By Maria MacDougal, College Access Counselor at FAME, one of Maine Jump$tart’s foundational partners and sponsors. Reposted with permission from Munchies, Money, and Mumblings.
My dear readers! I hope you are well. Sorry I’ve been somewhat MIA. This social distancing thing is hard. As an extrovert, I’m struggling. But, I’m managing and I need to remember that writing helps me tremendously.
I debated writing about this topic, because I recognize that so many folks are struggling financially right now. I’m very fortunate to still be working full time from home, we’re okay. I’ve even been able to donate to some people and causes I care about which is very rewarding. Most importantly, we have savings. Granted, the majority of that is savings for our house but I’ve got an emergency fund that I am grateful for. I went from a pretty bleak financial place 3 years ago to a much much more stable situation. Hell, ya girl is even investing! I thought it would be worthwhile to share some tips that helped me build a cushion and invest in future Maria. If you’re unable to take these tips now, save them for a time when things are a bit more stable for you. Also, shout out to the triple M Facebook group for feedback regarding this post!
Disclaimer: This is what worked for me. You will likely need to make some adaptations to fit your budget, income, habits etc. I do teach financial literacy as part of my work but I am not a CPA or certified financial advisor, so I’m not going into anything about taxes or that deep into investments (I pay a guy to do that for me!). I can help with budgeting, saving etc. and am happy to assist you however I am able.
I used to have a savings account attached to my checking account. But I have no self-control so I had to also set up a separate savings account. It was too easy to move money from savings to checking when I “needed” new shoes. I also hadn’t been automating savings, which was a mistake. Relying on myself to move money into savings meant that it wouldn’t happen regularly. I needed a set-it-and-forget-it plan; the George Foreman grill of savings, if you will.
Here are my savings account tips:
Pay yourself first: Figure out the amount you want to budget for savings and then automate saving that amount. Financial experts say you should save 10% of your salary per month, but I understand how unrealistic that is for people. I’m saving around 15% of mine between saving my retirement (not counting my employer retirement), but it took me YEARS to get there. Something is better than nothing. Even if you can save $10/month, you’re building the habit. You can increase it as you are able. I used to think I’d save what was leftover from my bills/budget, but it honestly never happened. Now, since I’ve prioritized saving, I’ve been able to save a more than decent emergency fund and work on saving for our house. It comes out of my paycheck and goes right into savings before I ever see it.
Get a high yield account: Savings at a bank or credit union where you do your banking is fine, but right now it seems like the online banks are offering better interest rates. You’ll need to do a little research, but I’ve had great luck with Discover Bank. Yes, they are the credit card people, but before COVID-19, I was getting 2.8% (even now I am getting 1.49% vs. the 1% in my credit union savings account). Let your money make you some money! Plus, it’s not a branch I can go to, nor do I have a card that allows me to access it.
Automate: If you direct deposit and your employer can deposit a portion of your check into savings, do it that way. Then it’s really out of sight/out of mind. If your employer doesn’t offer this, you can still automate on your own. Maybe you’re more disciplined and trustworthy than I am at this, but knowing myself, automating the process was the best option.
If a piggy-bank is your jam, that’s fine too, but remember that money that isn’t in a bank doesn’t have the potential to grow! That said, I do have a change jar. I add all coins, plus $1 and $5 bills which I am tricked myself into considering as change. Once the jar is full, I Coinstar that shit and deposit it right into savings. A bonus tip for ya!
Guess what, I know very little about this topic. In fact, I’ve taken some free courses on it but I still don’t feel comfortable on my own. But, here are a couple tips.
There’s an app for that: As a way to dip my toe into investing, I downloaded the Acorns app. You can round-up your purchases and then once you hit $5, it gets invested. You can also choose a monthly amount on top of that. It’s like another savings account for me, but it gets invested instead of earning interest. A great way to dabble in investing. I’ve got this one set up a bit more aggressively than my other retirement accounts, because it isn’t my primary and I want to see what happens. But the round ups make it a great easy investment app.
Get help! I knew I wanted to open a Roth IRA in addition to my employer sponsored retirement, but I also knew I didn’t want to manage it on my own. I know very little about the market and investing, and despite the fact that I teach financial literacy, I also know when to acknowledge what I don’t know. I ended up going with Edward Jones for my investing, after years at Fidelity. I actually met my advisor through a work function, and after a few conversations, I knew he’d be the right person to manage my investments. David is professional, friendly, and willing to work with me despite the fact that I don’t make millions (yet!). If you want investment help, call David and tell him I sent you.
Real talk: I’ve said it here before, I grew up very low income. Neither of my parents had any retirement funds set aside and we lived paycheck to paycheck with public assistance. We got by. We did okay. But I don’t want to do that to present or future Maria, or to my family. I’m investing in myself. I want to retire someday, have enough to leave to my family, and maybe even start a scholarship fund. #goals, am I right?
Tell me, what are your saving habits? Questions about budgeting or saving- send them my way!
The views, information, or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect those of the Maine Jumpstart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.