Is it possible to “set it and forget it” with our personal finances?
Our time and attention are just as valuable as our money. When we can stop doing menial tasks like paying bills and balancing our checkbooks, we can spend our time and attention on other things. And, when we can take our hands off the wheel, we remove the possibility of human error, which can cause late payments, penalties and charges.
Technology has made it possible to automate many aspects of our financial lives. While it’s true that we don’t have to spend as much time as we used to, it’s still imperative we pay close attention to our money.
My goal is to help you successfully implement automation into your life so you can optimize and increase your chances of reaching and exceeding your financial goals and objectives. Over the course of my 20+ years as a financial advisor, I’ve helped countless people incorporate technology into their personal finances. I’m honored to be named to Investopedia’s list of the top 100 financial advisors many years running.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- The starting point
- Automating menial tasks
- Proactive automation
Let’s get started.
The starting point
All the technology in the world won’t replace the need for planning. In order to get where you want to go with your money, you need to have a coherent plan. Once you’ve set your goals and objectives, and you know what it will take to reach them, automating as much as possible makes sense.
Set your goals and objectives
I like to think about goal setting in terms of time horizon. You need money today, you’ll need it in five years, as well as 30 years from now. Short-term is considered zero to three years, mid-term three to 10, and long-term is 10+.
To help you get clear in what you’d like to accomplish with your money, you can access our Goals course for free.
Open, or enroll in, the appropriate accounts
Once you know what you want to accomplish, it’s time to enroll in, or open, the appropriate accounts. For short-term goals, you’ll need checking and savings accounts. For mid-term, taxable brokerage accounts. And for long-term, qualified accounts like your 401(k) at work, or a traditional or Roth IRA.
Now it’s time to set it and forget it.
Automating menial tasks
A menial task is one “not requiring much skill and lacking prestige.” Examples of menial financial tasks are paying bills and balancing bank accounts. Here are some areas where it’s easy to create automations:
Odds are, you’re already getting your paycheck via direct deposit. If you’re still receiving paper checks in the mail, work to get those payments directly deposited into your checking account.
Automatic bill pay
Slowly but surely, we’re moving away from writing checks and putting stamps on envelopes to pay our bills. But if you’re still manually going online and submitting payments, figure out if you can make those payments automatically.
When you can’t automate a payment, ask for (or create your own) email reminder. Without a reminder, it’s easy to let things slip through the cracks.
Online banking and account management
Online banking has made balancing our checkbooks obsolete. Take advantage of online access to all your financial accounts.
Recurring calendar events
Just because our lives are moving online doesn’t mean you no longer need to schedule time to review your finances. I encourage you to schedule a monthly meeting to review your finances. Here are the items to include in your review:
- Your cash flow
- Your budget
- Your goals and objectives
- Your progress toward those goals and objectives.
Creating a recurring monthly meeting on the same day and time helps ensure you won’t skip this important meeting.
Automating menial tasks is great, and there are also opportunities to use automation more proactively.
Pay yourself first
The Golden Rule of personal finance is, “Pay yourself first.” This means you’re contributing to your personal financial goals before paying anyone else. You can accomplish this in several ways:
- Set up automatic contributions or transfers from your checking account to a savings account
- Enroll in your company’s 401(k) and set up automatic contributions
- Set up automatic contributions to a taxable brokerage account, IRA, or 529 plan
Technology has made sophisticated investing available to everyone. Mutual funds and ETFs have made diversification simple. Roboadvisors have made rebalancing our portfolios, and tax-loss harvesting automatic.
Once we’re clear on our priorities, it’s possible to set and forget many aspects of our personal financial lives.
Get clear on your biggest financial goals and objectives. Create plans for accomplishing them. Open the accounts for completing them. Set your plans in motion by automating as many of the menial tasks as possible.
While it’s extremely valuable to automate menial tasks and to take our hands off the figurative wheel, we need to maintain complete ownership of our finances. Scheduling and completing a monthly review of your personal finances will position you for long-term financial success.
If you’re ready to take control of your financial life, check out our DIY Financial Plan course.
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