Saving on Autopilot

In two days, almost 1,000 CEOs and CFOs will be required by the SEC to put their John Hancocks on their books. Will all of them be able to personally certify their companies' financial statements? Heck, can you certify your own?

You're closer than ever to getting a handle on your personal financial statements, if you've been keeping up on your Fool reading. In the past few days, like the head honchos of corporate America, we've done some heavy lifting. We reviewed our balance sheets, monitored our spending, and questioned whether our cash flow is consistent with our goals. These important exercises enable you to see what you've done with your money in the past.

Today, however, we're going to look to the future -- what you can do now to improve your situation and attain your goals years down the road.

Here's a simple solution: Make savings mindless. That's right; take the guesswork and busywork out of budgeting by putting your savings plan on autopilot.

If you're contributing to your retirement plan at work via withdrawals from your paycheck, congratulations -- you already have an automatic savings plan! You are regularly socking away money for an important goal. Since the money is transferred to your plan automatically, you don't have to worry about forgetting or accidentally spending your retirement plan contribution. It's such a no-brainer, and it makes great financial sense.

But such a smart plan is not limited to saving for retirement. Many banks, brokerages, dividend reinvestment plans, and mutual fund companies will automatically transfer money from your checking account to the investment of your choice. Will you need the down payment for a house in three years? Have $100 to $500 sent to a money market account every month. Want to send your kids to college? Sign up for a 529 plan and make hassle-free contributions over the years. Don't have a particular goal in mind, but you want to increase your net worth? Figure out how much you can save, and have it automatically invested. Over the years, it'll really pay off.

Tomorrow in our self-audit series, we'll plug up the cash flow leaks that can threaten your financial empire.

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