Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Financial Cruise Control, a great leap forward

Maybe I'm the only dinosaur left, but I remember when my paycheck was delivered to me in person. I then had to make sure to get it to the bank before it closed, all the while worrying about whether I would forget it, lose it, or get stuck in a meeting. Most other income came in the same form, with the same hassles.

Saving or investing was no better. Your broker called and recommended an investment. You had to research it and make a decision, then try to call him back and execute the order. Then, just to get the money to the brokerage or bank meant a trip or a search for addresses and stamps, and paperwork to fill out.

Spending, same story. Trips to the bank for cash. Gathering the bills and finding addresses, envelopes and stamps. Probably a trip to the post office. I used to spend a few hours a couple of times a month just to make sure the bills got paid, meanwhile enriching the post office and taking my money out of investments early to make sure the money was available.

Thank goodness the good old days are gone. These days, payments are automatically deposited, on time, no hassles, no paperwork. Buying a stock or mutual fund is just a few clicks away on line, any time of day at my convenience. Got a little extra cash? Compare on-line banks for the highest rate and move money to the best place effortlessly. And most the investing is even easier...deducted from my pay and automatically invested or reinvested in accordance with my allocation. No research, no decisions, no real need for any effort once it has been set up.

Spending? Even easier. I haven't been to the bank or post office in months. I put everything on my credit card, from the electric bill to the quick lunch, from the airline flight to the magazine subscription. Then, once a month I download the bill, take a glance and pay all the charges with a few clicks of the mouse, perhaps from my hotel room on my way to the mountains. On the rare occasion that I have to pay cash or send/deliver a check I first get agitated, then take the opportunity to remember how much improved things are today.

For such service, you'd expect to pay a fortune, right? Not so. Payers and collectors alike are glad to avoid the postal expense and paperwork. You can keep your money invested for a month or more, and they'll pay you between 1-5% of your expenses for the privilege, plus often a bonus when you sign up. Unsafe, you say? If you have incorrect charges (which hasn't happened to me in several years), you just dispute the charges and don't need to pay unless the charges turn out to be justified.

I'm led to believe there are still dinosaurs out there who make regular trips to the bank and post office. Who generally pay by cash or check, in person or by mail. You probably refuse to use the cruise control on your car too, right? If that is you, I invite you, step on in to the 21st century, where the living is easy. Put your finances on cruise control. It's cheaper, it's easier, it's more profitable. If you don't believe that last one, check out my post on dollar cost averaging on steroids.

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