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Automating your money — especially entrepreneurs and freelancers

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How can entrepreneurs and freelancers with irregular income automate their money?

Lots of people have been interested in the section of my book on irregular expenses and income — like entrepreneurs or freelancers –so I thought I’d go into some more detail on how I handle automation.

Brian D. writes:

I’m just wondering when you deposit money into your account does it automatically put 5% into savings, 10% into 401(k) …etc or is this a manual process. Also when the 5% goes into savings do you automatically split that into your savings account sub accounts, or is this manual?

Brian probably read my monster post on The Psychology of Automation: Creating a Bulletproof Personal-Finance System, which included this image:


Here are the answers:

1. It’s automatic (see how to automate it). But in your sub-savings accounts, you have to specify an absolute number, such as “withdraw $150/month from my checking account and put it in my sub-savings account for the new iPhone”)

2. Brian then wrote a followup: “What if you got $500 for your birthday and deposit this into your checking. Does it automatically spread itself out or do you do this manually?” While my bank (and most) require an absolute number, you can still semi-automate this. I deposit the money into my checking account, as usual, and then execute a monthly sweep on the 25th of each month, where I tidy up all loose ends.

You’ll remember my sub-savings account (how to use a sub-savings account):

Here’s how the monthly sweep looks in Google Calendar:

Google Calendar for personal finances

Note that I don’t recommend you sock away 100% of unexpected earnings. In fact, I force myself to spend 25%-50% of any unexpected money within a month, a technique I developed to keep motivating myself to earn unexpected income. (For that, I keep a “tobuy” tag in delicious.)

Just like GTD, the key with your personal finances is to set up structures to catch the wild one-offs and put them aside for a regularly scheduled time, usually once/month.

Once you set this system up, your money will flow from your paycheck to your investment accounts (401(k), Roth IRA, etc), sub-savings accounts (like for the new iPhone), and down to your checking account for guilt-free spending — all automatically.

Read more about automating your money.

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  1. Ramit – when I was making most of my money as a freelancer, I used to do things slightly differently. Instead of making my checking account my primary cash receiver (now that I have a regular income I do exactly what you suggest), I would make my savings account the big pot and then pulled from there. That way, when I got a big check for some work, I didn’t see it in my checking account and think that was money to spend. Instead, I pushed ‘spending’ money to it. I also had a separate checking acct I pushed the money I paid my bills to.

    I realize this is just semantics, really, but it gives you the illusion of a regular paycheck even when you only get really big deposits occasionally.

  2. Christopher Lee Link to this comment


    If you are considering a tour to China, my friends just started a touring company targeted towards the younger demographic. It may be worth investigating?

  3. Hey Ramit, I’m a partner in a software company. We have a CPA but I never feel she’s really worth what we pay her for … quarterly payroll costs about 900$ can I trim that cost and do it myself?

    • Hey Eric. Honestly, taxes at that level are pretty complicated. Sure, it’s possible you could do it yourself, but your business is software, not taxes — so I’d probably pay to get someone else to do it. If you’re not sure you’re getting a fair price, check with others on how much they pay. Email me for some more details if you’re curious about my accountants.

  4. I like the idea of automating finances, but the real missing link here is the ability to have transfers occur truly automatically according to a set of rules (10% of each deposit goes into savings, 25% of each paycheck deposit is also transferred to an account for rent, each week, 15% of luxury account balance over $X is dropped into checking to spend, etc.). Is there any good reason why online banking services don’t offer this? If not, could it be possible to have some type of 3rd party service add this capability (given authorization and credentials)? I’m spending a good bit of my free time learning programming, and it’s obviously not a difficult type of functionality to implement in software, but I don’t know what kinds of red tape might exist within the banking establishment to slow down progress. Any thoughts?

  5. […] recent post by Ramit Sethi on his blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich made me feel good about myself. The flow chart diagram he […]

  6. Ramit,

    In order to keep costs down, I share an apartment with two other guys. I have found it quite helpful to setup a separate ING checking account to handle bills, cleaning supplies, and other misc. items. Everyone has access to the account via the web. We all contribute an agreed upon amount each month and I recently setup automatic bill pay. This has taken the headache of chasing down money that I could better use elsewhere.


    BTW, I love your new book!

  7. I agree with Dees, and I was curious about this myself when I was setting up my accounts after reading your book. It would be much easier to do percentages for those of us paid hourly with varying hours worked per pay period. I haven’t been able to find anything so I thought I’d ask as well.

  8. Interesting stuff, must try to buy the book. Thanks

  9. I love to use Google Calendar for my misc financial reminders too!

    I make an agenda/list and then put a big fat DONE after its taken care of.

  10. Google Calendar now has tasks also so you can feel even better about have that DONE with an official looking line through the task,

    There’s always also for reminders like this.