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, and they offer one-click purchasing and 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. Here are some ways to use automation to improve your financial situation.
1. Automate savings. You can use automation to help you with what really is the most important part of planning for your future: consistently saving and investing. 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 automatically deducted from your checking account or directly from your paycheck. You won't have to do it yourself, and it would require more action to reverse this automatic withdrawal than to just let it continue every week or month. Because it will be easier to just let it continue, you're likely to keep these contributions going.
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Don't stop at just your retirement account. Most banks allow you to set up automatic transactions, so you can use this feature to save in your taxable accounts or for college or another purpose.
2. Automate investing. Saving is important, but investing is critical to building wealth. Author Robert G. Allen said, "How many millionaires do you know who have become wealthy by investing in savings accounts? I rest my case."
When investing, we're frequently 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. Don't try to time the market. Instead, 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.