Saving for me is like breathing. It just comes naturally.
A few days leading up to the new year, “#2020WillBeTheYearFor” was trending on Twitter.
You may not have been born to save, but what if 2020 is the year that you finally stick to past promises to build up a substantial emergency fund?
Of course, many Americans live paycheck to paycheck, leaving little to nothing left over for saving. However, if that’s not you — and if you know you really could save more — then do it this year.
The Pew Charitable Trusts found in a 2015 survey that even well-off households are not prepared to handle a financial shock, such as a major car repair or a loss of income. Pew reported that 1 in 3 American families had no savings, including 1 in 10 of those with incomes of more than $100,000 a year.
The Federal Reserve, which surveys households about their financial health, found last year that 61 percent of adults could weather an unexpected $400 expense with cash, savings or a credit card paid off at the next statement. However, 27 percent would have to borrow or sell something, and 12 percent couldn't cover the expense at all.
“Volatile income and low savings can turn common experiences, such as waiting a few days for a bank deposit to be available, into a problem for some,” the Federal Reserve said.
You’ve no doubt heard that you should save at least three to six months of living expenses in an emergency fund. That’s a daunting goal and often seems so impossible that people don’t save anything.
But what if you started small, beginning with just $1?
For 2020, try the incremental 52-Week Savings Challenge, and by the end of the year — barring a financial shock — you’ll have socked away $1,378, not counting any interest you may have earned.
Here’s how this challenge works. Starting with the first week in January, you save just $1. Week two, you save $2; week three, you’ll put away $3, and so on. Your weekly savings amount corresponds to the week of the year. For many of you, it’ll get harder as you get closer to the end of the year, when your deposit will be much larger per week. However, don’t give up. Just save what you can.
Even with the first $1, I suggest you electronically transfer each weekly amount into a dedicated checking or savings account.
You don’t want bank fees to erode your savings, so look for a financial institution that doesn’t charge monthly fees. To find a list of banks with no-fee checking accounts, go to Bankrate.com and search for “Best Checking Accounts for January 2020.” The site regularly surveys rates at about 4,800 banks and credit unions in all 50 states.
Additionally, here are a few ways to find money as the year progresses and the dollar amounts start to climb.
— Take a break from your coffee habit. Depending on your typical order, this could be enough to cover some of the weeks when the deposits are in the double digits.
— Suspend your streaming services. Your favorite shows will still be there to binge-watch when you rejoin.
— Stop eating meals away from home. Okay, I probably can’t get you to stop eating out for an entire year. But you can do it for a few weeks or months, right?
One reader does the 52-week challenge with a twist.
“I’m fortunate that I can actually do this in increments of $10, and I’ve saved over $13,000 per year doing this for the past five years,” the reader wrote. “It’s actually been a fun way to save, and I look forward to each Friday morning when I move my weekly contribution from my checking account.”
This is clearly an ambitious savings schedule. But if you want to change things up — as an alternative to the standard challenge — you could reverse the plan and start out saving $52 for the first week and count backward so that you’ll only need to save a few dollars a week at the end of the year, when there’s more pressure on you to spend for the holidays.
If you decide to do the challenge, send me updates as the year goes by. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet me @SingletaryM. I’ll be your cheerleader and accountability partner along the way. Together, let’s make 2020 the year for saving.
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or email@example.com. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to http://wapo.st/michelle-singletary.