This article is not financial advice. Please consult your financial advisor before you make any financial decisions!
In today’s financial environment, getting ahead is harder than ever. In order to build wealth and achieve your financial goals, it’s important to understand the tools and strategies that are available to give you an advantage.
The goal of this article is to discuss several of the strategies that I use and recommend for how to run your personal finances like a business.
Structure your accounts
The first step of running your personal finances like a business is to setup your financial accounts for success. The goal is to setup separate accounts for different purposes, while still being able to track your funds across the accounts.
Personally, I have the following accounts setup:
- One or more rewards credit cards for day-to-day spending.
- A day-to-day checking account with enough to pay off my credit card every month.
- A high-yields saving account for my emergency fund. It’s a best practice to have 3–6 months of expenses in cash in an emergency fund.
- A billing checking account. This is the account that I use to pay my monthly bills.
- A transfer checking account. This is an account that I have setup to distribute my leftover funds into my investment and savings accounts.
- A goal savings or checking account. This is the account where I put money when I’m saving up for a bigger purchase, whether it be a vacation or my next dream guitar.
- Investments, retirement, crypto, etc.
This may seem like a lot to manage, but this is where you can use automation and budgeting to your advantage.
Automate your finances
If you’re like me and the majority of your income comes from a job, you should be able to setup your direct deposits to go to different accounts. This is perhaps the most simple way to automate your finances. The goal is to put aside your free cash immediately so that you’re not tempted to spend it.
In my case, I have my direct deposits set up as follows:
- Transfer enough funds into my retirement accounts so that I meet the maximum. I’ll go into the breakdown of this in another article.
- Put enough money into my day-to-day and billing accounts to cover my expenses per month.
- Whatever is leftover goes into my transfer checking account. From there, I divvy up the money into my investment and savings accounts.
Today, I do step #3 manually, but in the past I have used tools to automate this. For example, in the past I made use of Astra Finance (a product that I worked on as a contractor) to automate transfers into my investment accounts. You can also make use of Plaid, but it requires a bit of coding knowledge. I am not aware of a GUI-based tool to do this, so please let me know in the comments if you know of one!
I also have automatic billing enabled, so the funds all get debited automatically from my billing checking account.
Setup a budget
There are many great tools for this that will help to automatically manage your budget. My personal favorite is Good Budget because its envelope budgeting system fits in well with my budgeting philosophy. I have used several of the existing budgetting SaaS products as well. For example, when I ran my consulting business, I made use of Quickbooks and Mint. I’m also curious about You Need a Budget and might give it a shot in the future.
To be honest, I got a bit burnt out from using these tools and have since set up a much simpler approach to budgeting. For my budget, I have a simple spreadsheet where I’ve calculated my expenses and figured out how much to deposit in each of my accounts. The only downside is that I need to modify it when my expenses change, but it only amounts to an hour or two a year and is well worth it.
Create a Personal Balance Sheet
In order to get a cohesive picture of your finances across all of these accounts (especially if you are using multiple different providers) you need to build a personal balance sheet. A personal balance sheet shows you a complete financial picture across all of your accounts by listing out all of your debts and assets. Once you have this all in one place, you can start tracking your progress towards your goals and make projections to help you make financial decisions. Here is a great article about how to create a personal balance sheet.
I have done this manually in the past, but have found that it’s better to make use of a tool for this. My tool of choice is The Retirement Tracker, a tool that was built by my friend and colleague Alan Souza. The Retirement Tracker connects all of your accounts and shows the progress you’re making towards early retirement. It also gives an overview of all of your investments and can be used for portfolio management across your accounts.
Set your goals
It’s important to know what your financial goals are. Ask yourself the question, what are you saving for? Are you saving up to buy a home? Are you planning an early retirement? If so, how much will you need?
Personally, my goal is to compound my wealth so that I can retire early and afford a decent lifestyle. I’d like to get to the point where I can live off of a stable portfolio of income producing products, such as bonds and dividend stocks. I have no desire to live a flashy lifestyle, but I do like to spend my money on the things and more importantly the experiences that make me happy.
By understanding my financial goals, it’s simple to make smart financial decisions.
There is a lot more to cover here, but I wanted to kick this off with an article that covers the basics of setting yourself up for financial success. In future articles, I’ll get into more of the details about my investment accounts, retirement savings, emergency fund and tax strategies. Let me know what else you’d like to hear about in the comments!