Financial chores can be a triple challenge—the tasks are a hassle, deadlines are often firm, and the consequences of failure can be painful. The more you can organize and automate, though, the easier it will be to check off your to-do list. Here are a few of my favorite tricks.
Separate your inbox
If you prefer to handle financial details online—I request email receipts whenever possible, for instance, and snap a photo of paper receipts and email them to myself—you don’t want those essential items to get buried in your personal inbox.
To address the issue, I’ve created a separate Gmail account where I send all of my bills, statements, and receipts. I then set up folders (receipts, work expenses, bank statements), so I can file individual emails and find items easily—especially handy at tax time.
Sync your deadlines
Many people don’t know that you can usually adjust credit card due dates to align them with other regular bills, like rent or mortgage. That lets you sit down just once a month, with all your statements in hand, to make your payments. (Or if you prefer, you could space out obligations in order to even out your cash flow.) Call customer service to request a date change; you may need to wait one or two cycles for the shift to take effect. Then set recurring reminders to help you hit those due dates.
While you’re updating your online calendar, add other periodic nags for the tasks that aren’t as easy to remember. You could block out a weekend half-day each February to kick off your tax prep, perhaps, or set a thrice-yearly prompt to check your credit report (at annualcreditreport.com). My husband and I also fix a date each January to discuss our financial goals for the coming year.
Label your accounts
For any savings goal, you should set a target amount and, ideally, a deadline. But you can go one step further: A 2011 study from the Journal of Marketing Research shows that people are more likely to succeed if they earmark funds for specific goals.
Your bank should let you break out separate accounts—say, for a beach vacation this winter, a replacement car next year, a bathroom renovation in a few years. Some even let you create plain-English labels for each (“new sofa,” “Bahamas”).
Commit to moving a specific amount into each account monthly—and if you need a push, automate the transfers. It may sting in the short term, but you’ll appreciate it while you’re lounging at the beach next January.
Columnist Alexa von Tobel is the founder of LearnVest.