# How to Automate Your Personal Finances

# The System: Quick and Dirty

Use a simple spreadsheet each month to tell you where you should put your money. Each account you have (checking, emergency savings, debt accounts, retirement, etc…) is a bucket, and each bucket flows into the next bucket. Determine the order of the buckets, and for each bucket, determine your goal amount (*Ex: $2,000 emergency savings, $0 credit card debt). *Each month update your account balances, and move the money as specified. Adjust your buckets occasionally as needed.

You can find more details on the formulas used in the spreadsheet by clicking the link above.

# The System: Explained

The guide to solving the question, “W*here should my money go*”?

This system is for people who want to think about money less. With a little bit of up-front work, you can save a lot of time and stress.

## Step 0) Prep Work

- Have monthly income that exceeds monthly living expenses
- Know your typical monthly expenses

Additional automation tips to prepare:

- Automate bill and credit card payments
- Automate “mandatory” general or retirement savings (depending on your situation and desire)

## How It Works

Think of where you put your money as buckets. Your checking account is a bucket. Your savings account is a bucket. Your retirement account is a bucket, your credit card is a bucket.

You fill (or drain, in the case of debts) a bucket to a desired level, and then you fill (or drain) the next bucket with what you have left. The money flows from one account to another.

The spreadsheet will tell you if a bucket is “overflowing”, and where to put the excess money you have.

**Step 1) Create and Order Your Buckets**

The first step to using this system is to create your buckets.

**Each bucket should have:**

- A name
- A current amount (AKA account balance. Debt balances should be negative)
- A desired amount ($0 for debt)

**A list of potential buckets (with recommended balances):**

- Checking account (2 months expenses)

It is important you have the equivalent of at least 2 months of typical expenses to provide a cash buffer for automatic bill/credit card payments, and for any fluctuations in monthly expenses.

- Emergency savings (1 month -> 3–6 months expenses)
- Employers retirement account (match -> 15% income -> max)
- Debt accounts ($0. Ex: credit cards, student loans, mortgage, car loan, medical debt, etc…)

Categorize these debts into low interest (0–4%), moderate interest (4–10%), or high interest (10%+) debts. Try to pay off high-interest, then moderate, then low.

- Roth or traditional IRA (maximum yearly limit)
- Large upcoming purchase savings (amount of purchase)

Examples include wedding expenses, college, a car (if you really need one), etc…

- Health Savings Account (if eligible. Maximum contributions allowed)
- 529 Education Plan (up to max tax credit)
- Other savings or investment accounts (to infinity and beyond)

**Order Your Buckets**

These buckets should be ordered in a way that makes the most financial sense. I highly recommend using the r/personalfinance subreddit’s “Prime Directive”, which outlines recommended financial priorities.

To be clear, each of the above boxes ARE NOT a bucket. A bucket represents a place to put money (or debt) only, not an individual budget line item.

**I’ve included some more detailed notes on this flowchart and the buckets that would be created from it in the Extra: Bucket Recommendations section below.**

## Step 2) Download and Customize the Spreadsheet

Download the spreadsheet here.

- Put the Bucket Name in column B.
- Put the Current Amount in column C. The current amount for debts should be negative.
- Put the Desired Amount in column D. The desired amount for debts would be $0.

## Step 3) Update Monthly and Move Your Money

- Each month, put in a new current amount for each bucket. This process is made easier if you consolidate your financial information using a service like www.mint.com.
- Look at the “Money Moves” column and transfer the money as specified.

## Step 4) Periodically Reassess Your Buckets

Occasionally reassess your buckets to make sure they still align with your financial goals and personal situation.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you find this tool useful!

# Extra: Bucket Recommendations

I relied heavily on this flowchart from the subreddit r/personalfinance to create my buckets. Here is my recommendation for your buckets, but you can do what you want.

*Not everyone will have or need all of these buckets. Assess which are right for you.*

*Bucket 0*: Contribute up to your employers match automatically for any employer-sponsored retirement accounts (like a 401k)

**Bucket 1: Checking account. Desired amount: twice your monthly expenses**

- Twice your monthly expenses gives you a nice cushion for any unusual spending patterns, so you feel secure in automatically deducting your expenses

**Bucket 2: Emergency savings account. Desired amount: ****1 month of expenses (to start)**

**Buckets 3, 4, 5…: High interest debts. Desired amount: $0**

- Any debt over 10% interest rate, with the 3rd bucket being the highest interest (AKA the avalanche method), the 4th being the next highest, etc…

*In the spreadsheet. The desired amount for “debt” buckets will always be $0, and the current amount will be shown with a negative sign. Ex: $1234 in credit card debt will be depicted as -$1234.*

**Bucket 2.5: Emergency savings account. Desired amount: ****3 - 6 months of expenses**

- Go back to your emergency savings account and increase your desired amount to 3 - 6 months of expenses

*The next bucket is listed as Bucket 4, but it would just be 1 more than whatever is next after high interest debt.*

**Buckets 4 ,5,6… : Moderate interest debts. Desired amount: $0**

- Any remaining debts with over 4% interest rate, with the higher interest first (just like with high interest debts)

**Bucket 5: ****Roth or Traditional IRA****. Desired amount: ****maximum limit**

- Contribute up to the maximum yearly limit for a Roth or Traditional IRA. Resets to $0 for the next year
- I like the Vanguard Target Retirement Funds as an investment for how straightforward they are

**Bucket 6: Required, large upcoming purchases. Desired amount: cost of purchases**

- College, professional certifications, a car so you can get to work, etc…
- Set aside in a separate savings account

**Bucket 7: Company retirement plan (usually a 401k). Desired amount: 15% pre-tax income**

- You want your total yearly retirement savings contribution to be at least 15% of your current income at this point (including your IRA contributions)
- Desired amount is the amount contributed in that year, as it resets each year

**Bucket 8: ****Health Savings Account**** (if eligible). Desired amount: ****maximum contributions allowed**

- Desired amount is the amount contributed in that year, as it resets each year

**Bucket 9:**** 529 Education Plan****. Desired amount: ****up to maximum tax credit**

- Desired amount is the amount contributed in that year, as it resets each year

**Bucket 10, 11, 12…: Low interest debts. Desired amount: $0**

- Any remaining debts with the higher interest first (just like with high and moderate interest debts)

**Bucket 11: Other savings goals. Desired amount: customized to goal**

- Vacation fund, saving for vehicle, down payment, etc…
- Recommend putting this in a second savings account than your emergency savings to avoid confusion

**Bucket 7.5: Company retirement plan. Desired amount: ****maximum contributions allowed**

- Look into any other tax-advantaged accounts you can
- At this point, start researching the FIRE movement and see if this is something for you

**Bucket 12: Taxed Investments. Desired amount: to infinity and beyond**

- I’m partial to the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSAX) but you do you.