Uber has changed the way I travel for the better, much like Airbnb has changed how our family travels and Twitter has changed how I get my daily news. Yet when it comes to how we, as consumers, manage one of the most important pieces of our personal lives - our personal finances - many are relying on old-fashioned methods wrought with inefficiencies.

Sure, by now, most people do a portion of their financial management online - paying bills, shifting funds and checking balances. But most individuals use more than one system to access key information and have no way to see all financial data in one place. That means that people are largely in the dark about how much they owe and where their money goes. It’s no wonder that Americans are $11.85 trillion in debt - a 1.7 percent increase from 2014.

With rising debt and a greater number of Americans worried about not socking away enough money for retirement, having a comprehensive picture of personal finances has never been more important. It’s time to lean heavier on technology to make personal financial management (PFM) more proactive, automated and organized instead of a chaotic and arduous chore.

Let’s say goodbye to the cumbersome Excel spreadsheets and the shoebox stuffed with receipts and embrace today’s complete financial solutions. Technology is here to make financial tasks easier and empower families to gain legitimate financial control - but we first need to embrace it.

Here are six ways that automated PFM can change how we spend and save - for the better:

1. Base Budgeting on Actual Spending

Historically, online budgeting tools required you to input budget line items based on your working knowledge of where you spend your money and your income. But, we know that most people don’t have a true sense of where their hard-earned dollars are going; not to mention, when and why fluctuations take place. Today’s PFM solutions eliminate the guessing game, applying sophisticated mathematical formulas to your past spending to determine what your future money outflows and inflows will be. Why try to figure it out on your own? There is now smart technology that eliminates the need for manual input, creating accurate budgets based on actual spending, in just a matter of minutes.

2. Stop Overspending

Small, everyday purchases add up fast, causing you to overspend without even realizing it. For example, a seemingly innocent $4 cup of coffee, three days a week, costs $624 by the end of the year. Sure, you can monitor output the old-fashioned way and write down every dollar spent, or you can take advantage of online tools. Are there hidden fees in your cable bill? Did you forget to cancel that online dating account? Is the cost of eating out adding up faster than you thought? By synching all of your financial accounts with the right technology, you get updated spending analyses based on spending history and repeat patterns, so that you can reign in spending where desired.

3. Find Lost Money

The average household manages billing relationships with up to 15 to 20 different vendors, such as cell phone providers, credit card companies and Internet service organizations. This makes it nearly impossible to accurately budget, manage cash flow and anticipate upcoming expenses - both planned and unplanned. By connecting your accounts on a PFM solution, you can see all of the subscriptions you’re paying for in one place. Plus, you’ll be alerted when your bills vary irregularly from month-to-month, so that the free trial from six months ago isn’t able to sneak money out of your checking account.

4. Stop Paying Late Fees

Without a centralized way to track and predict financial activities, it’s no surprise that individuals spend or withdraw more money than is available in their accounts. Overdraft fees collected by banks and credit unions in Q1 of 2015 totaled nearly $30.6 billion. While, regulatory changes have forced many institutions to reign in late fee practices, the truth is that these organizations are more than happy to take customers’ money because it’s key to profitability. According to Compass Point Research & Trading LLC, for banks with at least $10 billion in assets, overdraft fees account for approximately six percent of earnings. Bounce a check? That can cost you $35. Pay a bill day - or even a few minutes late - another $35. Those are fees that can and should be avoided. Let technology analyze spending, find bills and put them on a calendar, so that you won’t miss a payment or be penalized by overdrafts.

5. Go Beyond the Minimum Payment

Minimum monthly payments are designed to help the banks and credit card companies - not consumers. The surest way to get out of debt is to pay as much as you possibly can each month. Interest - especially on credit cards, which can exceed 18.5% -; is expensive and can literally make the difference between being debt-free in a year and remaining in debt ten (or more) years from now. You want a PFM solution that gives you choices when it comes to payment schedules: minimum, full, fixed or variable. Using a cash flow calendar, based on your actual financial data, you can look ahead to see what your balance will be on the credit card payment date and choose the maximum amount you can afford.

6. Don’t Be Caught off Guard

A Pew Research Center poll found that 33 percent of Americans have received unexpected bills that seriously set them back financially. Of those, 34 percent were medical bills; 24 percent were auto; and 20 percent were home-related expenses. While a new roof, a broken bone or a new transmission can cost you thousands of dollars, these expenses are quite predictable. For example, Edmond’s True Cost to Own (TCO) tool calculates how much your car is likely to cost in depreciation, taxes and fees, insurance, fuel, maintenance and repairs. If you own a 2012 Honda Pilot-EX, it will cost $4,616 in maintenance and $1,224 in repairs over five years. That’s about $1,168 per year. To make sure that you always have enough money to cover these costs, you should put $100 per month into a sub- or targeted account dedicated to car costs. Worst case, your car breaks down, and you use this money to fix it. Best case, you end up saving more than you need, and you put the money towards your next car.

Finding easy-to-use, proven online services - such as MoneyStream, Prism Money, or Mint - to track and manage personal finances is a critical step to reducing debt, staying on top of your money and preparing for retirement. Most people, even with the best of intentions, will abandon a financial system if it is not intuitive and built into the fabric of their everyday life. Only 20 percent of U.S. households are known to track their spending judicially; leaving 80 percent of the population searching for a better way to handle money management. So many other part of our lives are centralized, it’s beyond time for finance to catch up.

Published on: Sep 9, 2015