Friday, September 30, 2011

Auto pay: automation to save time (and money) over the long haul

There's been a lot of talk lately about automation: Facebook Open Graph was introduced recently, providing the ability to passively share music played, articles read, or an unlimited combination of '[verb] any [noun]' application developers can dream up. Possible privacy (not so much since you approve an app and also set who can see the share) and embarrassment (guilty pleasures will still get broadcast) issues there. But, people will do it - broadcast anything & everything. Then we'll forget about it and everything we do online will be published to our Timeline. Maybe. Or maybe not.

Google Buzz had the ability to filter people's connected services - so if I got sick of Joe's tweets that were being pumped in to the feed (or I already followed him on Twitter), I could block Joe's tweets but still see his Google Reader shares. I still firmly believe the consumer should control what information is consumed, so I don't blame the broadcaster.

ifttt (if this, then that) is a free web application that could be used to do some of the things mentioned above - there are public recipes you can remix using your accounts to pump your Tweets into Facebook or vice versa. But there are some more practical, personal, & productive things that can be done. For example, any picture that gets tagged of me on Facebook could be automatically saved over to my Dropbox account. You can set up texts/emails to yourself if it is forecast to rain tomorrow. Some decent stuff that could be used for back ups or to automate tasks that you might do once a week/month that you usually forget about. Or end up doing once a year but not really because it's too hard to grab all your Instagram pics after that long. And only from the mobile app?! Anyway, you could set up little tasks to do it for you, so you don't forget, so you have backups. Whatever.

On the other hand, I read a zenhabits.net article that suggested to "Unautomate Your Money". The theory being "out of sight, out of mind" and what you automated might not be a good thing to be out of your mind. There's my caveat - only do what I suggest below if it is right for you. For me, it was a big time saver over the long haul.

My suggestion is to automate your bills. Not a new concept. But I still remember circa 2004 when my boss ragged me for sending a paper check through the snail mail. I used to meticulously inspect every bill, document when it was due, write a check, stamp an envelope, and send it a week before so as not to pay too early. Of course, this process would fail me: I'd forget, get late fees, and have to call the company and beg not to have to pay since I'm such a good customer, yada, yada. A big time waste all around. And probably some personal issues in there that need to be addressed with a therapist but bear with me.

One thing I noticed was that I rarely had problems with the bills. Meaning, they were mostly predictable, and even the ones that "can't be right" were correct after closer inspection. So I felt it was prime opportunity to automate. I tried automating some via my bank account. This was great for set amounts on the exact day. But I only had a few bills like that.

Most providers allow auto pay via credit card. I'm a credit guy all the way for numerous reasons (I know it's not for everyone) so I've been doing this for a long time. It's the providers responsibility (which they automate). No late fees. No excessive looking over your bills. No lost checks in the mail. Credit card was typically a better choice for me since I like minimal transactions in my bank account. You also could maximize the float from the credit card company (assuming you're paying off the balance every month). So I prefer credit card via the provider versus a bill pay manager or bank account. I've only recently gone to setting up auto pay to my credit cards from my bank account. It is a pain however when you have to cancel a card or get a new one with a new expiration date. So I recommend a list of what is getting auto paid so you can make sure you hit all your online accounts to update credit card info in one sitting when necessary. You may even want to consider a dedicated credit card for only automatic bill pay.

Of course, you should still be monitoring what you're being charged since there are "glitches". People that know me won't be surprised to read I use a spreadsheet to see actuals, averages, kW/h, monthly & YTD totals, and other patterns. Also to be able plug directly into my budget.

Here's the article (The One-Stop Personal Finance Site Is Coming--Pay Bills!) that actually got me thinking about it. It makes it seem like people want a separate tool or personal finance manager (PFM) to send and/or schedule payments. I think the solution for bill pay is directly with the provider. The PFM could be used to help monitor the bills.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chris Robinson Brotherhood


My wife and I were able to talk GiGi into watching baby for a night and head off to see some live music. First, we walked to Three Sheets for a bite and drinks before calling a cab for the short ride down to Deep Ellum, which is in the midst of another renaissance. We'd each been to the venue before (separately) when it was known as the Gypsy Tea Room. But tonight it was The Prophet Bar, an intimate space containing an over-sized bar, an operating grill for munchies, a (surprising) table/sitting area, and of course the stage. We walked in a few minutes past 8:30pm, grabbed some tequila & beers, looked at t-shirts, and situated ourselves just stage right, up front against a barrier which extended from the front of the stage. It created a space off stage for equipment & beer/water coolers. Shortly after staking our ground and taking in the scene, the incense was lit, setting the spacey stage. And then some folks walked behind us into the off stage area. When I looked, Chris Robinson was grabbing a water and the Chris Robinson Brotherhood was on. We had only been there about 20 minutes so didn't have to wait long. I wasn't familiar with the other band members, nor most of the songs I'd seen on the set lists leading up to the show, but I couldn't help but think how cool it was that a future hall of fame linebacker would be playing such a small venue with what I expect could be considered lesser players.  I was really looking forward to the experience.

You could tell immediately the band enjoyed playing with one another. Chris Robinson had a guitar and cheat sheets on a music stand. It seemed to me he was challenging himself to do both voice and guitar, which may explain the tour in general - the consummate showman exploring other aspects of his craft in hazy confines of an adoring crowd. Or maybe he's just addicted to life on the road and performing great music he digs.
Happy, smiling and thanking the crowd, we never saw a temper begin to creep it's head, even with numerous prohibited flashes from smart phones. And probably because the crowd was ready for whatever was to be delivered on this Thursday evening. Not nearly as animated as a Black Crowes show, the guitar seemed to anchor him a bit, which actually was a good fit for this setting. The ensuing electric blues, folk, Americana, psychedelic, and good ol' rock n roll was almost a history lesson - you could hear The Allman Brothers Band, The Grateful Dead, Bob DylanWillie DixonDelaney & Bonnie, and numerous others. At intermission, we stood center stage but back a bit to take in more of the scene, but we ended up on some benches back by the bar for the last part of the show. I of course got up and foot tapped to one of my favorite songs lately, The Black Crowes' "Roll Old Jeremiah".

Overall, everything fit - the crowd was great, the venue wasn't too packed, you could easily get drinks and go to the restroom (very important for me these days in my old age!), and the music was fantastic for nearly 3 hours. Definitely the best show I've seen for ~$25. And I'm sure, like me, all who witnessed this effort left the joint a better person. And a li'l more freaky!

I say "almost a history lesson" above because I will be exploring the songs. I've started a playlist on Grooveshark which I'm sure will be evolving as I find different versions. I tried on Spotify but couldn't find a lot of the songs. This setlist.fm link has cover info and some great video you should check out (although not from this show). I really hope I can find a download of this show. Maybe here.

Crowes Base