Whether you are about to graduate college, just landed a new job, decided to review your finances, or simply stumbled upon this post (hi!), it’s the perfect time to take a look at your spending and saving habits and make sure you’re taking these FIVE steps to reach financial success and live your best life ever!
Step 1 – Spend Less than you Make
The number rule in adulting is to learn to spend less than you make and save a little for the future.
Read more about how exactly to do this HERE. If you are blessed with nailing this concept from the beginning: what’s next?
Step 2 – Save Money
The main planning you need to worry about next is where to put your “saving money”. You have retirement plans, non-retirement investment accounts, the bank/savings/checking, and possibly debt to pay.
If you have debt, you do want to address that first. How much is the interest you’re paying? If it’s credit card debt, it’s probably 18% – 27%. That’s A LOT! There’s not much that will get you a better return than paying that debt. It’s sort of like having a bond in reverse. If you pay $1,000 extra, you will be saving 18%-27% which is like a $1,000 bond paying you 18%-27% or $180 – $270. That’s a great return!
The only thing that is a better return is if you can put money in a retirement account, a 401(k) or 403(b), and have your employer match it. If you put in $1,000 and your employer matches and puts $1,000, that’s 100% return! I don’t know of any “sure thing” investment that will do better than 100%. The problem is that it’s hard to get that money out. And if you need to take it out, you’ll pay taxes (at your tax bracket for federal and state) and a 10% penalty. So still a great deal but it’s not “liquid” or available money.
Step 3 – Build an Emergency Fund
Why does having easily available money matter? If you get a traffic ticket or a flat tire or sick and have to pay for care, you’ll need cash in hand. The money in your retirement account won’t help you much. So you’ll need an emergency fund. How much do you put in an emergency fund and how big should your emergency fund be?
Well, this is where it gets tricky. If you can save 10% of your pay check and you have matching funds, consider putting 5% in your retirement account and 5% in your emergency fund until your emergency fund is half full.
What’s half full for an emergency fund? If you have a corporate job with a steady pay check, 3 months of expenses. Keep your emergency money either in the bank, in a savings account, earning interest or in a brokerage account (like a non-retirement Vanguard or Fidelity account) in a money market. Either will hopefully be paying 1% – 2% right now. If your emergency fund is in an account that’s earning less than 1% consider moving it.
If you are a freelancer that has fluctuating income (one month is a boom month and the next a bust), you need a larger emergency fund. Think more like six months to a year saved up. We suggest having a year in cash or cash equivalents.
Step 4 – Take a Deep Breath + Deal with your Debt
What if you have debt too!?!? Then it gets even more complicated! But don’t worry, YOU GOT THIS. You just HAVE to save for emergencies. If you don’t, you’ll be raking up even MORE debt when you get that flat tire or surprise trip to Urgent Care. And you really don’t want to miss out on your company’s matching funds either. So like many things, we recommend balance here.
Just like protein is good for you but you don’t want to skip your fat or carbs (fruits and veggies). With the retirement, emergency fund, debt trio, you need to balance your savings among all three until you’ve gotten on your feet.
If you have credit card debt, you have to pay the minimum. No debate about that. Figure out how much that amount is and look at how much savings you have left to allocate. At that point, if you are dividing up 10%, if you have matching money from your company for your contributions, I would continue to put 5% into your retirement account. And split the rest between your debt and emergency fund until you have at least half your emergency fund filled or you pay off your debt.
What about if you don’t have matching funds? Skip the retirement savings until you have your debt is under control and at least half of your emergency fund is filled. Why? Your debt is losing you money now. Your retirement fund is hopefully going to save you money in the future. It probably will but how much and when is uncertain. The 25% you will not be paying in interest on your debt is a sure thing now.
Also, debt is like an anchor that prevents you from living your dreams. A retirement and emergency accounts are the sails that helps you reach your dream destitution. But just like a ship that has it’s sails up but anchor down doesn’t move far, you also will be stalled in your progress until the debt is under control.
If you can save 20% or 30% or more now, do it! Believe it or not, the younger you are the easier it is to cut your expenses. As you get older, you have more expenses and expectations. It’s easy to live frugally and get your financial foundation rock solid.
On the other hand, if you’re getting off to a rocky start with low wages, that’s a bummer. You’ll also have to watch your expenses but will make less progress on your emergency fund, retirement savings, and debt. Keep working hard, looking for a better job, and find side gigs. Persistency can get you really far. Don’t give up and keep working hard to improve your income opportunities. We truly, truly believe in you.
Step 5 – Have Fun!!!
When planning your day to day budget, do set a little aside for some fun. A weekend away, a night out with friends, a concert or sports event. You do need to live your life and planning for fun will help you feel fulfilled. Don’t spend money on things that don’t matter to you, just because others are spending money (that perhaps they don’t even have) or it sounds good in the moment. Spend on purpose.
And there you have it, FIVE steps to reach financial success and live your best life ever!
If all of this sounds easier said than done, schedule a FREE 15 minute call with us. We are here to help!