Saving has a reputation for not being much fun. It smacks of deprivation and penny-pinching, of spending your vacation at the Jersey Shore instead of the French Riviera.
About half of Americans say they have only enough cash on hand to live for six months, reports Bankrate.com, and 25% can only pay their bills for three months.
The rest of us, a shocking 25%, have nothing saved at all!
The thing is, saving can be gratifying — yes, even fun — and especially when you start thinking about how much you’ll need in order to live comfortably in retirement. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as checking the balance in your 401(k) or IRA and thinking, “Wow, I’ve got a nice little stash there. Hooray for me!”
Contrary to widespread myth, saving doesn’t mean you have to be on an austerity diet for the rest of your working life. But it does mean that when you save, you should save strategically and when you spend, spend wisely.
Here’s a perfect example: A friend of mine takes her dog for a walk every morning and stops at Starbucks for a coffee drink.
She decided to put herself on a budget. She broke down her expenses to see where her money was going and discovered that daily trip to Starbucks was costing her $550 a month!
When it comes to saving money, automation can be your best friend. If you can’t see your money, then you can’t touch it or spend it. That’s a great saving tool.
Arrange to tuck your money safely away before you even lay eyes on it. Even better, park it in places that penalize you for early withdrawals. Personally, I’m a big fan of automated savings. I take advantage of every opportunity to automatically make deposits into my own savings vehicles.
For many people, though, saving is a challenge. So I usually tell my clients to start small. Setting aside even $25 from every paycheck can make a difference. With every raise you get, increase the amount you put away. Over time, your money will grow.
How to save
When it comes to savings vehicles, there are many choices. Together with your financial advisor, you can weed through them and decide which ones work best for you.
Here are a few places to start:
- A workplace 401(k) is the gold standard of automated savings. If your company offers an employer-matched retirement plan, take advantage of it. Not only are your contributions pre-tax, but the money you save also grows tax-deferred.
- Many savers also go with a traditional IRA. There’s just one hitch: To open an IRA, you have to earn income and the amount of income you earn has to equal or exceed your IRA contributions.
- The Roth IRA is a useful savings vehicle, but there’s been a lot of back and forth about whether a Roth IRA is preferable to a traditional IRA or 401(k). There are some notable differences. A Roth has income limits — you can’t open one if you make too much money — and contributions to a Roth IRA are taxed. In the end, however, there are reasons for both types of IRAs. Why not one of each?
- One financial product that people tend to overlook is the certificate of deposit, or CD. Similar to high-yield savings accounts, a CD offers an easy way to lock up your money for three or six months, even up to five years, and have it earn interest. How much interest it earns depends on the amount you deposit and the length of the designated term. The longer you leave it locked up, the more interest it earns.
If you want to take a vacation — to France or New Jersey — open a vacation savings account and set a goal. Save the money first, then enjoy the holiday. With the right approach to saving and spending, your money will keep growing.