For most of us, “Spend less, save more” is a new year’s resolution worth keeping. In this space last week, we talked about ways to do the former. This week, we tackle the second part of that resolution. How do you set more money aside and save it, whether for retirement or a Caribbean vacation?
“The key is to have concrete goals,” said Paul A. Yurachek, an Ameriprise Financial private wealth adviser at Gurtz, Yurachek, Brostrom & Associates in Bethesda. “You have to ask: What am I saving for? Some people save for education. Others may want to take a vacation every year. Setting aside X amount each month for a specific goal makes saving easier.”
Three personal finance experts gave us their money-saving strategies. All agreed that having a plan makes saving money a realistic resolution.
Don’t go it alone: Make saving painless by automatically transferring X amount of money from your checking account to your savings account monthly. “That’s what makes the 401(k) workplace retirement plan helpful. You adapt your spending to the money coming in,” said Janet Bodnar, editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. And do it at the beginning of each month, Bodnar recommends.
Have many savings accounts: Some banks don’t charge to have multiple accounts. Separating your savings into accounts for necessities, vacations, emergencies and large expenditures helps you organize your budget.
Know where to put savings: If you’re saving for retirement, put your money in a 401(k). If you’re saving for a down payment on a house or car, put that money in a savings account or a money market fund. Emergency money should be in an account you can access easily.
Age matters: Start ’em young, folks. The later you start saving, the larger percentage of your income you need to put away. “If [you start saving] in your early 20s, 10 to 15 percent [of gross income] is recommended,” said Antwone Harris, a certified financial planner with Charles Schwab in Washington. “If you start saving in your 30s, we recommend 15 to 25 percent. And at 40, we recommend saving 25 to 35 percent.”
Always meet your match: If you’re putting money into a retirement savings account such as a 401(k), most companies will match your savings up to a certain percentage. On average, companies will match between 3 and 5 percent. “Always save enough to capture any employer match. That’s free money,” Bodnar said.
Save for the rainiest day: You lose your job. Now what? Money set aside for unemployment or unexpected circumstances should be separate from your retirement savings, because you never want to dip into a 40(k) early. “Rule of thumb: If you’re single, you should have six months of living expenses saved in a separate savings account,” Harris said. “If there are two incomes . . . each person should save three months’ worth of expenses.”
The mattress is not a bank: Hurricanes and earthquakes taught us the value of having cash on hand. (Bodnar recommends having a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.) Still, stacks of Benjamins in a drawer is risky. “You should not keep large amounts of cash on hand in your house,” Yurachek said. “So many of my clients have found cash belonging to their parents in a book. Anything in an envelope or stuffed in a mattress can be . . . thrown out, so keep emergency savings in the bank.”
Visualize the goal: Put a photo of Paris on your refrigerator if you’re saving for “La Vie en Rose.” Seeing a constant reminder of the goals you’re saving for is the best way to ensure you’ll reach them.
Earmark your savings: Some personal finance experts still believe in the old-fashioned envelope system of setting aside a fixed amount of cash for clothing or entertainment each month. Psychologically, it helps to earmark savings, whether you use a savings account or a piggy bank.
Keep the change: Pick up that dime you see on the street. Coins add up. “Just do the little things, like tossing loose change into a glass jar,” said Bodnar, who recommends saving found money in a piggy bank. “I met a guy once who saved loose change in a bank, and he used the money as his gift fund every Christmas. He usually saved $900 to $1,000 just from emptying his pockets. It can really add up.”
THE BOTTOM LINE It’s never too early (or too late) to start saving. Have a clear plan that outlines specific goals and don’t try to do it alone. Have your bank automatically set aside money each month and take advantage of free budgeting resources at Ameriprise.com and SchwabMoneyWise.com to help you get on your way.