If you're headed out of town for Thanksgiving or looking forward to a December getaway, putting your money on cruise control means one less thing to worry about during your trip. With just a little planning and a few useful smartphone apps, you can ensure that you don't end up coming home to a stack of unpaid bills. Here's what you can do now to automate your finances before your holiday outing.
1. Mark your calendar
There's nothing worse than getting hit with a late fee because you forgot to pay a bill, especially if it ends up going against your credit. The first step to automating your finances is plotting out the due dates for all of your bills to see what needs to be paid while you're gone and what's going to be waiting for you when you get back. That's especially important if taking time off means you'll be going a week or two without getting a paycheck.
Writing out all of your bills on a calendar is a good way to keep track but if you can't take it with you, you're better off using a budgeting app like Mint to stay on top of your dates. Mint will automatically send you reminders whenever something is due so you'll always know ahead of time what's coming up. You can't actually pay bills through the app but it's a useful tool for keeping tabs on spending.
2. Schedule deposits and transfers
If you haven't already signed up for direct deposit at your job, now's a good time to look into it. With direct deposit, you always know when the money's going to hit your account so you don't have to worry about there being a shortfall if you've got a payment coming out. Any funds going in are available for withdrawal that same day so there's no sitting around waiting for a paper check to clear or taking it to the bank when you get back home.
Workers who aren't able to sign up for direct deposit through their employer may still be able to set it up through their bank. Usually, you need to complete a special form and get someone from the payroll department to sign off on it. If direct deposit isn't an option, you can still make sure your bills are covered by scheduling transfers from your savings or money market account to your checking account in advance.
3. Sign up for bill payment services
Most banks offer online payment services that allow you to link up each of your bills to your checking or savings account. Depending on your preference, you can go in and pay each one manually when it's due or you can make things easier by just setting up recurring payments. Being able to just set it and forget it can really come in handy if you're planning to go tech-free on your vacation.
If your bank doesn't have bill payment services, you can still make sure everything gets paid at the push of a button. Check is a free app for iPhone and Android that lets you track your accounts, make note of due dates and schedule bill payments ahead of time. By allowing you to view your accounts all in one place, you can eliminate the possibility of late payments or overdraft fees. Just keep in mind that payments made through Check take two to five days to process so you'll need to schedule them accordingly.
4. Consider charging it
Charging all of your monthly bills to a rewards credit card while you're away is a no-fuss way to make sure everything is paid and even earn a few extras in the process. The key is to make sure that you choose the right card since not all rewards are created equally. For instance, some cards pay you cash back on everything you spend while others limit rewards to purchases made in certain categories.
If you're thinking of going this route, you can get even more mileage out of your rewards by linking your accounts to Wallaby. This app, also for Apple and Android users, lets you input account information for all of your credit cards. If you're going to be using credit to cover your bills and spending while you're on vacation, you just let Wallaby know where you're shopping and it'll tell you which card to use to earn the most points or cash back possible.
5. Set savings to autopilot
Aside from making sure your bills are covered, you should also be taking steps to automate your savings before a holiday sabbatical. When you're spending money on gifts or shelling out big bucks for flights or hotels, it's easy to get out of the savings habit but you shouldn't let your plans throw you off track. Setting up automatic transfers to your savings account each pay period makes it easier but you can sock away even more if you're planning a vacation shopping spree.
SavedPlus is a free app available in the Apple and Google Play stores that allows you to save every time you shop. You link your accounts to the app and decide how much you want to save. Whenever you make a purchase, that amount is automatically transferred from your checking to your savings account. It's a good option if your bank doesn't offer a "keep the change" type program and saving in smaller increments works better for your budget.