Save Time and Money by Automating Spend

The average, run-of-the-mill, financial advice is simple: automate your investments. Preferably, a predetermined dollar amount is set to auto deduct right from your paycheck and wired into investment accounts. I agree with this approach and take it further by automating spend.

The single best attribute from automating the vast bulk of spend is that it saves us time.

For example, I typically grab a few Altoids after drinking a cup of coffee. The cost of purchasing Altoids from a convenience store runs $2.78 at our office. Compare that with my current automating spend approach of direct-to-door-delivery rate of $1.23. (details below)

People might scoff at saving $1.55 per Altoid container, but I prefer to look at it as saving 56% on the purchase price, AND skipping the line at check out.

The article/details mentioned above (with the link here) is an article we wrote breaking down how we save over $1,000 per year on household goods such as toilet paper, cat supplies, and even cosmetics with the help of subscriptions services. We use a free service offered by Amazon called, Subscribe and Save, which is different from the paid service of Amazon Prime.

Now that our routine household spend is almost entirely automated, we spend more time on our other hobbies.

This goes back to my old motto: If we spend 2,000 hours a year earning money, then we should spend some time learning how to spend, invest and grow our money.

In comparison to how we USED to live our lives:

We spend 2,000 hours a year earning money and then 200 hours throughout the year stressing about money.

For a short period of maybe six months back in 2013, I was constantly checking my account balance and was terrified that I would only have $25 to last me the rest of the week.

I was scared I would miss a student loan payment and my credit score would reflect that for 7 years!

Fear is only one of the emotions I felt. There was also guilt and the creeping feeling of falling short of where I felt like I should have been at the time. I had read well over 100 books on personal finance but I hadn’t actually had time to develop smart habits. The kicker was dating a beautiful woman who shared the stress, which made me more motivated than ever to take control of our financial situation.

It took us a few years to piece everything together, but I encourage you to get the ball rolling now, because changing habits does not happen overnight.

My Last Hurdle with Automating Spend

I don’t see why finances
should be different.

But, I understand they are different, especially at the start.

In our case, we had PLENTY of negative habits. The main one was eating out A LOT. By a lot I mean ALL THE TIME. As in, at least once, sometimes twice a day. We’d grab lunch at work and often grab dinner too. These were also the days where we were both used to working long hours, with my longer weeks stretching past 80 hours.

Sure, I felt the thrill of unhealthy food and not having to clean up after my own mess, but I was also falling behind the race towards financial freedom. Seriously though, I miss tacos and sushi about three times a day. Instead of indulging, I’m scarfing down farro with kale (delicious, by the way) or rice and beans. #TheFrugalLife

Over the years we tried different methods of cutting down on our food spend. We’d find coupons and shop for great deals to save money. We tried to cook more. We even tried a food delivery services and learned how to cook restaurant quality meals at home. This was great at first but we were still paying a premium on our cooked meals. We even used a grocery delivery service for a time, but that wasn’t cutting it either; our spend was still high.

At the end of the day, the only result we wanted to see was behind a brick wall labeled, “effort”. Albeit, the effort here is relatively light, but now, each weekend I’ll spend half a day on grocery shopping and cooking.

My rule of thumb is automate what we can, and get through the rest efficiently.

The end result? We’ve gained MORE time over the past 2 years. Of course, our savings rate has seen major gains as well, but time is really what’s most valuable to us.

Even with cooking, I’m saving time. I don’t need to think about what I’ll be having for dinner or lunch on any given weekday. When we’re hungry for dinner we simply heat up the food. I’d wager that those weekday savings take a large chunk out of my weekend cooking time.

How are you automating spend? Are there areas of your spend that you are working to improve?


P.S. We took 5 minutes to share our favorite online savings tools (where I mention Subscribe & Save) on one of our latest episodes here:

13 comments… add one
  • Jay Feb 15, 2017, 7:02 am

    Great article Matt, and I totally agree with your focus on automation. The only thing I would add is that focusing on automation also helps free up mental space. Not only do you have more time, but you have more attention and head space for the things that matter (because you haven’t been using your limited will power on tedious but small financial decisions). Thanks again for sharing your insights!

    • Distilled Dollar Feb 15, 2017, 6:14 pm

      Thanks Jay! That is a great point! Not only time, but clear mental space as well!

  • OT Feb 15, 2017, 8:38 am

    Very good point on automation!
    I also wanted to share something, which maybe won’t apply to people like you and Mrs. DD, but would work for people who live in rural/suburb areas like myself. I do most of my grocery shopping at Kroger which offers fuel points with their shopping card (doesn’t cost anything to obtain one). Sometimes they run 4x fuel points promotion when purchasing any gift card. So I usually buy an Amazon card since I do shop there on occasion. Now that I learned about Subscribe & Save (thanks to you!) I can use that Amazon gift card towards that. Savings all around! E.g.: Last time I purchased a gift card I earned 40 cents off a gallon of gas which allowed me to fill up my car for less than $17.00!

    Thank you for all your advice and motivation!

    • Distilled Dollar Feb 15, 2017, 6:16 pm

      Great point! It reminds me of coupon stacking where some places will allow discounts on top of discounts. I like how you’re purchasing a gift card to buy items on sale/discount and in the process you receive money towards gas. A win/win/win!

  • Mrs. Picky Pincher Feb 15, 2017, 8:46 am

    Man, I didn’t really think about automating expenses. I mean we do automatic bill pay and things like that, but rarely for purchases like groceries and whatnot. The only automated expense I’ve invested in it prescription delivery service through my insurance. It’s more convenient and actually cheaper than standing in line at my crappy neighborhood pharmacy. I love it! I’ve pondered grocery delivery services and a few big box delivery options. The grocery delivery isn’t for me (I want to pick my produce), but I do like the idea of ordering bulk toilet paper once a year without leaving my house. I’ll look into it. 🙂

    • Distilled Dollar Feb 15, 2017, 6:17 pm

      Well said on groceries. Our experience with grocery delivery was great, but I think at the end of the day, the best result has been taking it back in house. Plus, I also love to pick my own produce! 🙂

  • Sarah C Feb 15, 2017, 4:43 pm

    I agree in theory, but the Amazon model is really a nasty piece of work and I entirely disagree with their business practices, so I choose not to automate my purchases with them. I do automatically pay utility bills so I never have to worry about late bills etc. I am searching the internet for other shopping sites with free shipping and low prices to get certain household items or staples delivered, but I’m willing to pay a little bit more to avoid shopping with a behemoth that is trying to drive smaller businesses out of business.

    • Distilled Dollar Feb 15, 2017, 6:13 pm

      I hear ya and I hold similar beliefs for a few different places myself, although Amazon I’m happy with. With the onslaught of automation, I don’t see how small businesses will be able to compete against the distribution networks established by the big dogs like Amazon or Walmart. Thanks for the comment.

    • Sam12587 Mar 10, 2017, 6:20 am

      What I personally have noticed is Amazon’s customer service or service quality slipping. The prices on random items at Amazon are significantly more now if I do a google search for that item or product name. also the selection on the subscribe & save isn’t very good if you need or want to avoid certain brands. I just dropped it cause the products available didn’t meet my needs. If I could subscribe & save on the things I actually use regularly I’d re activate it….. Like if I could subscribe to the toilet paper that doesn’t get stuck in my plumbing and cause a $$ drain clean out call 😉

      I have better luck for automated shipments of things I can use & have stumbled on much better prices for what I use on iherb ( household cleaners I’m not allergic to), vitacost (supplements & organic pantry/snack items) and chewy(animal feed and supplies) then I have on Amazon. Probably because all three have the option to subscribe to all of their products not just select ones. I’m not affiliated with them in any manner…. Just mentioning what worked for me incase it’s helpful to someone else.

      I have noticed other smaller companies doing the same thing with subscriptions , in the last few years sadly many that I enjoyed have gotten bought up by the big conglomerates with the subscribe option going the way of the passenger pigeon after the acquisition is complete. If you do a google search for the things you like or use the most, that will give you a place to start price research and find small firms that can give you more bang for your buck. I’m hoping that the frequency of acquisition of good small companies is on the decline as I have all our non-perishable regularly used items , except socks, on subscription again and it’s nice to spend less time running around on weekends to stores seeking x.

  • Brad - Feb 16, 2017, 5:27 am

    SUCH a powerful concept. Everyone should read the book The Automatic Millionaire because it will really open your eyes to the power of the concept you are describing there. It did wonders for my mindset when it first came out. (I talk more about it in a recent post

    Besides the time-saving, which is great, automating things is one of the best ways to keep your plan on track. If you have to think about it – there is a much higher chance that you’ll deviate from your plan.

    • Distilled Dollar Feb 16, 2017, 11:12 pm

      That’s a great book and I’m glad more people are enjoying automation when it comes to money.

      Well said on your second point! Once the system is set up, it can actually become MORE difficult to derail the plan since we have to manually dismantle everything and THEN spend the money.

  • Go Finance Yourself! Feb 16, 2017, 7:13 pm

    I’m a big fan of freeing up mental capacity that can be taken up through decision making, and automation is a big part of that. I’m trying to think of what else we can automate. I use auto debit to my bank account or credit card whenever possible for recurring expenses. Our biggest monthly expense is groceries. I haven’t looked into delivery for groceries and not sure how well it would work for us. We buy mostly fresh produce that we pick out and not a lot of canned/boxed goods. Would definitely save some time during the week though.

    • Distilled Dollar Feb 16, 2017, 11:10 pm

      From what I’ve seen, the delivery component to groceries is a premium on the price. I used to have my groceries delivered because I was working 80+ hour weeks in public accounting. I figured if I could save 2 hours grocery shopping on a Sunday, then I could spend that time actually cooking instead.

      Nowadays I prefer to pick up everything myself. Depending on how work goes, I could see ourselves changing it up again. For now, we enjoy our system! 🙂

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