I am a huge believer in simple solutions and trying to reduce complexity wherever it makes sense. Simplifying different aspects of your life has huge benefits for your mental energy and allows you to spend time where it matters. Having to think through and resolve complex situations takes a lot of time and energy to reach a conclusion. This is good when we have a difficult problem to solve, but not so good when we spend that bandwidth on topics that don’t need to be so difficult and constantly reevaluated. This applies to all aspects of life. Many famous people have worn the same outfit every single day because they don’t want to spend any mental energy thinking about what clothes to wear. Maybe black turtlenecks aren’t your thing, but where are some good places to get started with simplifying our financial lives?
One technique that can be extremely beneficial in your financial life is automation. Anything we can automate, or at the very least make a recurring reminder for, is one less thing we need to think about and remember. Automating bill payments can be a great time saver, while also preventing late fees on payments that are lost or forgotten. Trying to manage this whole process manually can add up to a lot of time depending on the number of different expenses you have, so this is a great place to start automating. The only thing to keep in mind is that you need to review the charges every once in a while to make sure the costs aren’t rising unexpectedly, and that the different expenses are still something you need or value. You probably want to keep paying the water bill, but we don’t need 10 different streaming services nickel and diming our account every month. Another thing to automate financially is savings and investments. This is extremely easy to do with employer plans like 401k deposits, but it can be helpful in other areas as well. Sometimes a big savings goal seems daunting, but if you set up a recurring transfer that happens whenever you get paid it can break it down into manageable chunks that won’t seem as impactful to your spending.
Accounts – Types and Quantities
The account choices for saving and investing are seemingly endless, and when you multiply that by all the different providers available it can be hard to sort through. New fintech startups pop up all the time with new, fancy-looking apps, which makes it especially challenging to decide or to stick with a decision after you’ve made it. I usually advocate for sticking with one provider or a handful to keep things simplified. You don’t really want to be in a situation where you have 12 different IRAs at separate providers because any specific benefits they provide will easily be outweighed by the complexity of managing and keeping track of it all. This also goes for old employer plans from past jobs, which can be simplified a lot by consolidating them into a single account location. There’s a security aspect to this as well because the more accounts you have, the more passwords to keep track of and manage, and the more potential attack points to be aware of.
Choosing investments and coming up with a good plan can be very difficult and full of pitfalls if you aren’t careful. There are thousands and thousands of mutual funds and ETFs, which can be paralyzing to think about, without even considering individual stock, bond or alternative investments. This is why some individuals wind up with 100 different funds in multiple locations, but that doesn’t necessarily ensure you’re properly diversified if the funds have a lot of overlap. Sometimes the opposite can also be true if you’re looking at an employer plan that has few options, and high fees. Whatever the case may be it’s important to do the initial research and then stick with it without constantly tinkering in the accounts. I believe in low-cost, broadly diversified portfolios that are in line with individual client’s risk tolerance and time horizon. That’s a lot of words and may sound a little complicated, but it doesn’t need to be. It can generally be accomplished with something like 4-6 different funds that are weighted to match up with individual needs.
Figuring out ways to simplify situations is a huge priority for me when working with clients. I want everything to be as comfortable and understandable as possible, so we can work through any issues or changes together. Most married couples have one spouse or the other who is more in-touch with the overall financial picture, but a goal I have is to make the picture accessible and understandable for both. A great book I’d recommend that fits in with this whole topic is ‘The One-Page Financial Plan’ by Carl Richards, who is known for making extremely simple pictures to explain complex topics and ideas. This book gives a great idea for consumers of how I like to think about various financial topics as a planner. If you’d like to talk through aspects of simplifying your own financial picture, schedule an introductory meeting to talk through how I might be able to help.