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The Benefits of Simplicity in Personal Finance

Personal finance and investing doesn’t need to be complicated. You can get 90% of the results in personal finance with 10% of the effort.

Filling a Jar with Rocks

When you want to fill a jar with rocks, the best way to fill it up is to put the big rocks in first. Once the bigger rocks cannot fit into the jar, you place smaller rocks that can fit between the bigger rocks. Finally, you pour in sand to completely fill in the jar.

In personal finance, the big rocks are easy to implement and are very valuable. These are the high-yield tasks in personal finance. The big rocks include negotiating a higher salary at your job, choosing a more affordable home, and driving a less expensive car. Just like studying the high-yield topics will ensure that you pass your medical school tests or board exams, filling in your personal finance jar with the high-yield big rocks will get you where you need to be.

Adding the small rocks will also help your finances but often will take significant effort, which may not be worth it to you.

[Editor’s Note: There are affiliate links in this post and I may get a referral fee if you use or purchase some of the linked products. This helps keep the blog’s lights on. Thank you for supporting the blog! – WSP]

Minimalism: Clutter = Stress

The trend towards simplicity is not confined to personal finance. The minimalism movement is catching fire (like the FIRE movement) and people are reducing the amount of “stuff” they own. Marie Kondo popularized the notion of reducing the stuff you own. The gist of it is that you should take every item you own and think about whether it gives you joy or provides a useful function. If it does not, then you should throw it out.

Similarly, if a personal finance decision is not significantly increasing your wealth, is it worth the effort? If not, stop doing it.

Benefits of Simplicity in Personal Finance

Less Stress

It can be stressful to manage multiple accounts over multiple bank accounts. You have to have multiple logins and keep track of different bill dates. It can be hard to manage multiple credit cards and have to pull out the correct card that will maximize your cashback rewards. It’s time-consuming to travel to four different grocery stores to get the cheapest price on every item on your grocery list.

Easier for spouse and heirs to understand

Your spouse may not be as sophisticated about personal finance as you are, and if you have 10 accounts spread out across 4 banks, it won’t be easy for them to manage your money if you were to prematurely pass away. By keeping your finances simple, they will be able to manage your accounts and be able to take care of themselves and your family.

Warren Buffett has written that he has instructed his estate to invest his money in 90% S&P 500 and 10% short term US government bonds when he dies. If Warren Buffett’s billions can be invested in such a simple way, so can your millions (or thousands).

Less Time Spent

It’s easy to spend a lot of time trying to nitpick and agonize over every small personal finance decision. Life is hectic enough with work and family issues; there are so many more interesting things to do with your limited free time than to micromanage your finances.

There are people who will go out of their way to go to the gas station with the lowest prices. They use apps like GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas prices in the area. They will spend an extra 10 minutes to save a few dollars on their tank of gas. You need to think about the opportunity cost and the value of your time. If you spend an extra 10 minutes to save $3 on your tank of gas, that’s $18/hour. That may be a good salary for a resident, but most residents I know would never moonlight for $18/hour. After residency, no doctor works for $18/hour.

Similarly, if you spend an extra hour to go to a second or third grocery store because you can save $1 a pound on ground beef, that’s not a great use of your time. I understand going to multiple grocery stores if you are looking for specialty items, but not if you’re trying to save money.

Ways to simplify investments and personal finance

Automate bill payment

By using auto-pay, you don’t have to worry about forgetting to pay a bill. To ensure you don’t miss an overcharge, I would set aside a date each month to review all of your account statements. By automating bill payments, you now have one less thing to do each month.

Schedule credit card statement closing dates at the same time

Did you know that you are not bound to the statement closing date that your credit card company sets when you open your credit card account? All it takes is a simple phone call to customer service and ask for a different statement closing date. This means that you can pay all of your credit cards at once, instead of paying them one at a time over the course of a month. If you don’t like auto-pay for your credit cards, this is a great way to simplify your finances.

Automatic investing

You can automate the investment of money into your Fidelity accounts. For example, if you want to set aside $2,000 of your paycheck each month to be invested in your taxable account, then you can do that automatically. This typically consists of two transactions: transfer of money from your checking account into your brokerage account, followed by an automatic purchase of shares.

Use a three-fund portfolio or target-date fund

I’m a big fan of simplifying your investments. Many people spend a lot of time agonizing over which mutual funds to purchase. Even worse, some investors will watch CNBC or go to Yahoo! Finance for trading advice. A lot of this effort ends up being futile, when a three-fund portfolio or target-date fund will do just as well.

Automatically reinvest dividends

One nice trick is to turn on automatic re-investment of your index funds or ETFs. Without automatic re-investment, dividends will accumulate as cash in your account. Some people don’t like automatic re-investment because it creates a lot of tiny tax lots, but brokerages will keep track of these tiny lots for you when it comes time to do your taxes.

Rebalance annually

Rebalancing is important to ensure that your asset allocation does not change as the markets move. If stocks rise much faster than bonds, then after a while you will be overweight stocks. The reverse is true as well. But this does not need to be done more frequently than once per year.

Simple term life and own occupation disability insurance

Doctors need term-life and own-occupation disability insurance. Commission-hungry insurance agents will offer lots of other insurance products, but almost all of these will not be beneficial to you. Even if there theoretically could be an insurance product that would be beneficial for your unique situation, is it worth it to go through the effort to analyze that product to make sure you are not getting a bad deal?

Use an account aggregator

One way to simplify your investments if you have multiple accounts over several banks is to use a financial account aggregator. The most popular one is Mint for budgeting, but an excellent one for organizing your investments is Personal Capital. It helps you track all of your investments in one place. It’s completely free. They may call you to ask if you would like help managing and optimizing your investments, but those services are not necessary for most do-it-yourself investors.

Conclusion

I’ve been taking steps to make my finances simpler, not more complicated. It’s easy to get caught up in micromanaging your finances, especially if you like to read personal finance blogs. But in the end, most of these moves to optimize your finances aren’t worth the time and effort to implement.

What do you think? Have you been making your finances simpler over time? What things have you done to reduce the “clutter” of your finances?

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22 thoughts on “The Benefits of Simplicity in Personal Finance

  1. Great list WSP! Consolidating the number of companies I dealt with also helped me. Due to a few job changes for both my husband and myself, we had old 401ks with multiple companies and investment houses – Principal, Fidelity, Transamerica, American Funds. We moved all of them to rollover IRAs at Vanguard. Reduced expenses and simplicity, win-win!

      1. We also focused on consolidating but not with Vanguard. Even the others tend to give you significant breaks on fees with larger accounts. Fidelity for example waives the HSA fees with accounts larger then a certain number.

          1. I’ll answer for Full Time Finance. Most HSA administrators charge a fee (typically monthly) to administer the account. Fidelity will waive those fees if your HSA balance is over a certain amount.

  2. Nice suggestions.

    I like the analogy of the rocks. I had never heard it. We just went through a decluttering 6 months after moving into our new home. We cleared out a ton of stuff.

    As for simplicity in life and investing, it is often forgotten. We think more is better. I have implemented a lot of these already, but am going to add scheduling credit card dates at the same time to the list for weekend duties!

  3. As my investing has evolved and my group has switched brokers I have several accounts. I wish I could consolidate some things but selling and buying all into one fund would incur commissions.
    The investments are sound but some are mutual funds and some are ETF’s. I just took advantage of the cheapest cost instrument I had available at the time.
    Now everything goes into one of two places so going forward it will be simple. At least I have everything written down for my spouse to negotiate if I’m not around anymore. As I start to drawdown in retirment then I can clean things up more.

  4. Love Love Love this article. I want to have a simple lifestyle when I retire. I am 5 year til retirement so I want to live now like I am in retirement. Keep everything simple.

  5. Love the sentiment of this post! I try to simplify our financial lives as much as possible too; spending one hour a week on finances is much better than one hour a day. More time to read posts like these!

    Take care,
    Neal

  6. Some good advice. Not a big fan of TDFs though due to lack of flexibility and resulting investment management style which I feel leaves investors exposed to unnecessary investment risk.

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