I was getting ice cream outside Central Park with a friend one summer in 2013. The ice cream man only took cash, and my friend asked if I had any on me. I later learned my friend never carried cash with him. As a tourist from the third world, I found it ridiculous yet astounding.
Over the years, I appreciated it in practice on subsequent U.S. trips or the occasional jaunt to Hong Kong. This eventually led to me fervently trying to replicate with the limited tools and services available in Manila.
Ultimately the research, the workarounds, and testing opened the doors beyond a personal cashless protocol into the world of financial automation.
It may very well be the reason why I work in financial technology today.
By 2020, banks and tech had caught up enough that my system was almost completely automated. I never had to see another bill or even look at my bank statements if I didn’t want to.
Personal finances, albeit substantial, are but another tool in support of daily life. As humans, we’re prone to attaching emotion to things— especially if they deal with accumulation and loss.
Automating away the human component of saving, investing, and paying bills leaves us with the fun bit— spending (guilt-free).
Having moved countries recently, I’ve since simplified and tweaked my setup to leverage the local banking system.
Let’s dive in.
I’ve pointed all my sources of income to deposit to an account I’ve nicknamed transactional. This account is intended to be the landing zone for incoming funds.
During certain days of the month, automated transfers take a set amount from transactional and send it to other accounts I’ve set up for deliberate purposes.
There are also automated transfers specifically for paying rent.
Tip: This can also be replicated with post-dated checks.
Credit cards are set to auto-debit from this account.
75% of my expenses are coursed through my credit card. When used properly, a credit card is one of the most powerful tools in personal finance. It’s a convenient way to track your expenses, build credit, and of course, carry less cash. A lot of credit cards also provide great rewards and benefits.
For the system to succeed, there must always be enough money in transactional whenever a credit card auto-debits from it.
When starting out, you should be vigilant with a budget to ensure nothing overdraws. Leaving extra money in transactional as a buffer will also help.
Lastly, always pay your balances in full. Have your credit card draw the full balance every time.
Conventional wisdom dictates having an emergency fund with roughly 3 - 6 months in living expenses.
Gunning beyond that figure will not only prepare you for larger emergencies but also the ability to assess situations and opportunities without fear.
I still constantly devote some funds to the emergency account. Once a quarter I assess and rebalance towards savings if needed.
I designate around 20% of my income for goal-oriented savings.
Be it a vacation, or an upcoming hefty purchase, the way I’ve set up the savings account is to optimize for low-risk and near-immediate liquidity. At the time of writing, the funds in this account are supporting a recent move.
I tend to gravitate towards digital banks as they usually offer higher interest rates and better liquidity compared to even time-deposits from larger banks.
Tip: Some banks offer sub-accounts. This allows you to segragate funds within the same account for specific goals.
This is a collection of brokerage accounts I use to maintain a diversified portfolio. From low risk all the way to cryptocurrency.
Around 15% of income is earmarked for investments. This is my main driver towards the equivalent of a traditional retirement.
In rare scenarios — usually when traveling— cash still has its time and place. As much as I enjoy one-tap transactions, there are times when you just gotta have that ice cream.
Overall, this system is what works for me with the tools and services I have available. Different countries will have different offerings, but I hope this can serve as inspiration for what’s possible.