Your money | Finance, Trading & Banking

Your money financial obsessives track every penny, every minute


´╗┐(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)By Chris TaylorNEW YORK, Sept 30 Most of us can't recall where we spent every single dollar last Tuesday. But Corey Maass can. He spent exactly $20 for a haircut, $20 for a dress shirt and $15 for dinner. Maass knows that because every single day, the Nashville-based software developer uploads all his spending to a smartphone application he created just for that purpose. His app, The Birdy (thebirdy.com) gives him instant readouts of his spending without him having to connect to his bank or wait for his credit card statements to upload. His creation forces him to confront his spending with daily emails and text messages that require him to respond with his spending data, which he sometimes enters more than once a day. Because he can get instant analytics, Maass knows exactly where he's dropping his cash, where he's spending too much -- and where he needs to cut back. Call it financial lifelogging: The Corey Maasses of the world are obsessed with taking their financial temperatures at all times, just as some people use mobile devices and applications to track every calorie burned, every heartbeat thumped and every moment of REM sleep.

"Before, I was making bad decisions because all my spending was emotional," says Maass, 36. "I would justify spending $200 just because I was in a bad mood, and then the next day my spending would be based on the fact that I felt guilty. Once I started tracking I could see all that, and I was able to take the emotion out of it. But I needed the numbers to do that."There is a whole social movement emerging around the idea of data-driven life management. Adherents of the Quantified Self philosophy (this site) aim at self-improvement through number-crunching, whether it's analyzing one's health, moods or finances. Apps like Intuit Inc.' s Mint, BUDGT and Spendee are making it easy for those who want to know where every penny is going at all times. Some apps requires users to turn over financial account passwords and then scrape the spending data from them; others, like The Birdy, require users to enter the information themselves. Either way, habitual tracking can have surprisingly positive effects on one's personal balance sheet.

"The simple act of tracking shows you two things," says Charles Duhigg, a New York Times staff writer and author of "The Power of Habit." He is a close tracker himself who can estimate his net worth in any given week to within 50 cents. "It shows you patterns that you might not be aware of. And it encourages reflection about whether you really need to buy all these things."Such intense budgetary review actually works: After all, researchers have found the simple act of financial tracking usually leads to a decrease in spending. Australian academics Ken Cheng and Megan Oaten of Sydney's Macquarie University once had volunteers write down every single purchase for four months, which led to marked improvement in their financial lives. They also found that positive financial habits started bleeding into other areas, with the volunteers improving their behavior in everything from house cleaning to exercising. Konstantin Augemberg, a New York City statistician and quantified self adherent, has been tracking not only his finances but pretty much everything else on his site, this site, in order to better himself daily.

"I look at the calories I'm taking in, the money I'm spending, the moods I'm in, or how I'm using my time," says Augemberg, 36. "Then I look at the data for trends and patterns, to get some interesting insights about myself."One such insight: Augemberg found he was spending 20 percent of his paycheck on going out to eat

Your money five reasons to beware of autopaying bills


´╗┐Autopaying bills is a no-brainer. You are never late with a payment, and you do not have to spend all that time going through stacks of bills, filling out checks, and then stuffing and stamping envelopes. But Brent Cumberford learned the hard way that automatic bill paying is not as simple as setting it up and walking away. Last year, his natural gas was turned off because expected automated payments were not made, a canceled subscription kept getting paid and another canceled service automatically renewed itself. Cumberford, 32, who runs the personal finance site Vosa.com (this site) and splits his time between San Diego and Calgary, resolved the natural gas situation without figuring out what exactly went wrong (the bank and the utility blamed each other) and got the automatic renewal credited back. But he is still dealing with the subscription."The lesson I learned was that it's important to still track automated payments," Cumberford says. About 61 percent of Americans have set at least one bill to pay automatically, says Eric Leiserson, a senior research analyst for financial technology services company Fiserv Inc . The main reason consumers use autopay is to make sure bills are paid on time. That is vital to their credit scores when it comes to debts like car loans, credit card balances and mortgages, but most other on-time payments are not recorded. A recent study by credit reporting firm Experian Inc , however, suggests that including positive utility payment histories, which is not commonly done, could help elevate the credit scores of millions of Americans. The report also says people with thin credit histories would benefit from having a richer record of payments made.

As much as automation can be a positive, there are plenty of catches to be watch out this site Changing accountsIf you decide to pay from a different account, be sure all the changes are in place. Marketing consultant Peter Brooks, 56, of Vallejo, California, says it was a big hassle to re-enter all the payment information after he changed checking accounts.

2. Being short of funds when bills are paidNot having enough money in the bank is a main reason not to automate bill paying. If you have a bill set up to pay automatically and you lack money to pay it, this could affect your credit history as much as forgetting to mail in the check. Being on time 99 percent of the time does not help you much, but missing one payment could hurt your credit score for years.

3. Continued withdrawals even if you stop using the serviceMonthly recurring charges for services can keep occurring even if you asked for them to stop. A gym membership or subscription set to be paid automatically every month could lag a request to cancel. So it is vital to keep an eye out to see if withdrawals persist after you have canceled a service, experts say.4. Inadvertently disengaging the automated payments by making one manuallyBob Girolamo, 41, of Chicago, who runs the startup data and statistics organizer Sorc'd (sorcd.com), learned that the hard way. He says he made a manual payment for his health insurance that disengaged the autopay. He did not notice the missed payments until he received the cancellation notice.5. Errant paymentsMonitoring transactions is key to fixing errors. Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com, says putting payment dates in an online calendar is one way to stay on top of what payments should be going out. "With 24-7 online and mobile account access, keeping tabs on your account is easier than ever," he says. "Taking a matter of seconds each day is all it takes."