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, bill payment, 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.
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.
7. 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.