By Beth Pinsker
NEW YORK Jan 8 It would have taken me just a
few seconds, back in September, to note that my kids did not
have religious school on the first day after winter vacation. I
could even have asked Siri, the voice in my iPhone, to do it.
Taking that time would have saved me $93.
Instead, I just assumed that they'd have class, and spent
$40 hiring a babysitter to pick them up from school and take
them to the lessons. Other expenses piled on as my mistake
caused other inefficiencies. By the time I got there, I needed
to feed my hungry kids, so add $30 for dinner, plus another $23
to get them home by taxi.
If only I'd had a better system- it turns out all those
calendar/shopping list/scheduling programs don't just save time,
they can save money. And there are now thousands of organizer
applications on the market, many of them free. They range from
calendars to shared list program, like GroceryIQ or Wunderlist
to financial organizers like Mint, from Intuit Inc. or Pageonce.
"It's one of the best things you can do for yourself," says
Ramit Sethi, author of "I Will Teach You to Be Rich," adding
that you don't have to think once it's set up.
As I learned the hard way, it's worth tapping into the new
organizing apps because being disorganized is expensive.
Americans spend nearly $750 million on late financial fees each
year, according to Cozi Group Inc., a Seattle firm that offers
organizing apps aimed at families. Missed doctor's and haircut
appointments can cost $25 to $50 or more per time, and many
childcare providers charge $1 per minute for late pick-ups.
"It's mind-boggling," says Robbie Cape, chief executive and
founder of Cozi. The average family of four can waste $5,000 a
year on last-minute scrambling, he said. "One study found that
just by shopping with a list, you could save 23 percent."
START WITH A SHARED CALENDAR
A shared calendar, such as the kind offered by Yahoo Inc. or
Google, is often the first entry point into the world of
organizing tools. In December alone, Americans paid 9 million
visits to web-based calendars, according to New York-based
Experian Marketing Services, not counting their computer, tablet
or phone-based calendars. On Cozi, the calendar is the most
popular app, the company says.
The benefit of real-time shared calendars - whether for a
family, a small business, or a club - is to reduce duplicated
effort. Cape describes this scenario: Mom can put item on
calendar for dad to pick up Jenny at daycare at 6 p.m. on
Wednesday. She can set up a text reminder or on-device push
notification, and she can put it directly on dad's work
calendar. Then nobody is late, and there are no fees.
Many people keep their schedules on their phones, synched
with their desktop mail programs. On late-model iPhones, the
voice-enabled Siri app can schedule appointments for you, so you
don't even have to type.
The key to being organized enough to save money is
simplicity, says Sethi. So if your email account is with Google
or Yahoo, start there. If your whole family uses different
services, consider a third-party app like Cozi.
LISTS OF LISTS
The next step up from the shared calendar is the shared
grocery list, often coordinated with a shared calendar. In the
best systems, any family member can add items to the list and
add the list to another person's calendar, so mom can stop on
the way home and pick up the milk that dad ran out of when he
gave the kids breakfast.
There are some fee-based systems too, like Our Family
Wizard, which is used primarily by divorced families to track
custody schedules and costs $99 a year per user. The program
also authenticates emails and allows them to be monitored by
court-appointed officials, and there is a tool for managing
While that sounds expensive, the overall savings for
families in conflict can be enormous. "It reduces litigation,"
says Bradley Craig, a licensed master social worker based in
Grand Prairie, Texas.
Sethi has so automated his own financial life that he says
he spends less than an hour a month handling his money. His
incoming money is allocated immediately into various accounts
and sub-accounts - for retirement, bills and special goals like
a new car. His bill payments are automated, and he gets a
reminder from his online calendar once a month to check over his
"My calendar tells me to do it, so I do it. I don't have to
depend on my willpower," he says.
But don't overdo it with multiple reminders: "When people
get pinged too much, they stop listening," says Sethi.
Personal finance management programs - like Mint, Pageonce
or your bank - will monitor your accounts and let you know when
bills are due or balances get dangerously low. The key: pick a
service that requires the least amount of input of data, so it
doesn't get onerous, says Sethi, who uses Mint.
Paceonce says it sends out more than 200,000 reminders a
month about bank overdrafts, 300,000 to users who are paying
finance fees on credit cards and 3 million bills-due reminders.
The reminders seem to do a better job of changing user
behavior than all the high overdraft fees, says Steve Schultz,
chief operating officer at Pageonce, based in Palo Alto,
Pageonce followed 380,000 users from June 2012 to the end of
November and found that their bank overdraft occurrences
decreased 12.4 percent after getting reminders. The company
estimated these users saved $1.3 million in overdraft fees over
As for me, I plan to start saving soon - I downloaded a
calendar app in the cab ride home.