Financial planning is a complex topic with numerous moving parts. Many aspects of it are best tackled with a professional by your side. However, there are also many simple but powerful things you can do yourself to improve your financial situation quite dramatically over time.
Usually our biggest enemy when it comes to building wealth is ourselves. Every day, we are faced with decisions on whether to spend or save: Go out to the hot new expensive restaurant or stay in? Buy something when our favorite store emails us a 30% off coupon, or even decide to transfer some money to savings instead of leaving it in our checking account? While these seem like minor actions, these small choices accumulate and create our financial planning.
Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to spend money these days. Retailers offer us endless ways to automate our purchasing. They show us products we’ve looked at, they offer one-click purchasing, and they send emails reminding us that we’ve left something behind in a cart.
Fortunately, we can turn the tables. We can use that same powerful tool—automation—to help ourselves.
First, you can use automation to help you with what really is the most important part of planning for your future: consistently saving and investing.
Automate your savings
Putting money aside regularly, on a consistent schedule, is a requirement to building wealth. While it seems simple, doing it is much more difficult than talking about it. There always seems to be a reason to start next month instead of this month. Or you just forget to put money away after paying bills. Or maybe you think that it’s not a good time to invest, so you hold off on putting any money into savings at all. Whatever the reason, by not following through, you are shortchanging yourself.
This is where automation can be your financial saving grace. Find an amount you can commit to and have it automatically deducted from your checking account (or directly from your paycheck). You won’t see it, and it would require more action to reverse this automatic withdrawal than to just let it continue every week/month. Because the easier thing will be to just let it continue, you’re likely to keep these contributions going.
Don’t stop at just your retirement account. Most banks allow you to set up automatic transactions, too, so you can use this feature to save in your taxable accounts, or for college or another purpose.
Automate your investing
“How many millionaires do you know who have become wealthy by investing in savings accounts? I rest my case.”
–Robert G. Allen
Saving is important, but investing is critical to building wealth.
Frequently, however, we’re tempted to “time” the market. You may think the market is too high, and decide to wait to buy anything, but find yourself waiting too long and missing out on further gains. Or if stocks fall into a longer bear market, where prices keep falling, you may stop buying altogether.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to fall victim to natural human biases and emotions that make investing challenging for everyone. In fact, one research firm, DALBAR Inc., finds that average retirement investors lose out on a large portion of market gains from simple index funds due to emotional mistakes and biases in investing.
While some professional participants can get an advantage with studying market behavior, even most experts can’t do more than match the market.
Your best bet? Don’t try to time—just commit to investing the same amount consistently, month in and month out. This way you’re automatically buying more when the market is low and buying less when the market is high. Dollar cost averaging is a simple strategy and a great way to build wealth without a lot of stress. While it’s not perfect, it takes your biases and emotions out of the equation. You can usually automate that entire process in your retirement account. Learn more about how dollar-cost averaging works.
Automate your bill paying
Another aspect of building wealth is not incurring wasteful fees. Here you can use automated bill pay features for your credit cards and other payments, or use the bank’s bill pay feature to make sure your mortgage, credit card, or other payments are never late. Bonus: you’ll free up your own time each month, since paying your bills will be automated.
Remove automation from your spending
On the other side of the coin, when improving our finances, a key is to buy what we need and not what we simply want. After all, most of us already have far too many shirts, jackets, and shoes in our closet that we rarely wear, but that we really wanted when we bought them. Especially with online shopping, it can be difficult to avoid impulse purchases.
Here again, automation can help us. We just need to do the opposite of what all the retailers want us to do:
- Unsubscribe from all retailer mailing lists so you aren’t notified of sales or special offers. Out of sight, out of mind.
- If you use Amazon, be sure to turn “one-click ordering” off. This feature just makes impulse buying too easy; it’s designed that way!
- Do not save any credit card information online at any websites. If you’ve already done this, go in and remove those cards from those sites. This way, you’ll have to manually type in your card information every time you make a purchase, which should give you the opportunity to rethink whether it’s a purchase you really want to make.
These are all very simple strategies, but they can have dramatic results over time. Really, all we are trying to do here is:
- Remove any obstacles from saving and investing each month (and make it more work to stop saving than to continue)
- Create obstacles to spending
This approach for financial planning is far easier than sheer willpower. Invest some hours in setting these up, and you’ll reap the rewards later when you’ll be saving and investing more, and spending less, while saving valuable time. That is a simple way to automate success.
John Odell, CFP® is CEO of Arroyo Investment Group, LLC, a fee-only financial planning and investment management firm based in Pasadena, California. As a GIPS®-compliant firm, we bring institutional quality, high performance investment management and comprehensive financial planning to individuals and families. Together with Capital Research + Consulting, our sister firm, we collectively manage over $4 billion of assets for individuals and retirement plans. Visit us at https://arroyoinvestmentgroup.com/.