Foundation #3: Make Your Savings Automatic

I have designed this foundational series to have all the articles build on each other. Once you have your monthly budget set and your income is greater than your expenses it is time to start figuring out the best way to save the money left over. Hands down the best method I have found for saving money is to have automatic withdraws from your savings account or paycheck.

This method is referred to as “Paying yourself first”. In my previous budget post there was a very clear reason why the income was at the top, followed by the 401k, ESPP, and Roth IRA and finally the bills and expenses last. This makes me think along the lines of paying myself first! Saving money is the first thing I do before any money is spent on bills and expenses. It is a fantastic way to think about finances and has worked really well for me!

David Bach’s book “The Automatic Millionaire” does a great job of driving this topic home and explaining how it works. I highly recommend it!

The great thing about this topic is how easy it is, well to setup that is. Leaving your allocations alone and having the discipline to not touch the money is the hard part. Set some aggressive goals in your budget, and work hard to reach them!

So where are the opportunities to setup automatic savings?

Savings Accounts

Setup a high yield savings account with WaMu or Emigrant Direct and setup a recurring transfer for 10% of your income. You will be amazed at how fast that account will grow and you will have a 6 month emergency fund in no time.

401k

Most people have access to a 401k program at work. If you do, this is a great way to set up automatic savings. Set your 401k percentage, and put the money in some good growth stock mutual funds. A great method for increasing your 401k contribution is every time you get a raise increase your 401k percentage so the net impact to your paycheck is 0 and don’t upgrade your life style!

Roth IRA

Every Roth IRA I have seen has had an automatic investment option. Put $333 a month away and you can max your Roth IRA at $4k for the year

ESPP (Employee Stock Purchase Plan)

A lot of public companies offer this and it is an easy way to save money automatically. I will explain later how I take advantage of this at Home Depot.

Investment Brokerage Account

Just as a Roth IRA can be setup to make automatic investments, your standard brokerage or mutual fund account can also be setup to pull automatic investments out of your checking account.

With online banking, direct deposit, and electronic transactions there is no excuse why you should not make your savings automatic!

ATL -> DFW -> SLC -> DFW -> ATL

I don’t do a whole lot of traveling for my job and after the above trip I don’t understand how some people do it every week. Yikes!

The first stop on the tour last week was a visit to Usability Sciences in Dallas, TX for some usability testing on the new homedepot.com site we are getting ready to launch. Testing went well and it always amazes me the kind of feedback and insight you can get from a few users over a couple hours.

After Dallas, it was off to Salt Lake City for the Omniture client summit. I gave a presentation on site search and got to meet a lot of people that I work with at Omniture but had never met in person.

After the Omniture Summit, I stayed in Salt Lake for a few days and headed up to one of my favorite spots on the planet: Snowbird, UT. Since moving to Atlanta from Vermont I have not got out on my snowboard very much so it is always a treat to get some turns in! I was hoping for some deep snow but all I got was a lot of sunshine! It was the warmest conditions I have ever seen in Snowbird. It was 68 degrees at the base (8000 feet) on Saturday!!!! The whole mountain was like a giant slush puppie! Although I would have preferred it to be 10 degrees out, dumping snow, and blowing 20-30 at the top, it was still fun to get out and work on my tan.

I left Utah on Sunday night and headed back to Dallas for some more testing. We finished up on Tuesday night and headed back to Atlanta. Trucking the snowboarding gear with me to Dallas was no fun and I got some odd looks bringing the snowboard into the hotel but overall a very productive trip!

Foundation #2: Create and Stick To a Budget

Personal finance success starts with a commitment to spend less than you make. However, where your spending falls in relation to your income can’t be known unless you map out all the money coming in and all the money going out. This is where the budget comes into play.

Budgeting for me is a fairly new concept. I have only been keeping a budget for the past year or so. During this time, I have been experimenting with a couple different methods to see what works. I have heard the envelope system is very effective but I don’t do cash (topic for another day) so I passed on that. I have tried recording all transactions in Microsoft Money or Quicken but I usually fall off that train pretty quickly. I think the key to budgeting is that it has to be simple. Since I like Excel I decided to start there and see how I got on. What I came up with is this Simple Monthly Excel Budget

*DISCLAIMER* All numbers are fictional and are just for display purposes!

Step 1)
Enter Your salary and how many times a year you get paid. If you are a single income household just enter zero for salary 2

excelbudget1b.jpg

Step 2) Grab your paycheck or go to PaycheckCity and enter your information

:Excel Budget - Income

Salary 1 is based on bi-weekly paychecks so I use a multiplier to get to the monthly numbers. Salary 2 is based on monthly paychecks. After entering your income, taxes, 401k (if applicable) you will have your net after taxes. This is the money you have to spend each month.

Step 3) Now it is time to enter your after tax deductions like medical, dental, and employee stock purchase (if applicable)

Excel Budget - After Tax Deductions

If you don’t participate in an ESPP just enter 0%. Now you have your take home pay in each check.

Step 4) Enter your Roth IRA information. If you are not participating in a Roth IRA enter zero (You should be – topic for another day!)

Excel Budget - Roth IRA

Step 5) Enter all your non credit card expenses. Things like mortgages, utilities, etc. For utilities that fluctuate, I enter an average since Gas and Electric will usually offset each other during the year. I also like splitting up the mortgage payments into principal, interest, and taxes so I can see the principal amount each month 🙂

Excel Budget - Non Credit Cards

Step 6) Now enter your yearly expenses and divide by 12 to come up with a monthly average.

Excel Budget - Non Monthly

Step 7) Enter all your expenses that you put on a credit card each month. You will see why I do it this way next

Excel Budget - Credit Card Expenses

Step 8 ) Now we add it all up!

Excel Budget - Add It Up

Your disposable income equals your take home pay minus your expenses and your Roth IRA contribution. This is how much wiggle room you have in your budget each month, hopefully it is a positive number! If it is a negative number, you need to cut some expenses or increase your take home pay.

I use the do not exceed line above so that each month I can glance at my credit card bill and make sure we are on track as most of our expenses are on the credit card each month.

Step 9) The last couple lines give you a quick snapshot of how you are doing overall with a look at your savings and retirement rates.

Excel Budget - Savings and Retirement Rate

So that is what works for me. What about you?

Foundation #1: Spend Less Than you Make

Sound simple right? In theory yes but in practice no. Just look to the negative savings rate and you will see that Americans today are spending more than they make and saving less for tomorrow.

I don’t want to make it sound easy, it isn’t! You have a lot of big companies spending an incredible amount on marketing. To add to the big marketing budgets, the marketers are getting smarter and more advanced in their techniques. Holding onto your hard earned dollars in today’s consumer driven society is hard work. Who doesn’t want a new car or some hot new gadget?

What it comes down to is commitment. You have to set a budget and commit to spend less than what comes in every month. Resist the temptation to spend crap on stuff you don’t need to impress people you don’t know!

Big Market Drop

Wow, big drop today. It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow and over the next couple days. The major news outlets are all leading with this story but is it big news? Right now I don’t think so. If we get to 10% then yes we have a reason to be concerned but right now I see this as just a market pull back after a long run up. As an investor you need to be ready for these dips. It is not if the market will correct but when.

For people who have their investments in growth stock mutual funds this will register as a blip. Stay the course.

For those in individual stocks, look for these dips as a great buying opportunity. AKAM was down 7% today, time to get in?

10 Foundations of Personal Finance

To start my personal finance series I thought I would start with the following foundations on personal finance. I will follow up with a post on each of these individual topics:

#1 Spend less than you make

#2 Create and stick to a budget

#3 Make savings automatic

#4 Accumulate assets that appreciate in value

#5 Avoid assets that depreciate in value

#6 Invest your savings early and often

#7 Live almost debt free

#8 80% of personal finance is behavior 20% is knowledge and the numbers

#9 Your retirement is YOUR responsibility

#10 To be successful you and your partner must agree on these principles

Most personal finance topics can be attributed back to one of these principles. Did I miss any?

Digital Photography & Smugmug

I got my first digital camera in 1999, it was a Kodak DC290 with 2.1 Megapixels. I don’t even want to remember how much it cost. I think it was close to $800! Yikes! Although it was expensive, that camera got me hooked on photography and Photoshop. Over the years I have upgraded and now use a Canon 10D DSLR. The great thing with digital photos is that you are only limited by storage. The downside is that the more photos you take the harder it is to manage them. This is where Smugmug comes into play.

Smugmug is a photo sharing site that a lot of people still have not heard of. I signed up for Smugmug a few years ago an instantly became a huge fan. For $40 a year you get unlimited storage and bandwidth. That alone makes it a great deal, but throw in LOTS of great tools to manage your photos and share them with friends and it becomes a GREAT application! If you have not seen Smugmug I highly recommend them!

Here is a photo we took at Stone Mountain a few weeks ago:

WordPress is Awesome!

WordPress is the blogging software I am using for this blog. I had dinner last week with Sam Decker at eTail and he told me to go with WordPress or Typepad, WordPress is free so I thought I would try it out first.

All I can say is WOW! These guys know what they are doing. I read through the setup instructions and was VERY skeptical of the 5 minute install claim but I had it up and running in 5 minutes! I think I had never paid attention to WordPress because it is a PHP/MySQL solution. I was a Microsoft ASP developer for 5 years and never played around with PHP so it was never on my radar.

After getting the base install up and running I added on a few other helpful plugins like Google Analytics and Akismet. The neat thing about WordPress is that there is such a great development community to extend and customize the application. I am going to have to break open the code and learn PHP so I can do some customizations. So far I am super impressed!

First Post!

After reading lots of blogs over the past couple of years I have decided to start my own here at AndrewKnight.com. I have moved the pages about my consulting business over here.

I am still working on figuring out what topics I will talk about, but here are some of my first thoughts:

Ecommerce
This is my day job and what gets me up every morning. I love the industry and how it has fundamentally changed the way business is done around the world. The pace of change is incredible and the growth rates of internet businesses are far out pacing the off-line world. It is an exciting time to be in this business!

Personal Finance
Over the past couple years personal finance has become a topic I have become more interested as I have become to understand it. The more I know the more I want to learn. I hope to help share some of my learnings here.

Career Coaching
This topic has evolved as I have moved around in my career and learned a lot from some very bright people around me. Since I don’t have 20 years experience I will focus my thoughts on tips and tricks for those just starting out.

Technology
OK I admit it. I am a closet computer nerd. Every once in a while I will be having a conversation with someone and it will just come out. Watch out, it can catch you off guard 🙂

Marketing
Online marketing and Ecommerce go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. Look for this blog to highlight innovative marketing programs that online retailers are using.

Lots more coming!

Andrew