As a child with an inquisitive mind, I was fascinated by calendars and how we organize and measure time. I tried to learn why, throughout history, culture accepted new calendars to replace the old. Much remained — and still remains — a mystery to me in this topic; my interest in calendars waned as I began to use them for business purposes rather than satisfying my curiosity and appetite for learning about interesting things.
Even I, a calendar geek, couldn’t get the hang of using a calendar to increase my own productivity. Part of the problem is with a decade of experience in the corporate or non-profit world — that is, working for some sort of employer — the concept of personal development through productivity has always been transparent to me.
The concept of “employee productivity” is simply a way for a corporation to get more from its employees with less. There’s no real personal development involved with productivity.
My perspective shifted slightly when I began working for myself. Suddenly, my level of productivity had a direct effect on my personal success, however that could be measured. I wanted to be more productive, but because I didn’t take to heart the tools and skills of typical corporate productivity, I was at a disadvantage. I know how to be super productive, and I can be at times, but I don’t often choose to motivate myself to achieve high levels of productivity.
The concept of productivity is only one benefit of using a calendar as more than just a date-keeping tool. A calendar, especially modern calendars like the Google Calendar application unlike your typical wall calendar with a photograph of a moose for each month (I love this calendar; thanks Donna Freedman!), can save money and build your wealth when used efficiently.
I can’t continue without a reminder about the concept of building wealth. This isn’t about a number on a bottom line, and it’s not about competition. Money is not a goal. The only reason to seek to build wealth is to achieve financial freedom — or at least financial flexibility.
I want to live my life the way I want to live it without being encumbered by financial roadblocks. My goal is simply the highest level in the pyramid visualization of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-actualization. You can only reach that point when other needs, like food, shelter, safety, and recognition are met.
I have big things I’d like to do with my life, and some of those might require money. Even those that don’t might require me to be free of financial constraints like debt. And to achieve that condition on the path to my goals, financial systems can push progress forward.
I’m calling the best use of a tool like Google Calendar “extreme calendaring.” Using a schedule to this extent goes far beyond the typical use of online calendars: to remember birthdays and anniversaries, to track when you’ll be on vacation, and scheduling meetings. These are all important, but to get to the point where a calendar becomes useful for long-term wealth, there has to be more.
Throughout this article I’ll use Google Calendar as the example. There may be other services that offer the same features, but I’m not as familiar with them as I am with this feature from Google I’ve been using since it was launched.
Schedule your bill payments on your calendar.
Even if you’ve already automated your bill payments, you should add your bill payment dates to your calendar. The more you progress through life, the more services you will likely take advantage of that require monthly payments. The calendar can help you keep track of all of it, reducing the likelihood of facing late fees or other penalties, like interest charges.
One trick is to not use the bill’s due date but the date you need to send the check in the mail or initiate the online transfer. In Google Calendar, you can configure an alert for each item you add to your schedule. For example, you can add a reminder a day in advance, to be delivered to you via email, so you have time to write the check and get to a mailbox.
If it helps, you can add your paydays to your calendar. This in combination with your bills can give you a visualization of your financial inflows and outflows and alert you to any future problems, such as a month where your paycheck doesn’t arrive until after your bills are due.
Because your list of bills tends to get longer rather than shorter, you can increase your organization factor, and thus maintain a lower risk of missing something important, by creating a calendar category for your bills and income (and categories for your other types of entries).
Google Calendar calls these categories separate calendars, but you can use them as categories and use the color coding to its best effect.
A note about calendar fatigue.
Whenever you take any type of activity to the extreme, there is a danger of growing immune to the activity’s effects. If you are bombarded with ten reminders in the form of alerts on your mobile phone each day, you will soon learn to ignore these alerts or give in to frustration by turning them off entirely.
I recommend using reminders sparingly and creatively.
If you have a smartphone, your calendar will always be with you. This can be good or bad; the calendar should not be a distraction but should be available at any instant you might need to remember something in the future.
Use your calendar in conjunction with your coupons or discounts.
I have a habit of forgetting that I have coupons for a certain product I’d be buying anyway until they’ve expired. You have a Bills calendar already; add a Savings calendar to track savings opportunities you don’t want to miss.
Keep in mind that it’s only saving money if you’re buying something you would be buying anyway. For example, if you’ve been planning a trip across the country that involves a flight, put a reminder on your calendar to search for the best prices Tuesday and Wednesday; studies show these are the best days of the week for finding deals on airline tickets.
If you have a coupon for Macy’s and you know you need to buy items that Macy’s has available, put an entry for the expiration date on your calendar. When you view the coming month, you’ll see this date and will be able to find time to go shopping before the coupon’s expiration.
If you’re very price-conscious in terms of shopping, you may be aware that certain months of the year offer, on average, better prices for specific products. If there’s something you know you’ll need but it is not a pressing need, put a reminder on your calendar in the month that is best for shopping for that type of product.
For me, this strategy may not pay off much, but if you do a lot of shopping for a large family, the small seasonal price adjustments can end up having a large effect on your household wealth.
Remind yourself to follow up with others.
The activity of networking is often overwhelming for me. I may be quite capable in front of large crowds, but when I’m in the midst of a large group, my introversion tendencies kick in. I’m more comfortable in small groups.
Last night I attended a dinner (well, drinks and tapas) in New York City sponsored by Ramit Sethi (of I Will Teach You to Be Rich and Michael Fishman (a consultant). There were about 40 entrepreneurs in attendance, and I only knew a few from previous meetings.
I managed to talk one-on-one to about a dozen of these participants while partaking in the beverages and food. Several of the discussions offered some kind of a personal connection, with a possibility for developing further in some sort of business relationship.
I took a number of business cards, but now comes the process of remaining in touch. I can use my calendar to note who I plan to reach out to when, in order to keep myself from being overwhelmed by the extraverted nature of outward communication.
The reason why I, as someone who is taking charge of my financial life through my own business endeavors, would find this important is that some of these individuals might be able to provide great insight on the future of my businesses; thus, keeping myself focused in these personal/business relationships can lead to long-term growth of wealth.
Besides the above, there are several more specific types of events that are enhanced by the use of your calendar.
- Use your calendar to track family events.
- Use Google Calendar’s sharing feature to create schedules for items that affect other members of your household.
- Create reminders to obtain your free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com three times a year, once from each reporting bureau.
- Set a quarterly reminder to rebalance your investment portfolio.
How do you use your calendar to save money and grow your wealth?
Updated June 24, 2016 and originally published November 12, 2013.