of your accounts, payments and progress each month. The apps will also help you keep your bills organized in one place.
However, there are some bills you should keep paper copies of — either the mailed statement or a just a copy you print from an email confirmation or other confirmation page. Get a filing container (which you can buy for cheap at a discount store like Walmart, however big or nice-looking you want) and organize your bills and statements by categories — like bank statements, taxes, medical etc.
Most of the companies you do business with probably strongly encourage you to turn paper statements off, with many offering incentives to do so. If you decide to only communicate and receive confirmations/receipts via email, just print out the page to keep in your file.
Below is a list of which statements to keep and for how long — these are documents you may need as proof of something in the future. And even though it may be in the cloud, if that system shuts down or an error occurs, you’d be out of luck without a paper copy!
Paper statements to keep:
- Tax returns ‘ Keep forever
- Tax return documentation ‘ The IRS says to keep for a minimum of seven years. Though depending on your individual tax situation, holding them longer may be advisable.
- Contracts — Keep forever
- Real estate records ‘ Keep forever
- Last pay stub of a job ‘ Keep forever if you leave that job
- Last pay stub of the year ‘ Keep until you reconcile it with your W-2
- All mortgage payment checks (statements) ‘ Keep until mortgage is paid off. Disputes about balances have been known to arise when ownership of the mortgage note changes hands.
- All student loan payments ‘ Keep statements until the loan is paid off
- Car loan payment stub ‘ Keep until the car is paid off
3. Make it automatic — using a safe method!
Most of the companies you do business with also probably encourage you to sign up for automatic bill pay. But if you aren’t always on top of things (and even if you are), you need to know which methods are safe and which ones are not!
Paying bills online is super easy, which is why so many people do it these days. And you can pay pretty much any bill online — utilities, cell phone, tuition, cable, mortgage — you get the idea.
Setting up recurring payments is a great way to not forget about a bill that’s due. But there are safe ways — and unsafe ways — to do it! Read more in Team Clark’s guide to automatic bill pay.
Why automatic drafts from checking/savings is a bad idea
ACH debits: With payments that are made through Automated Clearing House (ACH) debit transactions, you allow the company to deduct money from your checking or savings account each month — so you have to provide your routing and account number. The problem with ACH debits though, is that when you give authorization to regularly draft from an account, it is an open-ended arrangement, regardless of your contract. So the business could continue pulling money from your account even after your contract for the service has ended. And they have the information they need to do so.
Authorizing ACH debit transactions, especially recurring ones, could cause unexpected withdrawals to be made from your account, which then leads to overdrafts.
So if you haven’t quite gotten in the habit of checking your accounts daily (which you should work on), then charges could be going through without you even realizing it!
Safer alternatives to automate and pay bills on time
Online bill pay: This is a safer way to pay your bills electronically. Here’s why: you don’t need to give your routing number and account number to anyone, because your bank initiates the transaction. So your information is never provided to anyone else and isn’t at risk. You are also in control of when the payments are made, since they’re done through your bank.
Use a credit card: Many companies now accept credit card payments online (it used to just be debit transactions). So you can set up automatic payments through your credit card to pay each bill before the due date each month. You can also set reminders for yourself for when the bill is due and then right when that alert pops up, pay the bill online with a credit card at that moment (if you wait, you’ll probably forget).
Credit cards offer more protections against fraud than debit cards, so if you see a suspicious charge, you can dispute it and get your money back a lot easier. If the charge pulls money directly from your checking, you could be out of a lot of cash — temporarily or even forever.
Plus, by using a credit card, you also get the added benefits of racking up more rewards!
Steps to secure your online bill payments
- Go through your statements: Find any automatic drafts that are coming out of your checking or savings accounts and discontinue them!
- Paying bills on companies’ websites: Use a credit card, not a debit card, so you can dispute any potential false charges.
- When you sign up for a new company: Only provide your credit card number for payments. That way you can dispute any bogus transactions that may pop up down the road.
4. Set reminders
Even if you get alerts from an app and/or have recurring online bill payments set up, it’s still a good idea to set alerts — reminding you to check your accounts and payments.
For a variety of reasons, maybe the payment didn’t go through, too much was charged or something went wrong with your account — you need to stay on top of your accounts and payments. If you don’t catch a false charge in time, you could be out of luck when it comes to getting your money back. If the transaction doesn’t go through for whatever reason, you could get charged late payment fees.
So set up calendar alerts or reminders in your phone (or whatever other device you use) for the dates when all of your bills are due. That way when you get the alert, you can either make the payment then or check to make sure the payment went through and everything looks good.
5. Get your life together once a week
To keep your spending, saving and everything else on track, it’s a good idea to set aside some time each week to go over everything that’s happening in your financial life. your expenses, progress toward goals and contributions to retirement and other accounts.
Doing it monthly can make the process a lot longer and more confusing — especially if you can’t quite remember what that charge was for or if your bills and receipts are scattered every which way among purses, wallets, your car — wherever.
So find a time that works each week, maybe on the weekend, and set up that alert right now — and when it pops up, don’t ignore it! Use that time to go over a few things and just get your life together in general!
Here are a few things you may to do during that weekly get-your-life-together time:
- Check all of your expenses and accounts to make sure everything looks good and check any suspicious charges. This is just kind of a weekly reset with your money to keep tabs on everything.
- Check your progress toward big goals — are the savings on track, behind, ahead? You always want to make sure that your savings are aligned with your goal’s timeline — to avoid getting way behind.
- Check your contributions toward retirement and other accounts. Can you increase them? Does everything look good?
- Reevaluate your budget. Just do a quick check-in with each area of your budget to identify ways to save next week and/or to spot areas where you’re going way over budget — which will help you adjust the total monthly budget if necessary.
Ideally, you should set up a daily alert that reminds you to check your bank accounts — to keep an eye on money coming in, money going out and to spot any other false charges that may pop up. If that’s too much for you, then stick with that once-a-week time.
I check my accounts every single day, and I have alerts for every transaction that occurs on a monthly basis. So find a system that works for you so you can stay on top of things without worrying about having to remember each one!
6. Reevaluate subscriptions
Maybe you signed up for a free trial and forgot, or signed up for a cheap subscription service and forgot. That’s exactly what I did and it cost me $30!
But since I check my accounts every day, I caught it the day the charge went through, so I could cancel before paying any more for something I didn’t want.
So during your first weekly check-in, look through your statements for recurring charges — even small ones. This will give you an idea how much those little expenses are costing you each month and then you can cancel any you don’t need, aren’t using or didn’t even know about!
Also look for ways to combine subscriptions — ones that offer similar services or that you could share with a friend or family member (think Nextflix and Amazon Prime).
Being forgetful and unorganized is fine, until it costs you wasted money or gets you into a bad financial situation that you can’t get out of.
So find a system that works for you that keeps you on top of every aspect of your financial life. You may not be used to paying close attention, but if you want to take control of your money, you have to learn how to make yourself do it. It’s the only way to reach your goals and avoid big costly errors that you cannot fix.
More Clark.com stories:
- How I saved an extra $1,000 with this simple receipt trick
- YNAB review: Is this budgeting app better than Mint?
- How I paid off my $86,000 mortgage in 2 years