12/2/2013 4:45 PM ET|
How much of your pay should you save?
Often, the last thing on your mind when you get your paycheck is 'How much of this am I going to put in the bank?' But you know you have to save -- here's a primer on how to do it.
When it comes to making financial progress, we can all agree that saving for the future is a critical part of the equation. But how much are you supposed to be socking away exactly?
According to the 50/20/30 rule, your monthly budget should be divided into three distinct categories of expenses: 50 percent should be reserved for essentials (think housing and food), 30 percent should be allocated for lifestyle choices (things like nights out and 121 channels of cable) … and at least 20 percent should go toward what we call “financial priorities,” which include debt payments, retirement contributions and, of course, savings.
Since these percentages are divisions of your net pay -- the after-tax income that you bring home -- someone who makes, say, $35,000 a year should set aside at least about $4,800 for financial priorities.
Think that sounds like kind of a lot? You aren’t alone.
That’s why we spoke to LearnVest Planning Services CFP® Tonya Oliver-Boston to find out if we really need to allocate 20 percent of our income toward financial priorities each year—and how much of that 20 percent should go into savings.
Why anyone can (and should!) follow the 20 percent rule
For many people, putting at least 20 percent of their net pay toward financial priorities isn’t actually all that difficult. In fact, Oliver-Boston finds that the biggest problem clients generally face isn’t that they can’t manage to allocate the 20 percent for financial priorities—rather, it’s that outsized debt, like student loans and high credit card balances, that eats up most of that 20 percent, leaving little left over for savings. But as Oliver-Boston cautions: ”Even if you have debt in excess of 20 percent of your net income, you still need to find a way to save!”
Translation: Prioritizing one financial priority doesn’t mean that you can ignore the others—be it debt payments, adding to your emergency fund, contributing to your retirement, or other savings goals, like accruing enough money for a down payment on a house.
So what’s the best way to divvy up that 20 percent across all of your financial priorities? ”It depends on the individual situation,” says Oliver-Boston. “But emergency savings and payments on high-interest debt tend to fight for first priority.” Retirement, she adds, is usually a strong third because it’s critical for your long-term financial health, followed by other savings goals, like that down payment we mentioned.
Need real-life examples? According to Oliver-Boston, if a client has a lot of high-interest debt but also has emergency savings, the client’s first priority would most likely be the debt because she has money in place to support her should she find herself in a situation in which her income could no longer cover her living expenses. If a client is cash-strapped, however, putting money into an emergency fund would probably take priority because the client doesn’t have the necessary cushion to cover her day-to-day expenses should an emergency arise.
Think you can’t save enough? Think again
In most cases, it’s unlikely that you simply don’t have the money to put toward your financial priorities. It’s more likely, explains Oliver-Boston, that you’re devoting too much of your income to another category of spending.
For instance, if your essential expenses are in excess of 50 percent, there’s a good chance that the culprit is a rent or mortgage payment that’s too high for your income. There’s good news and bad news here: On the bright side, you can quickly free up a lot of money. On the not-so-bright side, you’ll have to make a big change to do it … like a move.
“It’s a sticky situation,” says Oliver-Boston, “because you can’t make a client move. But when it’s pointed out to you that the troublesome element of your budget is a fixed percentage, it shouldn’t be surprising that you don’t feel like you’re getting ahead.”
If it isn’t your fixed expenses that are throwing your budget out of whack, then it’s probably your lifestyle choices. This, too, is changeable. Since few things you truly need fall into this category, you should be able to eliminate lifestyle expenses fairly easily. That said, since dinners out tend to add up slower than, say, rent, it might take a while.
“It’s almost like weight loss,” says Oliver-Boston. “Changing your essential expenses is the equivalent of having surgery—it’s immediate, so you see the change right away. But changing your discretionary spending is like losing a pound a week. It will take a bit, but you’ll get there.”
To be fair, Oliver-Boston qualifies, the people who are having trouble saving 20 percent aren’t necessarily making unwise choices when it comes to properly allocating their money. “During the downturn, a lot of people used credit cards to get by without an understanding of how much debt is too much,” she says. “And now they’re getting jobs at lower pay rates, plus the student loans they deferred are now due.” So although many people in this situation are working, she says, they’re not making as much, so they continue to use credit cards to get by. “For these people,” she says, “the change they would need to make in their lifestyles to save enough money would be dramatic.”
But regardless of whether your budget is a little unbalanced or you’re recovering from a major financial shock, Oliver-Boston’s advice for finding the funds for your financial priorities is the same. “First of all, you need to take a realistic look at your expenses, because turning a blind eye isn’t helping anybody,” she advises. “And, second of all, you have to be willing to change.”
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But the biggest thing is fast food and laziness. Most people spend one meal a day at fast food establishments at $6 to $8 a meal. Pack a sandwich, fruit, and snack like we did 20 years ago. I'm 45 and I don't remember my parents or co-workers hardly EVER going out to MacDonalds for lunch. Maybe one meal a month at any restaurant. Most countries people don't even have the option of fast food. You could save $5 a day, that's $150 a month. Lazy Americans, that's what the real world sees us as, and they are correct for 50% of us American's.
When I was a teenager my parents stressed the importance of working hard, staying out of debt, and saving for a rainy day. I was the eldest of four children and my mom and dad insisted that I should set a good example to my younger siblings. I had a part time job at fifteen. I started buying my own clothes at that age and with my parents help I got my own checking account to pay my bills. By the time I was eighteen I knew how to balance my checking account and manage my own money.
I worked two full time jobs for a number of years, and then a full time a part time job and put myself through college. I saved my money, stayed out of debt, and had a rainy day fund. I learned to invest my money in my thirties, create a budget and a retirement and investment plan. I lived through a number of economic downturns and have lost my job and had to start over again.
Throughout life’s ups and downs I have stuck to my plan and I am currently on track to achieve all my investment and retirement goals. Even though it is not easy to save you can always find a way to put some money aside for your future. I have worked minimum wage jobs and jobs that paid very little and I still managed to save.
You have to learn to live within your means, to budget yourself, stay out of debt, and to have a plan for your future. The early you start saving the easier it will be once you do get to retirement age.
No matter what your age, do your best and save as much money as you can. Even a small retirement nest egg is better than no money at all.
Don't worry about what others have and what you do have. Enjoy your life and don't listen to all the people who say it can be done. Educate yourself on investing. Seek financial advice but do not let the so called experts controll your financial plan. Remember you are your best Financial Planner.
I am looking forward to a simple retirement of doing what I want, when I want. My garden, the grand kids and time spent with my wife.
It's all about priorities.
$250 Lebron shoes or paying your utilities.
Pi$$es me off to see the food stamper/SNAP users texting away on their iphones while 62% of my income goes to taxes and supporting their lazy butts.
We own our old cars, have no debt other than our mortgage which is low enough if I had to go flip burgers I wouldn't put my family on the street. We lived without a few toys but don't need to sponge off others.
My Dad always put 10% of what you earn in the bank. if you earn a dollar, 10 cents to the bank, and you always have money for emergencies, unforeseen injuries or car problems etc.
also see Dave Ramsey's method for reducing debt and creating wealth ! Good Stuff
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