Six ways to use technology in 2019

In recent years, I’ve noticed my willingness to embrace new technology – and new things in general – has waned. But when I make the effort, I’m often richly rewarded. Let me share a small example. 

We moved into a new house a couple of years ago, and a seemingly little thing irritated me nearly every night. In the master bedroom, our light switch is not handy from the bed. You may think “no big deal,” but pair that with the periodic nocturnal appearance of scorpions, and you have a recipe for disaster. I want to see where I’m walking. A couple of months ago, my sense of urgency was heightened when I was stung by one of the little predators. Enter our new, high-tech light. It allows us to voice-control the lights in our bedroom to safely navigate at night. Life is good.

That’s a long way to get to my point. This year, embrace technologies that will keep you out of the dark as you navigate your finances. Here are six ways to do that:

Split paycheck Some conversations with the folks at America Saves reminded me of the power of a “pay yourself first” lifestyle. If you have a 401(k) or employer retirement plan, you’ve already embraced it. You can apply the same concept to building an emergency fund or setting aside money for other goals by directing a portion of your paycheck to a savings account, thus a “split paycheck.” 

Budgeting tools The potential power of these tools was driven home when I attended a military spouse event last month. I spoke with a lady who had struck gold – or that’s what you would have thought if you had seen the gleam in her eye as she showed me the budgeting app she was using to track every single penny her family spent. Reminders, alerts, encouragement and grim “red zone” spending warnings were all part of the allure. Check out usaa.com/moneymanager to learn more about our offering, and use technology to turn “budget” into a verb. 

Neat savings nudges One of the things I like about the military’s new blended retirement system is that it includes an auto-enrollment feature. At USAA, our 401(k) allows employees to sign up for an automatic escalation program that increases their 401(k) contributions each year. Your bank may have a “round up” program or something that helps make savings a “no action required” habit. Make it easy and you are more likely to get it done.  

News feed (if used correctly) Easy access to a stream of motivational and informational personal finance articles can keep you up to date on the latest and greatest (and the oldies but goodies) money management news, notes and techniques. Of course, if daily headlines start driving your investment moves, you could find yourself less rather than more financially secure.

Robo-advisers Speaking of steering clear of headline-driven investment moves, there are numerous inexpensive investments managed-type accounts that utilize technology to build, rebalance, and in some cases even incorporate income tax-management strategies for your investment portfolio. What a difference a decade makes. Investments and portfolio management are accessible and inexpensive. 

Smart shopping Whether you’re shopping for a once-in-a-decade (nudge!) new car or restocking groceries, you can shop, compare and save using a wide variety of apps. Remember, though, an on-sale impulse buy does not represent savings.

Make 2019 the year you flip the switch and allow technology to power you to a better place.

J.J. Montanaro is a certified financial planner with USAA, The American Legion’s preferred provider of financial services. Submit questions for him online.