Among the many issues swirling around Tesla right now is the safety record of its semi-autonomous driving system, Autopilot. There is indeed some skepticism that fully autonomous vehicles are a pipe dream. However, one area of life where putting things on autopilot is a unmitigated good is with your finances.
A recent Vanguard study shows that an increasing number, some 48%, of their 401(k) clients are using auto-enrollment for their workers, which covers some 66% of plan enrollees. As Martha Stewart would say: “It’s a good thing.” Raymond Fazzi at Financial Advisor writes:
“As a result of the use of auto enrollment, Vanguard’s data indicates that workers are saving more consistently and with a more balanced approach, as employers have expanded their auto enrollment plans to include automatic annual deferral rate increases.”
Ramit Sethi author of I Will Teach You to Be Rich has for some time now argued for automating as much of your financial life as you can. In Business Insider he said:
“You might think ‘Well, I’m not the kind of person who’s good at money,’ but you can actually become very good at money — and the bar is so low…All you need to do is just have your money automatically going where it needs to go — it’s not that hard. You can do it and you can become very good at it.”
One of the things Sethi notes, quite correctly, is that budgets simply don’t work for most people. Instead of driving better decision making they make us feel worse about our choices.* In Yahoo Finance he said:
“You look back at the end of the month, you feel horrible, you feel guilty, you realize you overspent…[Budgets] make us feel bad about ourselves, they don’t provide any forward-looking information — they’re just pointless.”
Last week a piece by Devin Gordon in the New York Times about money manager Joe McLean who handles the finances of a number of high profile NBA players and other professional got a lot of attention. In part because McLean is a stickler for these athletes saving a high percentage of their earnings. Gordon writes:
“This is not to say Mr. McLean’s clients are profligate. To retain his services, each player must agree to put aside at least 60 percent of every dollar he earns, with the rate climbing to 80 percent if he’s fortunate enough to land a long-term deal. Or they’re gone.”
The point isn’t that McLean will countenance his clients getting ripped off, but saving that high a percentage of your salary will pay for a lot of cars and koi ponds without getting his client in trouble or having to keep to a strict budget. Then again, not everyone can save 60% of their salary. Athletes are human. They see their peers spending money on stuff and want what they have.
The problem is that does not necessarily make us happier and especially not wealthier. We are all looking to generate as much happiness we can from the resources we have. But spending money on stuff we don’t need in order simply to stay up with our friends and neighbors is a recipe for disaster. Ben Carlson writing at A Wealth of Common Sense writes:
Trying to keep up with people that make more money than you is a never-ending game because there will always be people willing to outspend you…People don’t compare their own savings habits to the savings habits of others because you can’t see savings. Spending results in stuff while building wealth is the absence of stuff.
Everyone is different. What gets you going, may not work for another person. But having some general rules in mind makes sense. Maybe Jonathan Clements writing at Humble Dollar put it best:
“So what does financial happiness look like? Here’s today’s gross generalization: We should maximize savings, minimize taxes, minimize fixed costs and maximize discretionary spending.”
We don’t need complicated budgets to succeed financially. However we do need to take as many of the difficult choices off the table as often as possible. So whatever your Money Rules may be, recognize that putting as much of the heavy lifting on autopilot and avoid sinking too much of your income into inflexible, fixed costs will put you ahead of many of your peers and most importantly your prior self.
*If you want to hear more from Sethi check him out with Josh Brown, Michael Batnick and Ben Carlson talking about his newly revised book: