Batching & Automation Challenge, Day 4: Automating Your Finances

[Introduction to the Challenge] [Day 1] [Day 2] [Day 3]

I’ve already discussed automating and batching the monitoring of my finances with (Day 1), but that’s more for just keeping track of your account balances.  One thing I (surprisingly) have not done yet is automate my bills completely.  Here’s a list of my bills that require periodic (usually monthly) payments, and I’ve noted which items I’ve already set up to automatically charge my checking account:

  1. Credit card (#1)
  2. Credit card (#2)
  3. Credit card (#3)
  4. Student Loan (already automated)
  5. Cable/internet bill
  6. Electric bill
  7. Gas bill
  8. Gym membership (already automated)
  9. 401(k) (not a bill, but it’s an account that requires a periodic payment, which I’ve already automated) 
  10. Rent
  11. Cell phone bill (already automated)

Let’s break down the steps to achieve this “day” of the challenge:

1) Make a list of every periodic payment that you make, as I have done, and note which items are not currently automated.

2) Batch the process of setting up automatic payments (i.e. just sit down one afternoon and do them all at once, since I know this something for which people will procrastinate).

3) Use to monitor your account balances to insure that no payments will cause your checking account to be overdrafted.  If possible, see if your checking account has overdraft protection available.  Wherever possible, set your automatic payments to be paid for via credit card, to avoid the issue of overdrafts.   

4) Eliminate paper statements.  Nothing is a bigger waste of time than having more mail to sift through, only to find envelopes that you generally open to file away or throw away.  Maybe you glance through your credit card statement briefly, but you probably never look at it again unless you run into problems.  Wherever possible, elect to receive your statements online.  Storing them electronically allows you to keep them indefinitely without taking up physical space.  Also, you never need to worry about losing statements.  Overall, it’s less clutter, which is better for your life.

Most bills that allow you to pay electronically should give you the option to set up automatic payments.  For certain recurring expenses, like rent, you may not have that option.  For expenses where you can’t easily set up automatic payments, you can use something called “bill pay” offered by most banks and credit card companies.  I would first check to see if your bank allows for free bill pay, and if not, find a bank that does.  In reality, you shouldn’t need to switch banks – most banks have accounts available that offer free bill pay.  They don’t want to lose you as a customer, so be sure to let your bank representative know that this is an important feature for you.

Time Savings:

  • Estimated time spent paying bills manually: 1.5 hours/month
  • Estimated time spent paying bills automatically, after initial setup: 0 hours/month
  • Monthly time savings: 1-2 hours

Think of the initial setup as an investment in your future free time.  Spend an hour or two today to save you a lot more time each month in the future.  Time savings aside, automatic payments will allow you to NEVER have a late payment and incur late payment fees ever again.

Have any other tips to automate your finances?  Please share them in the comments!

Batching & Automation Challenge, Day 3: The DVR

[Introduction to the Challenge] [Day 1] [Day 2]

Day 3 is going to be fairly simple, because if you own a DVR (digital video recorder), you are probably already using it.  I’d like to go through a vey specific way that I use it, which encompasses some batching and automation.

Watching TV is enjoyable, but it’s never a top priority.  The introduction of the DVR (although we had VHS tapes years ago) has allowed us to move “watching TV” further down on our list of priorities while still allowing us to never miss a show.  In my opinion, if you own a DVR, you should NEVER watch live TV except for sports and news (or any other live event that only makes sense to watch live).

The fact of the matter is, commercials take up roughly 30% of your viewing time, and unless it’s during the Super Bowl, you probably aren’t really focused on the commercials.  If we’re going to batch things in order to save us time, TV should be added to the list.

Every show you enjoy watching should be set to record on your DVR, and you should be watching your shows in batches.  For example – I enjoy watching the show 24 and The Office.  Even if I have free time, I prefer to watch these shows without commercial interruption.  In one hour, I’m able to watch 90 minutes of TV.

The more you watch TV, the greater effect this has on your life and free time (although I’m betting that if you watch a lot of TV, you have a fair amount of free time).  According to a recent Nielson report covering the last three months of 2008, TV viewing is at an all time high.  The average American viewer watches 151 hours of TV per month!  If we assume that all of it is live TV (and excludes sports, which is probably not a realistic assumption),  that’s 45 hours of wasted time EVERY month! 540 hours per year.  That number floors me, especially because I don’t see how people have enough free time to get through 151 hours of TV per month and I don’t think I even like enough TV shows to cover that amount time. 

Time Savings

  • Estimate of current time spent watching TV (including commercials): 10 hours/week (40 hours/month)
  • Estimated time spent using DVR: 7 hours/week (28 hours/month)
  • Monthly time savings: 10-15 hours

The big flaw here is that once baseball season begins, I’ll be watching a lot of live TV.  

Batching & Automation Challenge, Day 2: Grocery Shopping

[Click here to read the challenge introduction post.]

I’ve used this example before, but allow me to go into greater detail.  Grocery shopping is something we all do, mostly out of necessity.  Personally, I enjoy grocery shopping, but it’s often a huge inconvenience.

If you work a typical, busy work week, you probably do your grocery shopping on Saturdays or Sundays.  Guess what?  So does everyone else.  If you’ve ever been grocery shopping on a weekend afternoon, you understand what I’m talking about.  The parking lot is filled.  The store is filled with shuffling carts, blocking aisles and slowing you down.  Between finding a parking spot, navigating the store, and waiting in line to check out, grocery shopping on a weekend afternoon can easily double the time it takes you to do your shopping.

In order batch this activity and have work effectively, I propose the following adjustments to my (and your) grocery shopping plans:

1) The obvious adjustment – batch your grocery shopping.  Instead of grocery shopping once per week, grocery shop once per month (or once every two weeks if you can’t quite get once per month to work).

2) Do your grocery shopping on a weeknight.  This may feel like the least convenient time, but one hour on a Wednesday night could save you 2 hours on a Saturday afternoon.  Wouldn’t you rather have that extra free time on a Saturday?

3) Plan your list before you go.  This is a classic grocery shopping tip, but I find myself failing to do this almost every time I go shopping.  By making a list, you can make adjustment #1 work for you more effectively.  Without a plan, you have a harder time calculating the food necessary for an entire month.  If you spend 10-15 minutes creating your list, you can more accurately plan your grocery shopping trip and can more easily get what you need to last you (and your family) an entire month.  “But Eric, couldn’t I save 10-15 minutes if I don’t bother making a list?”  Nonsense.  By making a list, you can move in and out of each aisle quicker and probably save yourself more than the time it took to make the list.  One last benefit of making a list – you save yourself from spending money on impulse purchases (or at least make it less likely).

4) Consider a membership at Costco or Sam’s Club.   If you’re going to be batching your grocery shopping, it may make sense to take advantage of quantity discounts by buying your groceries in bulk.

 Time Savings

  • Estimate of current time spent grocery shopping (including travel time to and from the store): 1 hour/week (4 hours/month)
  • Estimated time spent with above grocery shopping plan: 1.5 hours/month
  • Monthly time savings: 2-4 hours

There is some cost savings inherent in this grocery shopping plan as well, but it would be too diffcult to calculate with any accuracy.

Batching & Automation Challenge, Day 1:

[Click here to read the challenge introduction post.]

Following the delay from my post introducing the new challenge, I’ll start off my challenge with a website that I’ve found to be among my favorites: was created by the makers of Quicken, and it is quite possibly the best and only tool you’ll ever need to organize your budget and finances.

Do you currently check more than one bank website to see your checking/savings account balances?  Do you also have a retirement account (IRA, 401k) with another institution? Do you use Lending Club?  Do you have a mortgage? Do you have student loans?

The list goes on and on – potentially, you have 10 or more places that you check periodically to see balances, amounts due, etc. exists to solve that problem.  I’ve recently signed up to and it’s incredible how well this service batches nearly a dozen of my website-checking tasks that I used to do at least once per week and automatically checks them for you.  It consolidates all of your financial information, shows you your net worth, and has other great features including:

  • An ability to set up and control a budget (and it automatically tracks how well you keep up with your budget).
  • Detail for all transactions (credit card, checking acct., etc.) and ability to reclassify categories
  • Alerts for when you have a credit card payment due or when a bank charges you a service fee
  • A great (and free) iPhone/iPod Touch application that allows you check all of this remotely. 

Best of all, is FREE to use.  Some things that are free aren’t all that great, but this service is excellent.

Okay, so it’s a great service and it’s free, but why should I trust all of my secret financial account user names and passwords with them?  Can I trust them?  In my opinion, yes. is “TRUSTe” certified.  TRUSTe is a service provided to web sites in order to help the business validate its security and privacy procedures.  From the TRUSTe website:

As the leading internet privacy services provider, TRUSTe helps thousands of businesses promote online safety and trust, and guides consumers to sites that protect their online privacy. TRUSTe helps both consumers click with confidence and online companies promote their Web site privacy policies online. Thousands of Web sites rely on TRUSTe’s privacy, including top-fifty sites like Yahoo, Facebook, MSN, eBay, AOL, Disney, New York Times, Comcast and Apple.

Maybe this is foolish thinking, but if so many major sites online use TRUSTe to validate their privacy policy, procedures, etc., I am comfortable with  Privacy is great, but what about hackers, etc. you ask? is also secured by McAfee. If you click on the “McAfee SECURE” label on, you will see:

CERTIFIED MCAFEE SECURE SITE 08-MAR-2010 The McAfee SECUREā„¢ trustmark only appears when the website has passed our intensive, daily security scan. We test for possible personal information access, links to dangerous sites, phishing, and other online dangers.

Given these security measures in place, I don’t think there’s a reason to worry (I would never go as far as saying you’re 100% safe – I don’t believe anything online is ever perfectly safe).  You can even click here to see what’s CEO has to say about the site’s security.

Now, the part relevant to my challenge.  If I’m automating my bank website checking and batching it all onto one interface, how much time am I saving?  Let’s first look at what account/items I use to track:

  1. Chase Credit Card (Visa)
  2. Chase Credit Card (Mastercard)
  3. Chase Checking Account
  4. Chase Savings Account
  5. HSBC Online Savings Account
  6. Lending Club Account
  7. Vanguard IRA Account
  8. Vanguard 401(k) Account
  9. Student Loan Balance
  10. Diner’s Club Credit Card

As you can see, I would normally need to check 10 different places (even if some are within the same website) to monitor my financial account balances and transactions. 

Time Savings

  •  Estimate of current time spent checking bank/other financial account-related websites: 30 minutes/week (2 hours/month)
  • Approximate time spent with 5 minutes/week (20 minutes/month)
  • Monthly time savings: 4-6 hours

These numbers are very rough – I don’t actually keep track of how much time I usually spend checking websites, but I think this is a fair estimate.  One flaw in this particular case is that when you first use, you’ll be so intrigued by it that you’ll want to check it multiple times a day.  This will wear off once you’ve used it for a week or two.  

Do you love and have some tips or great things to say about it, or have you found any significant flaws? Share them in the comments!

The New 30-Day Challenge: Squeezing 30 Hours Out of a 24 Hour Day

Note: The “Squeezing 30 Hours out of a 24 Hour Day” Challenge will sometimes be referred to as the “Batching & Automation Challenge
If you’ve been following along this blog or have read The 4-Hour Workweek, you are very familiar with the concepts of batching and automation.  For those of you who might not be as familiar, feel free to read my introduction to batching and introduction to automation posts.

These two key concepts will be the drivers of my new 30-day challenge.  The challenge is essentially this:

Every day for 30 days, I must automate and/or batch at least one thing in my life (be it personal or work-related).

The Goal

By the end of the 30 days, we will have a collection of 30 ways to improve your life by making it more efficient, leaving you more time to pursue things you enjoy. 

In addition to simply explaining what I am batching or automating, I will try to quantify the time saved (either per day, per week, or per month) by batching/automating the activity.  That’s where the title comes from – by batching and automating pieces of your life, you effectively give yourself more free time in any given day (perhaps even 30 hours in a 24 hour day).

The Rules

  1. There is no limit to how large or small the activity can be.  If I decide to sharpen 20 pencils at once instead of one at a time as I need them, that counts as batching.
  2. The 30 days may not be consecutive.  Given the fact that I’m in the middle of an extremely busy time at work (it’s tax season!) working nearly 80 hours per week, I won’t necessarily have time to update daily.  In other words, this 30 day challenge may take 45 days (or it may take 35 days, who knows).

If you combine the outcome of my previous 30-day challenge with the desired outcome of this challenge, you’d find yourself in a position of having more cash and having more free time.  These are two of the primary goals of this blog, so it’s nice to see that I’m working in that direction.  The only catch is, having more free time seems to lend itself to spending more money…

Follow along as I attempt to batch and automate everything that I can!  Feel free take part in the challenge yourself by leaving your ideas in the comments each day.

My 4HWW Tools: A Review of RedLaser

I rarely ever review tech/software products, but this one caught my eye recently and paid for itself 10+ times within 24 hours of me acquiring it.  If it saves you time and money, I feel compelled to share it here.  Sorry non-iPhone users, this may not apply to you.

RedLaser is an iPhone application that allows you to scan a UPC bar code (for almost anything) and receive a host of information depending on the item.  For food, you’ll be able to immediately pull up a nutrition label, but more importantly for most products, you can see a list of prices and various places (both online and locally) that sell the product.

“Okay, great, you found yourself a toy” you say to me.  Well, yes, I must say that after downloading this app, I ran around my apartment scanning everything I could find.  Just recently, I found a practical use for the app that really saved me time and money.

I was out shopping for a printer at Microcenter (a computer and peripherals store nearby me) and found a pretty nice one that I liked, for $130.  I knew this couldn’t be the best price, but on a Sunday, there are many things I’d rather be doing than shopping around online and/or running around to different stores.  I know I could’ve purchased it online to begin with, but when I purchase items like this, I like to see them up close (and also run a test print).  Sure enough, I pull out my iPhone to scan the item and find that it’s available for as low as $89.99 online (at some no-name, shady looking online electronics store).  However, it also was available at Target for $99.99 (only – it specifically said “not available in stores”).

I promptly asked a Microcenter employee if they price match.  Indeed, they do.  I showed the employee the price on’s website (the RedLaser apps gives you a link to any matching products/stores online), and the printer was mine.

Could I have saved more by shopping around online? Probably. The point was, I didn’t need to waste my free time doing all the searching – a simple scan by RedLaser did all the work for me, and I paid $30 less than than Microcenter’s price.  Already, the $1.99 app has easily paid for itself.  Watch the video below for a demonstration:

The owner of this website, Eric, is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon properties including, but not limited to,,,,, or

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