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If I have $X in my checking account, and I know of upcoming purchases this month, such as, rent, groceries, a haircut, a new bicycle, a new pair of glasses, my gym membership, etc., is there an easy, effective way to put specific sums of money for each purchase in a specific place, where it is inaccessible until I decide I need the money?

I have tried pulling out cash from the ATM and putting it in labeled envelopes, but I'm aiming for something as easy as the click of a button on a smartphone.

My mobile banking app doesn't allow more than a few separate labeled accounts, and even if it did, the money wouldn't be inaccessible enough. I could immediately transfer it out as soon as I wanted to buy something else.

Ideally, at the tap of a button, I could put a sum somewhere, labelled, and make the funds unavailable until a certain date. Or they could be available any time, but on a time delay of 2-3 days. This would be enough to inhibit me impulsively spending them.

The only idea I have right now is to invest the money in some kind of short-term investment, like a money market fund.

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    If the problem is that you lack the self-discipline to not spend money that's already allocated to something, then I guess you could move your money into a trust and appoint a trustee to look after you ... – brhans Apr 29 at 13:22
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    You certainly have to address your impulsive spending; the short-term investment would work, however be aware that many of them have minimum investment duration, it could be 4 days, 7 days etc., so check the clauses. Another way is to pay your dues before they are due and as soon as you have money, this though would require discipline. You also have the gentler version of the above suggestion, you could give the money to someone and ask them to pay for your expenses :) – Ironluca Apr 29 at 14:10
  • Spreadsheet? :) – Ian MacDonald Apr 29 at 15:53
  • N26 has introduced a useful feature recently called spaces for these exact purposes. – Leon May 3 at 7:13
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Consider doing it the opposite way: instead of having a main account that you need to hide your budgeted sums from, keep your money in the main account and have a separate ‘spending’ bank account.

Do your budget in whatever app you like - even a simple spreadsheet will do. When it comes time to spend, whether for groceries or for a movie, transfer that amount from your main account into your spending account.

This achieves 2 things:

  1. Spending becomes intentional. You cannot spend anything unless you purposely moved the money into your spending account.

  2. The work is heaviest where it should be. Most of the work is in the budgeting process. Some work is done prior to spending. No work is needed to shuffle money around when you don't get to spend anything.

This helps avoid the feeling that you're doing 'empty' work just feeding a bunch of envelopes. Instead of correlating hassle with getting paid and thinking that this is too much work to keep doing, you want to correlate 'money management' with the fun of spending it and thinking that budgeting is worth the effort.


Note: ask your bank about their fees and charges. Some accounts set a limit on free transactions per month. For both the main and spending accounts, try to pick ones that allow unlimited free transactions.

  • @BenVoigt Yes, it would be good to use an account with unlimited transfers for the savings account (small 's', as opposed to what some banks designate as 'Savings' accounts). I'll add a note to my answer. – Lawrence May 3 at 1:42
  • @BenVoigt Thanks, I'll take that into consideration. Reg D is limited to the US. Australian accounts vary widely in terms of the number of free withdrawals permitted in a given period. I don't think that aspect is regulated. – Lawrence May 3 at 1:46
  • @BenVoigt I've taken out the term "savings account" from my answer. I trust the answer is now more internationally applicable. Thanks again for your comments. – Lawrence May 3 at 2:12
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Using apps, physical envelopes, or spreadsheets could all work, but the real problem you're experiencing is the lack of self-discipline. Setting money aside in an account that's inaccessible until a certain date may help, but it doesn't fix the problem. You'll still find a way to access this money.

I would suggest going back to your envelop method, physically or electronically. Practice not touching these envelopes every month until needed. Changing your budget to a shorter term may psychologically help too. Say you do your budget every week. Money becomes available a lot more quicker and you won't feel the need to dip into these other envelopes that are allocated for upcoming expenses.

Also, part of self-discipline is the discipline. If you find yourself dipping into other envelopes, you need to punish yourself. Don't give yourself spending money next month or don't go out to eat for a couple weeks, if you break the rules. Find yourself an accountability partner with your finances that can help you with this. They could be a spouse, family member, or friend.

Good luck!

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    +1 I suggest adding to this answer: Create a non-trivial barrier to accessing the envelopes. For example, if you are using physical envelopes, put them at the back of the highest or most crowded shelf in your apartment, so you have time to think several times before getting your hands on one. – ab2 May 1 at 18:44
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I would recommend the app Mint. Specifically for you, it allows convenient budget tracking down to the penny for multiple goals. So you want to purchase a bike that is $300? Okay, set up that budget and when you purchase a bike for $295 it will appear that you are $5 under budget. It wont LIMIT you and tell you "no", although I'm not too aware of any "app" that would restrict you as such.

It also sounds as if you also need to address your impulsive spending, and I have a starting solution for that we well. Try with putting most of your money linked to your debit card into your savings so you don't directly have access to it. Also setup your direct deposits from work to go into savings as well. Good luck and start saving!

  • You can also set budgets to roll month-to-month as well. So if you want to save $50 a month for a $300 bike, set the budget to $50 and turn on "roll remaining budget into next month". Then you can easily keep track of now much you have saved month-to-month. I do this to set aside money monthly for expenses that only happen every few months. – Nosjack Apr 29 at 15:28

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