Whether they do it or not, everyone knows they’re supposed to save money. But it’s easier to squirrel away cash when you know what you’re saving it for. The terms “savings” and even “emergency fund” are too broad to count as achievable goals. The trick is to segment your savings targets into individual must-have pots of money on the side.
These are the things to save for today so you’re not stuck wishing you had tomorrow.
First, focus on the truly important stuff and dedicate at least some of your savings to the things that make life worth living.
“Life’s milestones are not all practical and responsible,” said Samantha Hawrylack, a personal finance expert, retirement mentor and co-founder of the personal finance site How To FIRE. “Vacations are also important and should be saved for, but it’s better to wait a few years until your vacation fund is fully funded rather than going into debt for an expensive tropical holiday today.”
If trips to the beach aren’t your thing, save for dinners out, renting a sports car for a weekend or whatever makes you feel alive.
While vacations are vital to life quality, you’ll regret taking one before you save enough to survive the involuntary vacation from work that might be just around the corner.
“Navigating through periods of unemployment can be a daunting experience,” said Tim Schmidt, founder of IRA Investing. “I remember a time when I had to close down one of my early businesses due to market changes. However, having a safety net made the transition less stressful and allowed me to bounce back quicker than I’d have done otherwise.”
The money you set aside to get you through a few months of unemployment is part of your emergency fund for the here and now. But if you’re not saving for retirement at the same time, you’re making an even uglier emergency inevitable years from now, when it’s too late to right the ship.
“There are many important things to save for, but from my experience, the most important aspect is savings for retirement,” said Baruch Silvermann, financial expert and CEO of The Smart Investor. “At every stage of life, there are various ways to tackle financial difficulties. You can work harder, rely on support from your parents or close family or even reinvent yourself to overcome financial problems. You might not achieve all of your long-term goals, but you have options to deal with crises.”
But those options start to evaporate when you hit retirement age and all you have is your nest egg.
“If you haven’t saved enough or if your financial resources have diminished, your ability to change the situation becomes limited,” said Silvermann. “You’re older, your health may not be as good and time is running out. That’s why saving for retirement is the most critical aspect of saving money.”
It’s easy to feel like you don’t have to worry about medical costs if you have health insurance, but depending on your plan, even a fairly modest injury, illness or hospital stay could set you back thousands. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average deductible for individual workplace coverage was $1,763 in 2022 — $2,543 for small companies and $1,493 for big ones.
If you’re covered through the ACA Marketplace, it’s $4,890 for silver plans, which are the most popular. But if you save money on monthly premiums by opting for a bronze plan, the average is $7,481 — and you could be on the hook for every dollar before your insurer starts kicking in.
“Your funds shouldn’t be wiped out by an unplanned illness or hospital stay, and you shouldn’t have financial struggles as a result of a health issue,” said Hawrylack.
According to Kelley Blue Book, the average car repair in 2023 is $548.32, but anyone who has owned a car out of warranty knows that when it comes to mechanical failure, the hits tend to come in waves — and $550 has a way of turning into $1,100. Same if you own a house. According to American Family Insurance, it’s best to budget 1% of the cost of your home for annual maintenance. For a $250,000 house, that’s $2,500 per year or $209 per month.
If you don’t have money saved for the inevitable repair, you’ll have to dip into the cash that’s supposed to protect you from unemployment, or even worse, turn your credit cards.
“Unexpected home and car repairs can quickly turn your finances upside down,” said Schmidt. “Setting aside a repair fund has saved me from headaches more than once.”
According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of college, including supplies, books and daily expenses, is $36,436 per person per year — even public institutions are up to $26,027 annually.
If you have kids, that’s not an expense you want sneaking up on you.
“Having a plan in place early can alleviate the burden of student loans later,” said Dennis Shirshikov, professor of finance, economics and accounting at the City University of New York and the head of growth at Awning. “Consider setting up a 529 plan, which offers tax benefits for education savings. This was a path my niece took, and she managed to graduate with minimal student loan debt, which gave her a great start in her adult life.”
One of the reasons it’s so important to save for college early is that parents tend to get older and more expensive at the same time as kids.
“Many don’t factor in the potential financial responsibility of caring for aging parents,” said Shirshikov. “However, with increasing life expectancies, this is becoming a common reality. From assisted living to medical expenses, costs can quickly accumulate.”
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