Technology is an amazing thing, and recent advances have simplified our lives and streamlined processes in ways we never would have thought possible, even just a few years ago.
We have robotic vacuums that map out our homes and clean on a schedule. There are smart home systems that turn lights on and off, adjust the thermostat, and lock or unlock doors. The automation evolution even includes cars that drive themselves.
Technology has also affected our financial lives, changing how we spend, how we save and how we invest. The Internet has put options at our fingertips, like 24/7 access to online banking and automatic withdrawals. Today, contributions to your retirement funds and savings accounts can be done automatically. When you start young, automation can be established from the start and make saving a priority right off the bat.
Although you might not be able to automate every single financial process in your life (for example, only a human can review your financial plan and update it to match new changes in your life – a new baby, a marriage or the loss of a loved one), there are definitely some areas where automation can actually make you a better investor!
How? One of the reasons automating financial processes can work so well is that it eliminates the human element. If you have auto-pay set up for your cell phone bill, for example, you’ll never forget to pay it, or send it late. It also eliminates the temptation to skip a retirement contribution for a more exciting, short-term goal, since the contributions are being made automatically, sometimes even before your paycheck hits your bank account.
In other words, pre-planning replaces willpower.
With a new year quickly approaching, below are 3 strategies to consider.
Set Up Bill-Pay So You Don’t Pay Late Charges/Fees
Some people still spend hours every month organizing paper bills, noting payment amounts and due dates, then writing checks and mailing payments, or scheduling bill payments online.
But that’s not necessary anymore. Your online banking system likely offers automatic bill payment features, where you can either pay a set amount on a certain date each month, or, if your biller and bank are linked, you might be able to authorize the bank to pay the amount due (or an amount you designate) on a specific due date.
Many merchants and creditors have similar auto-pay programs you can enroll in, but you set up a payment schedule with them directly rather than using your bank as an intermediary.
When you automate your bills, you don’t have to remember due dates, keep track of amounts due or worry about forgetting to pay a bill.
Make Contributions Without Thinking About It
We can also schedule recurring transfers from our checking accounts on the day our paychecks are deposited. Since the funds are withdrawn the same instant your paycheck hits your account, you’ll quickly learn to not even miss the money.
If you have an employer-sponsored 401(k), you’ve already got a similar automated transfer setup in place: Your contributions are automatically deducted from your paycheck and deposited into your 401(k) account, before you ever even see your paycheck.
This makes saving for your future a priority and removes the opportunity to spend the money elsewhere.
While you will still want to talk with a financial advisor to discuss your risk tolerance, asset allocation and life changes to make sure your financial plan remains appropriate, putting your contribution efforts on auto-pilot ensures you never stop contributing and makes a commitment to your future.
Talk to a financial advisor about how this can be done.
Save Money Before It Hits Your Checking Account
Once your bills are paid, you can start automating savings by directing those automatic transfers toward specific goals.
If you haven’t already established a healthy emergency fund or specific savings accounts, such as a college fund, your automatic transfers can be used to create or enhance those accounts.
Automatic transfers can also help you budget, by dividing portions of your paycheck into specific accounts – think vacation fund, home improvement account or savings for a new car!
Many times, we think of our savings as a single unit, but it can be beneficial to separate your wants into different categories. For instance, sometimes saving has a larger purpose, such as your children’s education, while other times it’s for something more personal, like an item you’ve dreamed about since you were young.
Automating your investments is another way to prevent short-term events from waylaying your long-term goals. The more you can put your savings on autopilot, the easier it can be, as this takes one more decision off your plate. When you automate your savings, you don’t have to decide how much you should put toward your goals in a given month; it is done for you. This can be a great way of taking the emotion out of your finances.
Talk to a financial advisor about your plans and priorities.
What to Consider When on Auto-Pilot
While automation can be an extremely helpful financial tool, a set-it-and-forget-it attitude doesn’t work with everything. It’s still important to review your financial plan, especially the automated practices, at the very least on an annual basis to make sure you're still working toward the right goals. Things change. You’ll pay accounts off and add new accounts that you’ll need to put money toward. Your salary might increase (or decrease). Your savings goals will also likely change over time, from saving for a down payment on your first home to saving for your children’s higher education expenses.
It’s also smart to revisit and review your plans during and after volatile, economic times, like 2020. So many things may have impacted your finances this year, from a pandemic-related layoff to spending less on gas and transportation while you work from home. Each of these potential changes requires a review of your automation strategies, and probably some adjustments.
Talk to a financial advisor to make sure you’re making the right payments and investments. A trusted and experienced professional can help you see the big financial picture. A financial advisor can help you determine what personal finance elements you can automate and what you should maintain control over. You can also discuss how much you can afford to save and which accounts to fund, in which order.
This material is provided by PAX Financial Group, LLC. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. The information herein has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note: Investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. Investments will fluctuate and when redeemed may be worth more or less than when originally invested. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All market indices discussed are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment. Indices do not incur management fees, costs and expenses, and cannot be invested into directly. All economic and performance data is historical and not indicative of future results.