McDonald's figured out long ago that, to boost sales, they could ask every customer, "do you want fries with that?"
The concept: make it automatic for the server to ask, and make it easy for the customer to agree.
The McDonald's strategy of automating works in many areas of your life, including personal finance. If you have a goal that's been hard to achieve in years past, try automating it.
A couple examples:
- If you want to boost savings, set up an automatic transfer from your paycheck into an account you will not touch for living expenses. Most people already do this for their retirement accounts. You can also do it for additional savings into a brokerage account.
- If you have cash to invest in the stock market but worry about whether now is the right time to buy, set up an automatic investing program. For example, you could agree to invest a certain amount every month or quarter.
- If you want to cut spending, establish a checking account with a debit card attached and fund the account with predetermined amounts. (And hide your credit card.)
I listened to an interesting podcast recently on this subject, from Shankar Vedantam of Hidden Brain. Most people believe that a key to success is willpower -- willpower to exercise more, save more, learn a new skill, etc. The podcast argues that willpower isn't the solution. Instead, make it as easy as possible to develop the new habit. Want to stop eating ice cream? Empty the freezer. Sure, you can go buy more. But by adding that extra step, you increase the chances you will cut back on ice cream.
As we head into a new decade, many people have made resolutions, including personal finance resolutions. If you want to maximize the chance you'll keep the resolution, make it easier to keep. Automate it.