A simply way to save more is to automate your savings. In this step-by-step guide, we show you how to put saving money on auto-pilot.
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the power of habits. Books like The Power of Habit and Making Habits, Breaking Habits have given me insight into how habits work. They’ve pointed out that the vast majority of actions we take on a daily basis are habitual.
When was the last time you consciously thought about driving to work? Brushing your teeth? Eating lunch? Walking up or down stairs? Kissing your kids goodbye before school?
These actions are all habits. And that’s a good thing. Without habits, we’d have to expend way too much mental energy thinking about the things we have to do every day. Habits free us up to put our time and energy into more important pursuits, like succeeding at work or finding new solutions to old problems.
All this talk about habits has made me realize the importance of habit in finances, as well. You probably already have lots of good, and probably some bad, financial habits. You may follow a particular routine for paying your bills and tracking your budget. Or maybe you have a habit of clipping coupons before you grocery shop, or shopping around for the cheapest airfare before you travel.
But one of the most important financial habits is that of saving. Without saving money, you simply can’t get ahead financially. Luckily, creating new savings habits is actually much easier than creating new diet or exercise habits. That’s because it’s really simple to automate your savings. Automating your savings becomes a habit as soon as you set up the automation and leave it alone. And you’ll reap the benefits for as long as you leave the automation in place.
So how can you automate your savings? Here are five ways to build this financial habit.
1. Use separate accounts
If you don’t already have at least one separate savings account from your checking account, what are you waiting for? There are too many low-fee and no-fee options available today to keep all of your money in one place. And, in fact, I’d recommend setting up at least four separate savings accounts. Here’s what you should have:
- A retirement account. Of course, you should be saving for retirement. This is best done through a 401(k) if your employer offers one. If they don’t, or if you’re self-employed, set up an IRA without delay. Then, start saving for retirement in this tax-advantaged account.
- A short-term savings account. This account should be for expenses that you know are coming within the next year or possibly two years. It depends on your definition of short term, really. That’s a personal preference. But either way, you should have an account like this to save for specific upcoming expenses. This account can be attached to your checking account, and you may find that it’s fairly fluid.
- A long-term savings account. You’ll also likely have longer-term savings goals you want to meet. There might include taking a fabulous vacation to Europe, paying cash for a new car, or putting a down payment on a home. This account should be separated from your checking account, and you should look to get a better yield on this type of savings.
- Emergency savings. We’ve talked elsewhere about having a comprehensive emergency plan, rather than just an emergency fund. But an emergency fund is part of that plan. This should definitely be separated from your checking account. You might even consider a CD ladder strategy for this type of savings.
Separating out your finances to this degree might seem ridiculous. But it will help you keep track of how well you’re saving. And it’s essential to automating different types of saving.
2. Set up your direct deposit
The first thing you should do is follow the old adage to pay yourself first. Luckily, this is easy for most people who have direct deposit through their workplaces. Most employers will split your paycheck at least two ways, if not more, on payday. You’re not at a high risk of spending money that never sees the inside of your checking account. So if you can take this option, do.
Just be sure that you carefully calculate your savings with this option. Look at your retirement funding first, and put at least enough into your retirement account to get any matching funds that are available from your employer. Typically, retirement funds won’t count towards your employer’s limits on the number of accounts you can use for direct deposit.
Next, if your emergency fund isn’t up to snuff, send part of your paycheck there. Once that’s funded, you can redirect your emergency savings to your long-term savings. Speaking of which, make long-term savings your next direct deposit goal. If you can, add short-term savings, as well. But if this is too many accounts, just split your paycheck three ways.
Typically, you can set up these direct deposits based on the percentage of your paycheck or a set dollar amount. A percentage-based amount can be a bit safer if your paycheck is at all variable. But if you’re a salaried employee, directing a set amount of cash to each account can make sense.
3. Set up automatic transfers
What if you can’t split up your paycheck in as many sections as you’d like? In this case, you can set up automatic transfers. Your bank will automatically route money from checking to savings on a particular day of the month, if you choose. This is a good way to continue paying yourself first, even if you run out of paycheck-splitting options through your workplace.
4. Set up other savings rules
You can set up other savings rules to help you continue to automate your savings, as well. For instance, you might transfer $10 into your savings account every time you go grocery shopping. Or you could make it a habit to transfer money to savings each time you go out to eat, buy your favorite expensive coffee drink, or spend money on new clothes. With these types of habits, you’re basically “taxing” your own behavior so that you save automatically based on things you do every day anyway.
You can also use an app to further automate your savings based on rules like these. For instance, the app/banking solution Qapital lets you set up specific savings rules. then it transfers money according to these rules. Or you could use Digit, an app that analyzes your cash flow and saves money for you automatically.
5. Keep track of your progress
Finally, it’s essential that you keep track of your progress and constantly re-evaluate why you’re saving and how you’re working towards your rules. Keep tabs on your savings account balances, and keep thinking about how those play into your goals. Then, change your automated savings as you need to. This might mean changing your direct deposit amounts, boosting your automatic bank transfers, or changing your behavior-based savings rules.
You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll make progress with your savings goals once you start automating your savings.
Updated February 19, 2018 and originally published March 30, 2017.