Nine Ways I Use Google Calendar to Keep My Money Straight

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Why the iCal logo here?  I use iCal on my iPod touch as a way to look at my calendar on the go.Over the last year, I’ve been gradually moving away from a paper calendar (I used a Moleskine desk diary for it) to using Google Calendar for keeping track of all of my appointments, important dates, and other such information. It’s been a slow process – I’ve been using paper calendars for more than a decade, so the transition wasn’t immediate and I often fell back to using the paper calendar.

There were several big reasons that finally made me transition completely. What I found, though, is that most of those reasons actually directly helped me manage my personal finances, believe it or not. It turned out that my money was one of the biggest reasons to finally make that transition.

Here are nine ways I use Google Calendar to make my personal finances that much easier. Many of these can be done using paper calendars, but in most cases, GCal makes it easier to do them.

1. Keep track of bill due dates
This is perhaps the most obvious use of using a calendar for personal finance. When you know a bill’s due date, add it to your calendar, then pay the bill when you see it’s coming close to its due date. So, for example, our mortgage payment is due on the 28th of each month, so on my calendar, on the 28th of each month, there’s a note that our mortgage payment is due. It helps me keep track of our payments.

How can I do this? It’s simple. Log onto Google Calendar. First, I recommend creating a new calendar specifically for bill due dates if you haven’t already – this makes it easy to highlight them. Then, click on the day the bill is due, create a new event, and add the appropriate information – the amount and the type of bill, at the very least. If this bill recurs on a regular basis, make the bill a repeating event. You might also want to add an event reminder so you’re emailed a few days in advance of the bill due date.

Free from Broke offers a nice visual guide to adding a bill due date to your calendar.

2. Plan ahead for gift-giving occasions
My family has always been really into gift-giving and it’s considered a serious faux pas to forget someone’s birthday. In order to make sure I don’t forget a parent or a niece or a nephew, I schedule all of those important days right into Google Calendar.

How can I do this? I use almost exactly the same technique as for the bill due dates. I have an “Important Personal Days” calendar and I add birthdays, anniversaries, and the like to that calendar, scheduling them to recur every year. I also have two email reminders for each one – one about twelve days in advance, and another about five days in advance.

3. Pencil in key dates for sales
Let’s say I’m shopping around for a washing machine, and I’m looking for the best deal I can get. I discover that the local appliance store is having a sale on washing machines next month and given that their prices are already decent, I want to take a look at their numbers. But I might forget the sale! Not any more – I just pencil in the dates of the sale in the calendar, reminding me to check out the sale during that time frame.

This works for any sale that you come across. But, as with any sale, it’s important to distinguish between buying something because it’s on sale (bad) and buying something you already need and taking advantage of a sale to do it (good).

How can I do this? Again, this is just a simple scheduling of an event, except that I set the event as a multi-day one, with the start date and the end date matching those of the sale. Since this isn’t too regular, I have a “Miscellaneous” calendar where I put such events.

4. Keep track of milestones for big goals
As I’ve mentioned a few times on here, I have a handful of pretty big goals: finishing my second book (here’s my first one), running a 5K, and saving for a van. For each of these goals, I have some milestones along the way. I try to make my best attempt at a 5K each week, for one, and I have a word count goal on the first draft of my book each week, too. So I schedule these milestones. I just create an event each Friday saying something like “Book word count target: 30,000.” On Sundays, I have a “Walk/run your best 5K” penciled in.

How can I do this? Just pencil in your milestones whenever they occur. I have a “Goals” calendar that I put these under. Why so many calendars? It allows me to make groups of things appear and disappear at will when I’m looking at the calendar, which makes it very easy for me to keep track of what’s going on.

Chilean Dal with Chickpea Curry on the side
Dal, Chilean style, with chickpea curry, which I discussed in this earlier article.

5. Schedule meal plans intelligently
Remember my post about making multiple casseroles? As I mentioned there, it’s usually worthwhile to eat those casseroles within two months or so. So, in that example, I made four casseroles on a Thursday afternoon. We ate one that Thursday night, then I actually scheduled the casserole again for three weeks, six weeks, and nine weeks later. Then, when we sat down to plan for the week, my calendar would show me that we already have a meal in place for one night that week, meaning we can plan for fewer meals and save money at the grocery store.

If you do these in multiples, it gets really neat. Let’s say you cook six pounds of chicken breasts on a Tuesday in a slow cooker and freeze four and a half pounds of them. You’ll want to use these within a month or so, so I’ll mark down the following Tuesday, the Tuesday after that, and the Tuesday after that that we have 1 1/2 pounds of cooked chicken that need to be used. This keeps us from “wasting” food in the freezer. You can do the same thing with any frozen item you buy in bulk – for example, we often buy beef in bulk from a local butcher because of the quality and low prices, so in order to avoid freezer burn, I’ll pencil in when we should use the meat. Again, having this information right there drastically reduces our grocery bill and fits in perfectly with planning ahead for meals, which is itself a huge money saver.

How can I do this? I use a “dinner” calendar to manage these things. I just create recurring events for both of the cases above, and when we plan meals once a week, I create events with what we plan for meals those days. I usually label any ingredients we need to use by saying “Ingredient: ” right in the name of the event. That doesn’t mean that we’ll use the ingredient on that exact day, but it works as a reminder when I sit down to exactly plan meals that we have, say, chicken breasts to use that week already in hand. I schedule a meal each night and include the recipes in it – we even usually pencil in a “leftovers” night about every third or fourth night. This really works well.

6. Plan ahead for scheduled maintenance
Home maintenance saves you money, period. Taking a bit of time on a regular basis to do things like change furnace filters, check fire alarms, check vents for clogging, and so on can make an enormous difference in the life of your appliances, the appearance of your home, and the energy efficiency of your home.

I speak from experience here. When we first moved into our home, we didn’t realize that our dryer occasionally ejected a very small amount of lint into the ventilation, which led directly outside the house. After several months of use, our dryer seemed to not work very well. We had to run it two or three times to dry a reasonably-sized load. We puzzled over this and considered calling a repairman, but my two year old son actually figured it out. He came walking over to me with some lint in his hand one day. I asked him where he found it and he walked me straight to the vent. A few finger sweeps later and the dryer suddenly ran as good as new.

The problem is remembering the numerous little home and auto maintenance tasks you need to take care of. The solution? A home maintenance calendar, which tells you when you need to change filters and when you need to do a walkthrough to check on things – and, yes, when you should check vents. I made a big list of home and auto maintenance tasks – picking out the ones you use and scheduling them can save you some serious change over time.

How can I do this? Again, with a “maintenance” calendar. These are almost all recurring events on different schedules – some every month, some every three months, some every six months, some every so many weeks (so that I don’t have days LOADED with tons of such tasks). If I see some maintenance tasks for that day, I just do them and then I know that things are being maintained.

cals7. Take control of your portfolio planning
I often encourage people to just put their retirement savings in a “target retirement” fund and just forget about it, but many people like to have more control than that. They want to balance things themselves. Perhaps they want more risk than those plans give, or maybe they want less risk. They might also want low risk investments in their retirement accounts but very high risk investments in their taxable accounts.

Either way, rebalancing those investments regularly is key. On a regular basis, it’s important to sit down and think about whether or not your investment allotments match up with what you really want to be doing. You might change your contributions significantly – or you might even actually move your investments around.

It’s important to do this regularly, and that’s what a recurring event is very useful for. I “rebalance” every three months or so, mostly by just altering my contributions. I’m fine with using a “target retirement” fund, but I actually enjoy digging in and tinkering with things myself.

How can I do this? If you’re involved enough in your investing to rebalance it regularly, just set up a recurring event with a reminder of what you want to be doing, as a note. So, you might have a “Rebalance my Roth IRA” event, with a note that says “I want to have 10% in this fund, 20% in this fund, 30% in this fund, and 40% in this fund.” I actually keep mine on my “maintenance” calendar.

8. Set up seasonal reminders
Different times of the year bring different things we should think about with our personal finances. Charles Schwab has a very useful article listing many of these seasonal concerns, some of which may apply perfectly to you.

Some things we all might want to do: get a copy of our credit report every four months from the FTC at AnnualCreditReport.com (you get one from each of the three agencies each year for free, so just get one from one agency in January, another from another agency in May, then again in September), start budgeting for the holidays in the spring or summer, plan seasonal charitable giving or volunteer work, and so on.

How can I do this? I put these in my “miscellaneous” calendar, but many of these are recurring. For example, I remind myself a few times during the summer to look for Habitat for Humanity dates, and I also prod myself regularly to put aside money for and shop ahead for Christmas. I also snag my credit report like clockwork and I also remind myself to occasionally touch base with my parents about their financial needs (a will or a master information document or anything else like that).

9. Remind yourself of the things that really matter
If you’re putting forth this effort into saving money, you ought to be doing it for a great reason. For me, my children are my big motivation – I want to make a truly great life for them. Of course, a great life means that I spend a lot of quality time with them, so I plan ahead for that. Aside from the “evening block” that’s devoted every day to family time, I often pencil in other events. Some of them are known – soccer practice and the like – but others are surprises, like whisking my kids away for a long afternoon at the Science Center of Iowa or going to story time at the library.

Make sure you’re taking time out for the things that actually matter in your life. It’s easy to see the big reasons before we get started, but often when we’re involved with projects and get so drawn in, it’s sometimes hard to remember to take time for the reasons why we’re doing this.

How can I do this? I have a calendar called “Family” where I schedule things like this. When I look at the week ahead and see a trip to the library or a trip to the Science Center or something like that, I feel like my week is more … complete.

An effective calendaring system has almost unlimited uses. Just remember that it’s a tool – the calendar doesn’t have meaning, your life does.

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54 thoughts on “Nine Ways I Use Google Calendar to Keep My Money Straight

  1. Great ideas about using Google Calendar, but I wonder how you can keep all those calendars straight. It’s hard enough to remember to look at one calendar, how can you remember to look at all those calendars every day? Wouldn’t it make sense to put all those events on one calendar and if necessary, colour code or tag them for each type of event? I use my one Google Calendar for work, home and all other events. I also use Google “To Do” List to help with tasks. Then I put my Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Reader, and Google To Do list all on my iGoogle home page so they all come up every time I go on the internet.

  2. @lurker carl
    You can always use whatever calendar app you want, whether it be iCal, Microsoft Outlook, your palm pilot, or even a pen-and-paper calendar (like a Dayrunner or something). Personally, I am wary of cloud computing and trusting my data to Google or another online service. But the principles contained in this article are still valid.

  3. Google Calendar works really great for those of us, including myself, who have their finances almost completely automated. I just set up my automated bill payments and transfers from my checking to various savings/investments. Then I enter them into Google Calendar and take advantage of the repeating events to fill everything in for later months.

    This makes keeping track of my finances very low maintenance. Since I have a few bills that cannot be paid automatically (including my credit card bill, which I prefer to review before I pay), when I am ready to pay those bills I just check GCal and my checking balance to make sure that I have enough money now. It also helps make sure I won’t overdraft a few days from now due to an unanticipated withdrawal. Finally, GCal can still be used to set up reminders for the due dates of the non-automated bills.

  4. I do all of that stuff electronically too, I just use RememberTheMilk.com instead. This has been a lifesaver for bill due dates because the gmail integration is even better than using Google Calendar.

  5. @lurker carl: I don’t know what Trent does, but I have mine synced to my iCal on my home computer which maintains its own set of events. You can also export all of your Google calendars as .ics files. Make a new calendar and add a recurring event to remind yourself to periodically backup your calendars ;)

  6. Of course you can do many of these things with a paper calendar, but they’re a hassle. Two big reasons.

    First, recurring events. If you have something that always happens on the second Tuesday of each month, you have to enter that each month into your paper schedule – maybe twelve times at the start of a year. In GCal, enter it once and you never have to enter it again.

    Second, rescheduling. If you reschedule with a paper calendar, you have to cross off the old one and enter the new one. You may even need to use whiteout to replace a rescheduled event with something new. With GCal, you drag the event from where it was to where it will be. Done. No whiteout, no scribbles.

    No space limits, either – with a paper calendar, you only have space for a few words. With GCal, you can enter all kinds of details for an event.

  7. The other big advantage an electronic calender has over a paper one is the ability to share it with other people. I have my Google calender shared with my husband, and he shares his with me. Whenever we buy tickets for concerts or sporting events, one of us will put the dates in our calender. No need for both of us to do it. It also lets him know when I need to be at work on a Saturday (happens a couple of times a year), and lets me know when he’s gotta go out to dinner with a client. (Also infrequent, but it does happen.)

    We still make a point of telling each other all that stuff too. But having it on the shared calenders makes it super easy to remember!

  8. I use an application called Rainlendar [http://www.rainlendar.net/cms/index.php?option=com_rny_purchase&Itemid=40] (available in Windows, Mac, Linux). It sits on my desktop and starts up with the OS. The free version is good to use standalone, but I use the Pro version ($14) to sync Outlook, with my Google Calendar, with my Facebook Calendar. Anytime someone sends a Calendar request to any of those, it gets picked up by Rainlendar and voila, all my calendars in one place. Also the ease of which it is to add new events, tasks, and to do lists makes having any excuse to not having an update calendar a very poor one.

    Cheers!

  9. Google Calendar is probably my favorite Google App. And the ability to sync to my iPhone is awesome. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a “regular” phone again.

  10. I love Google calendar. I use it to keep track of my work schedule (which is really helpful because I work a rotating schedule). Another finance-related way to use Google calendar is to keep track of doctor’s appointments, both to take advantage of regular appointments covered by insurance (like annual checkups) and to make sure you don’t miss one, since you often get charged a penalty for a missed appointment.

    And for people asking why have all these “different” calendars, the way Google calendar works, all of these “different” calendars actually show up on one calendar (although you can choose which ones to show or hide), and you can color-code them so that, according to Trent’s calendar list for example, the bill due-dates will show up in beige, birthdays will be yellow, maintenance will be teal, etc.

  11. I that I need alerts for (mostly tv shows, and movies). All other appointments and reminders I use a paper calender for. Physically having to write, and rewrite, an appointment helps me to remember to do it.

    Also the physical paper calender is always visible to me from my desk. Which is not always the case when it comes to a computerized calender. I have to remember to check that, which is another point of failure for me as I often forgot to check it when I tried a computer calendar for a few months.

  12. I’m a big fan of Google Calendar. I used Sun Bird on my desktop for a while; it was pretty similar; but I eventually switched to GCal because it is accessible everywhere. For example, if I’m at work, and a task pops into my mind, I can jot in down right away.

    I also have the tasks integrated in my calendar; which works as my to do list.

  13. Well, I thought I knew every way to use my calendar efficiently – but scheduling in frozen meals had just never occurred to me! Great idea, thanks!

  14. I have been using Google calendar for similar purposes for several years. I simply color code various categories and then sync with my Blackberry and, via the cloud, to my iTouch and Mac.

  15. About PDF’s:

    Try converting to .tiff and then you should be able to annotate. You may need to download a converter…..look at cnet.com

  16. I use OmniFocus for some of these reminders, especially for tasks that do not have fixed due dates (milestones, investment reviews, maintenance tasks). OmniFocus is a GTD implementation for Mac and iPhone. But all my bills are in Quicken’s calendar.

    I hadn’t thought about adding this many things to my calendar (the “master” calendar is in iCal). iCal makes it difficult to see things if you use too many separate calendars. I’ll have to check out Google Calendar!

    I do have a paper calendar. It’s hanging in the kitchen. I use it for the pretty pictures and to quickly find out what day it is. As a rule, it is never written on.

  17. I would consolidate the number of calendars that you have going on. I use Google calendar and find that fewer calendars lessens confusion. Also print out a copy of it every month (I learned this when my computer crashed and I had to walk to the library to get internet access).

  18. Thanks for the mention about scheduling bills. I love the other uses as well. I’ve been wanting to incorporate other uses. I’ve been thinking about ways to share it with my wife too to keep us both on the same page.

  19. I love the calendar for notifying myself about when promotions end so I can cancel it before I get charged – Trials, cable tv promos, subscribtions

  20. Great article, I’ve been using Google Calendar for a long time but now I’ll start using it for personal finance as well. Thanks to the other readers for some great comments as well, very helpful ;)

  21. I must say, I really like this idea. My husband and I have been using google calendar to sync our calendars on our blackberries so that we will be aware of each other’s schedules. But I haven’t thought about using it as a management tool. I guess you could use google calendar to manage tasks as well (I know they have just come out with integrated task manager but it doesn’t sync with the blackberry yet). Thanks for this blog, I really enjoy it!

  22. Trent,
    Thank you so much, this article, it was right on time. I have been using GCal for months but was struggling, juggling both GCal and a paper one. Your suggestions and ideas along with previous comments from readers has inspired me.

  23. Google calendar is one of my favorites for maintaining daily office schedules! I don’t know how efficiently this could be used for money saving purposes.

  24. I have been using Google calendar for a while. However, since I don’t have an iPhone or a Blackberry, I always have to print stuff when I am out.

    I could invest on an iPhone ($99) if the data plan wasn’t so expensive.

    Is there a cheaper option to sync with Google calendar that I can carry with me?

  25. I use Lightning with Thunderbird which lets you have calendar(s) and todo list(s) integrated with your email. Upcoming stuff always shows in a sidebar. You can right-click on an email and turn it into a task or an event. It also recognizes standard iCal invitations automatically.

    You can have that fully integrated with your Google calendar (and PDA) as well. Instructions:

    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=540330

    P. S. Even though it is a Linux forum, instructions work for Windows as well.

  26. Trent,
    Another question. How do you distinguish between reminders and appointments.

    In other calendars the reminders don’t have a time range which they block. But in Google, there is a starting time and ending time.

  27. These are all good ideas, but I’m with Veer … printing out the calendar isn’t really a good option for carrying with me. I’d love to ditch my “brain”–my purse paper 2-page/day organizer–but I don’t see a viable alternative. Data plans for the cellular phone would break my budget rather massively, at least at this point in my life.

    Until data plans come down from the stratosphere or I get to the point where I *have* to have a data-enabled cellular phone, I’m afraid that Google Calendar will only be for communicating office hours with students.

  28. I’ve used the Google calendar just a little bit (mostly to plan my blog posts), but maybe I’ll look into using it more. Since I stay home most of the time, it doesn’t matter that I don’t have a fancy cell phone that can display stuff like this.

  29. I use my electronic calendar to remind me of recurring but unusual chores. Check the smoke alarms, change the furnace filter, change the oil on the car, rotate the tires, etc. I have another calendar for gardening: start the carrots, mulch the cabbage, mound the potatoes, cut back the roses, etc.

    I’ve burned out four Palm organizers and now keep my “brain” on my Mac running iCal. I really want an iPod touch, but that’s going to take some serious saving.

  30. “In other calendars the reminders don’t have a time range which they block. But in Google, there is a starting time and ending time.”

    There doesn’t have to be. Just check the “all day event” box.

  31. Another great tip along the lines of the add reminder, I have my cell phone setup through the calendar so I actually get text messages about birthdays, I sometimes don’t check my email every day (although usually I do), so getting a text message reminder really helps (Also the Google calendar will sync with your IPOD like someone already mentioned above, and you will get a notification from there).

    Additionally I add the year of birth in the comments of the calendar for the birthdays, then its a simple math calculation to remember how old they are (I have the WORST memory).

    Good luck I have been using Gcal for everything now and LOVE it.

  32. One more thing trent (as well as others), if you’re keeping a price book, you might notice trends of sales on certain items, and once you have that knowledge you could calendar it, and then see it across the season when the best times to buy certain items are, and have them texted to you, or if you’re handy, you might be able to play with the API to generate a grocery list that already has the items best on sale…..

  33. @steve – the process that Trent is describing is the process that you are describing. Check out the google calendar (or actually most any electronic calendar these days) and you will see that there is an option for “different calendars” in the same account, each of which get a different colour, which is how that colour-coding and tagging for each type of event actually happens. It’s not like having a separate planner for bills, medical appointments, and family time–it’s like using a different colour pen for each that you can turn on and off with a click if you’re only wanting to see one set of events or another. For example, if you’re paying bills, maybe you just want to see bill due dates and soccer practice schedule is just distracting, but if you’re scheduling a doctor’s appointment for yourself or your kids, then soccer practice is time that is already accounted for, and when you may want to avoid scheduling something else. So you can turn the soccer schedule on and off with a click.

    @Trent – I have my bills in the calendar in Quicken, and everything else on my iCal, which syncs with my laptop, my phone and my iPod touch (that I use as a PDA). I really prefer that interface better, and I’m not totally stuck if I don’t have the internet where I am. At one point I had been syncing my iCal with google cal, but it it was a cumbersome process that lost too much data in the transfer and didn’t sync accurately. That problem may be changed now, it’s worth looking into I guess.

  34. For those that don’t want to pay for a data plan, you could get a blackberry and just pay per data use. I don’t recommend this though.

    You could buy an iPod touch. And just sync in range of wi-fi. Although the higher price of the touch would pay for 4 months of unlimited data, something to consider.

  35. “but I wonder how you can keep all those calendars straight. It’s hard enough to remember to look at one calendar, how can you remember to look at all those calendars every day? Wouldn’t it make sense to put all those events on one calendar and if necessary, colour code or tag them for each type of event?”

    Oh darn it, Sara got to this one first! Oh well, I just learned it, thanks to Trent (no really, thanks Trent!), so I’ll say it again.

    And the color coding makes it worth it just by itself! Maybe someone smarter than I figured out how to have one single calendar with differently colored entries, but I sure don’t know how! :) So Trent’s idea of having multiple sub-calendars is a great work-around.

    When you have different calendars (eg “work” “family” “meals” etc), you can set different colors for the calendar, so the entries pop up on the combined calendar in different colors… then if you decide you don’t need to see “meals” anymore, you just unclick that calendar on the left-hand column, and voila all the light-brown (in mine) meal menu items disappear.

    This is useful b/c I was getting lost in Google Calendar, so I had stopped using it. I just had too many things in a day, esp when I scheduled recurring tasks (water houseplants, water garden, call Mom, etc), so I couldn’t see all of them.

    Thanks for the help Trent, I didn’t know about that cool feature, thanks!

  36. Trent – AWESOME tip. I didn’t know about Google calendar. I love it. I have paper calendars (plural) at home because not all the things I need to remember and do can fit on one. Google calendar lets you create many different calendars and they are color-coded. NICE! It’s easier to input information and change stuff, and I can access it from home or work. Thanks, Trent.

  37. Google has a great feature in which it picked up keywords from emails and allows you to add it to your calendar with just a click.

    For example, if someone write to you (to your gmail) “Can we meet on July 15th at 3 p.m.”, Google will ask you if you would like to add it to your calendar. Very cool.

  38. Great idea to use multiple calendars and put in action what Steven Covey wrote in his book
    The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

  39. For tracking goal milestones, you may want to check out http://www.GoalsOnTrack.com, a very nicely built web app designed for tracking goals and todo lists, and supports time tracking too. It’s clear, focused, easy to navigate, worth a try.

  40. I can’t live without Google Calendar! It’s set up is so easy to use and I love how email reminders are sent to you so you can view them from your phone while on the run. A little helpful tip to keep you on track: Create a calendar titled “Completed.” This way, whenever you complete a task you can change the color to indicate that the task is completed. It’s a great way to keep your family posted on what tasks have been completed if you’re using the calendar for the whole family to view.

  41. Thanks for the article! I never thought of using color-coded calendars for different tasks. Great idea.

    A couple of other features I love about Google Calendar: I can download calendars from the web for my favorite sports teams (Florida Gators) and import them into Google Calendar. Do you know how long it would take me to enter an entire season of football, basketball, and baseball games into a paper planner? With Google calendar, it just takes a few clicks.

    Also, when you enter a location in an appointment, Google Calendar automatically links to a map of the location.

  42. I really like the idea of doing our meal plan in Google Calendars. I always do it on paper, but this would be neat because my husband could see it and counter. We both really liked the idea of planning out frozen meals, esp. since we forget that our frozen food is an option too.

    Also, I am going to add expected car maintenance to the calendar we share, because it will make it easier to plan for “Major Maintenance” on our car.

  43. I love my Google Calendar and it has done wonders for my planning. I started using it for bills earlier this year–the only problem I ran into was that once or twice my bill due dates would change randomly as dictated by the biller/creditor/whoever, and I would get a late payment (which has never happened to me before!!) You must still be vigilant about checking those due dates every month, even if you set up as a repeating event.

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