For many people, saving money in a bank account is a real struggle. Everyone knows they should save, but many are confused on techniques to be successful. Questions such as “should I save for retirement or an emergency fund?” or “how can I save in my already strained budget?” are common. I will touch on a few roadmaps and strategies I have used to become successful at saving money.
The first technique I use seems pretty simple. I just use my workplace 401(k) plan to scrape my retirement savings off the top before I even see my net pay. Think of this like a tax payable to you at some point in the future. While Social Security is somewhat of a safety net, it likely won’t provide enough for a comfortable retirement, especially with the rising costs of healthcare. Saving something, especially in your younger years, will pay off big because the money has more time to grow. If you start saving later, then you will likely end up having to more to retirement, with less time to let your investments compound.
There is no hard and fast rule about how much you should allocate to this, but the more the better. Dave Ramsey’s retirement page suggests 15% of your gross household income, not including any company match. While 15% is a great number to shoot for, this may be difficult for those just starting out in their field or those that have student loans weighing them down. In addition to Dave Ramsey’s site, Fidelity also has a great set of calculators you can use for free to get an idea of what you need to save. If your company has a match, contribute at least the minimum to receive the match because this is “free” money, or at least extra compensation that can grow and can be worth much more down the road. If you are up to your ears in debt, then I would recommend stopping any retirement saving and putting every extra cent into paying down high-interest debt. Another tip, don’t turn down your savings so that you can “afford” a new car with a high payment or a house that is too expensive. The older you, at age 65 will thank you for having self-control!
The second technique is using a zero-based budget that includes a line item for saving. Now that your retirement fund(s) are automatically accumulating, you don’t need to have a line item unless you have separate accounts that pull from your net paycheck or net income, if you are self-employed. Start with your expected monthly net take-home pay and list out your expenses.
You should have some room built in for savings. I typically plan out my expenses for each paycheck and there is something left over. Sometimes it is a small amount, other times it can be a good chunk of money. Maybe you can’t save on some paydays but can save more on some others? Either way, you should have savings for an emergency fund, then savings for other goals such as a new car, house down payments, college tuition, and so forth. If you don’t have anything special to save for, really evaluate your future needs for big-ticket items and plan for something to need replacement. There is always something that you can be saving for to avoid going into debt in the future.
If you don’t have enough money for savings or extra debt payoff, you need to think about what you can cut to get more money in your budget. If you have cut to bare-bones and are still coming up short, think about how you can grow your income. Side hustles, or second jobs, are a good way to plug your budget holes, especially if the cash flow crunch is temporary due to paying off debt. If the shortage is permanent, think about what you can do to increase your income permanently, whether applying for better paying jobs, or re-training for a more lucrative career.
My last tip is to always be looking for “found” money, or windfalls. These can be great ways to build up your savings faster than planned. Income tax refunds, credit card cash back checks, birthday gifts, or refunds are all common and can boost savings quickly. Also look around the house for items you no longer use and try to sell them on Craigslist, LetGo, NextDoor, or FaceBook Marketplace. Social media makes it so much easier to sell things quickly while decluttering our homes.
Be sure to sock that money away in a safe, FDIC insured, high-yield savings account. Some online banks are offering accounts with yields between 1.5% and 1.75% APR. This is far better than the standard .05% paid by many large national banks. You can visit NerdWallet.com for a review of the best savings accounts, plus ones with one-time bonuses for depositing larger amounts.
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