Shame on me. There's a financial guru out there who appeared on Oprah quite a while ago, and yet I heard of him only recently. His name is David Bach, and I have yet to read his body of work. So far I've read only some articles of his -- but he makes a compelling case about the power of automating much of your financial life.
In one article, he contrasted two clients. The first was "driving a new Porsche, wearing a gold Rolex, living in a million-dollar home with an $800,000 mortgage. He had less than $100,000 in savings and $75,000 in credit card debt. On the outside he looked rich and successful, but he was far from it." The second was a couple who were in their 50s and retiring early: "Their combined earnings for the previous year were $53,946. They had no outstanding debts. They owned two homes. The one they lived in was valued at $450,000. A rental property, which was providing them with $26,000 in rent annually, was worth $350,000. Jim's 401(k) balance was $610,000. Sue had two retirement accounts with $72,000. They had $62,500 in the bank, $160,000 in municipal bonds, plus personal property -- three cars and a boat, all paid for. And, Jim's job would provide him with a small pension. Their net worth was approaching $2 million!"
Impressive, eh? This couple's secrets are probably not new to you, as they weren't new to me. We know these truths -- don't charge more than you can afford, regularly sock money away for retirement, pay yourself first, and so on. But perhaps we don't, deep down, believe them enough to act on them. It can help to learn about others who have taken these guidelines very much to heart.
The power of automation
One of the ways that Jim and Sue managed to sock so much away was through automation. A big advantage of automated saving and investing is that it frees you from having to muster the will or time to send out checks regularly. It takes away a lot of temptation. Things just take care of themselves.
Bach describes another couple: "In two years they've automated themselves big time. They have $120 monthly going into a deferred compensation account. The husband contributes 7% [of his paycheck] to his 401(k). He and his wife both opened Roth IRAs. They are automatically putting money into a money market account to build up a three-month emergency fund. They have money going into a savings account automatically so there is a vacation fund and they won't have to touch a credit card since they now have no credit card debt." (Are you mired in credit card debt? Learn how to dig out in our Credit Center. Get IRA guidance in our IRA Center.)
As Bach describes: "They arranged to have a portion of their pay automatically taken out of their paychecks. They created a literally foolproof, automatic system to achieve wealth. Money was taken out of Jim's paycheck and invested in his retirement account. They handled their accelerated mortgage payments in a similar fashion. They used a systematic deduction to automatically invest a portion of both their incomes in mutual funds. They even automated their tithing. What they didn't see, they didn't miss. If you think you need big bucks to do this, think again! The McIntyres started with amounts as low as $50 a pay period."
Little things add up
Bach notes that Jim and Sue were able to turbocharge their savings by applying the "Cigarette Factor." Each quit smoking a pack a day. At $5 per pack today, that would amount to $3,650 in savings annually -- not a small amount, eh? Think about your own life -- is there any small, regular expense you might eliminate? (We may be able to help you quit smoking.)
Bach noted that this represents saving $36,500 per decade. "And, by the way, if you did that over your lifetime, you could potentially be a millionaire. Invest $10 a day for 35 years at 10% (which is what the stock market has averaged for 50 years), and you will have $1,163,796! And if you and your spouse would do it, you could potentially become multimillionaires."
Bach concluded his article with this advice: "Take your first step today. Find out about direct deposit options at your company or with your bank. Then decide how much money you can set aside. Remember you can start small, even $50-$100. Choose a high interest savings or money market account and, if you can, an IRA or mutual fund. Have money automatically directed there monthly. Amassing wealth slowly and steadily can become your story, too."
Think about what this means. You could have money automatically going into mutual funds -- perhaps one or more you learned about in our Champion Funds newsletter. (Try it for free -- it's done quite well so far. Out of 33 recommended funds over nearly two years, only three are under water, and not by much, while 12 are up more than 20% and the average gain is 17%, versus 9% for each fund's respective index.)
If you invested, for example, in the Brandywine Fund
In an interview, Bach noted that the U.S. government discovered the beauty of automation many decades ago, when it began automatically collecting income tax via withholding.
Learn more, share more
You can get more guidance in this article: Simplify Your Financial Life. Meanwhile, share your own thoughts on these ideas, on our discussion boards. Or just stop by to see what others are saying.
Answer calls for help
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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian 's favorite discussion boards include Book Club, The Eclectic Library, and Card & Board Games. She doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. For more about Selena, view her bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written: The Motley Fool Money Guide and The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens . The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.