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The amount of money you should save each month depends on what you want your life to look like today and in the future.
While there’s no right answer for everyone, there are some guidelines you can follow to help you decide how much to save.
If you want to be financially secure and eventually have enough money to retire comfortably, you’ll probably want to save as much as you can, while making sure you have enough left over to have a little fun today.
But saving for a future that’s decades away can be challenging when you have bills that need to be paid now, and it would be a lot more fun to go away for the weekend than to save for a rainy day.
That’s why we’re going to explore the three main areas you’ll likely want to save for, why it’s important and how you can set yourself up to save successfully.
Saving for emergencies
Having an emergency fund can help you cover life’s unexpected expenses without having to skip paying bills, take out a loan or use a credit card — all of which can have a negative impact on your financial health. So building up a financial cushion for yourself should be a priority.Why everyone should have an emergency fund
If you don’t have any emergency savings at all, America Saves, a campaign coordinated by the Consumer Federation of America, recommends starting with $500 to $1,000, which can help cover things like an unplanned car repair or medical bill and help prevent you from taking on debt.
But you probably don’t want to stop there. Many experts recommend saving three to six months of living expenses, so you can keep paying your bills and put food on the table if you experience a more serious emergency, like a job loss or extended illness. But keep in mind that you may want to save more or less than that depending on your financial situation.
Saving for retirement
If you want to enjoy a comfortable retirement, it’s important to start saving for it as soon as possible. The earlier you get started, the longer your money will have to grow. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Compensation Survey for 2017, nearly one in four Americans who have access to a retirement plan don’t participate in it.
That’s a missed opportunity, since many experts recommend saving at least 15% of your gross annual income (that includes any employer match) for retirement. And more is better, if you can swing it.
If you can’t save 15%, save what you can — even if it doesn’t seem like much now. At a minimum, try to contribute enough to get your employer’s match if they offer one. Otherwise, it’s like giving away free money. As your income grows or you pay off debt, you can increase the amount you save.
Another way to help you save is to sign up to have contributions automatically taken out of your paycheck. If the money never shows up in your bank account each month, you can get used to living without it.
If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan or you want to start a separate retirement account outside of work, consider opening an IRA. And if you’re self-employed, check out solo 401(k) options.
Saving for other goals
Saving for emergencies and retirement is critical to achieving financial freedom. But chances are there are some other things you want to save for as well — like a down payment for a house, a new car or your children’s college education. Whatever it is, taking the time to save for it (or at least as much of it as possible) makes good financial sense and can help preserve your financial health.
Figuring out your monthly saving goal is simple. Just divide the amount of money you need by the amount of time you have to save. For example, if you’re planning to buy a new car in 18 months, and you want to put $4,500 down, you’ll need to save $250 a month to reach your goal.
After that, if you still have additional income you’re not saving for a specific purpose, you should think about putting it into a retirement account, says Jason Reposa, CEO and co-founder of MyBankTracker. If you’re looking to build additional savings outside of retirement accounts, he suggests looking at other options, such as index funds or mutual funds.
Setting yourself up for success
Worried you won’t be able to save enough for the future and still be able to cover life’s expenses today? Reposa recommends increasing the gap between your income and expenses.
Increase your income
“In the long term, increasing your income makes a lot of sense,” says Reposa.
Here are a few ways you might consider to help boost your earnings.
- Get a side gig. Even a few extra dollars a week can make a difference to your bottom line.
- Save your raises. Instead of increasing your standard of living when you get a raise, save the extra money.
- Get a job with a different company. Some companies pay better (and offer better benefits) than others. You may be able to get a job like the one you have now with a company that pays more salary or offers better benefits like retirement matching.
- Get a different type of job. This probably can’t happen overnight. But if you want to increase your earning potential by changing your line of work, it might be worth investing in learning new skills or going back to school.
Reduce your expenses
Reducing your expenses can be a quick way to boost your savings. After all, the less you spend, the more you can save.
“[But] you can’t just cut everything out and then expect to stick with it,” Reposa says.
If you end up sacrificing too much, it becomes unsustainable.
Instead, you need to strike a balance between “how much you want to reward the future you [and] how much you want to live your life today. That’s the constant battle,” he adds.
But it’s one worth fighting, because having adequate savings can lead to financial independence and help you maintain your current standard of living in retirement.
To figure out how much to save each month, you need to get clear about your short-term and long-term goals and decide how much money you need to allocate to each to achieve them. If you don’t have enough, consider finding a way to earn more or spend less. Remember, when deciding how much to save, it’s important to strike a balance between living your life today and preparing for the future. Ultimately, only you can decide what the right balance is.