Should You Automate Your Finances? A Guide for Couples

Lindsay Goldwert
November 18th, 2020 | 6 min

Being in a relationship means checking off boxes on your to-do list. Pick up groceries? Check. Send a wedding present? Check. Do the laundry? Check. Automating your finances means that you don’t have to write yourself a note to manually transfer money into your joint bank account.

It seems like a small thing but removing this task can reduce the time that the two of you spend dealing with your shared money and more time focusing on doing, well, fun things with your money.

But automating your finances is more than just simple convenience. There’s some science behind it.

“Automation allows us to reduce what behavioral economists call ‘the pain of paying,’” said Jeff Kreisler, the co-author of "Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter." “When decisions are automatic, it means we don’t have to think about them, weigh the options, get stressed and uncertain and, potentially, make poor choices.”

That said, there are pros and cons when it comes to automating your money. Here are some things to think about before you switch from manual.

Automate your saving, but watch your spending

Sure, it’s great to automate your bills. But it’s still important to keep an eye on them. Who among us hasn’t looked at their credit card statement and realized that they’ve been paying $7.99 a month for a service they forgot they signed up for or never cancelled after the free trial?

“Automatic bill pay, Apple Pay, all of these can increase our spending because we don’t even notice that we’re paying for things. It might save us a few minutes, but it can cost us a few hundred,” said Kreisler.

But when it comes to saving, automation can be your friend. It feels bad to physically part with money to move it toward your savings because you feel it leaving your checking account. There’s a loss, and we feel it.

“Automation can make savings or investing easier,” he said. “By doing this with your 401k contributions, debt payments, or your savings can make it more likely that you’ll stick with those goals than if we were forced to make those financial decisions each month, week, or payday.”

Reduce fighting but not communication

It’s important to talk about our money–but if we can reduce a few easy things, it’s more time to enjoy time spent together.

“If we can reduce the number of times we have to endure hard or repetitive conversations, it'll just increase the overall joy in a relationship,” said Kreisler.

Your money can be a renewable resource but your time together is not.

“It’s hard enough to find time to connect with our partner given the demands of jobs, kids, hobbies,” he said. “It’s better to have those rare moments reserved for loving, laughing and planning to do fun stuff together.

That said, automating your finances without talking about why you’re doing it or discussing the goals behind it is just using technology to wallpaper over your money issues.

“Automation has it’s traps but it also reduces how often we have to worry about small recurring financial decisions and how often we have to bring that worry into our relationships,” he said.

How to do automation right

Make a Money Date. Kriesler recommends regular financial check-ins rather than a bunch of small nags, notes, and harried chats. (We also recommend Money Dates).

Get a third opinion. Find a trusted person who isn’t your partner to talk to about your finances and how you’re handling them as a team. Kreisler recommends getting input from someone who doesn’t also have emotional investment in your outcomes in order to get a gut check.

Consider automating your discretionary spending into separate accounts. Automating your finances doesn’t have to only go toward your shared expenses. It can also go toward your own spending. Consider automating your savings toward accounts that are yours and yours alone, so you can spend as you please without asking the other person if it’s okay.

Combined with a lot of communication, automating your finances can help you save and spend together and separately. That means fewer arguments and more time spent saving for adventures.

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