Connie J. Schlosberg
November 19, 2020
With the rollercoaster ride known as 2020, your savings account may have taken a hit, or it may be depleted by now. A troubling report suggests that two in five Americans would struggle to come up with just $400 to cover an emergency expense. To make matters worse, you may have started the year with one job and ended up with an entirely different job or none at all.
You want to save as much as you can for the future, but you don't earn enough to max out all your savings accounts and make ends meet. So what do you do?
Prioritize your savings goals.
Above all else, the priority is to get serious about saving. You need to create goals that work for you and your situation - not anyone else's. This can be a bitter pill to swallow. Once you do, you will be grateful that you made a choice.
When you are short on funds, deciding on how much and where to put your hard-earned money can be daunting. Focus your efforts on these financial areas: retirement, high-interest debt, and emergency fund.
Start with these three savings goals as soon as you can:
3 Savings accounts you need
1. Retirement account savings
Contribute to your employer's 401(k) plan as soon as you are eligible. Make sure your contribution is equal to your employer's full match to get the maximum benefit. For example, many employers match contributions up to 5% of annual income. If this is the case where you work, then you should contribute 5% of your yearly income to your 401(k).
Why take advantage of your employer's match? Because if you elect not to contribute the full match, you are essentially leaving money on the table. Think about it. If your employer matches every dollar you contribute up to 5%, you will get a 100% return on your contribution.
If you are able, you can contribute more than that, of course. In 2020, the limit is $19,500. Odds are you will need to save much more for your retirement. Honestly, you need to take care of a few other financial goals first before you start beefing up your retirement accounts.
2. High-interest credit card debt
Having credit card debt, especially high-interest debt, will prevent you from reaching your savings and other financial goals. You could quickly save more on interest charges than you would earn in the stock market.
Think about it, if you are paying an interest rate of 18%, it's highly unlikely you will earn 18% on your investments. Once you eliminate your credit card debt, you'll free up more money to save for the things that matter to you most.
3. Emergency savings
Many financial gurus will shout from the mountains that you need to save three to six months of essential expenses. Some experts will say a year's worth of expenses. So that means if you spend $5,000 per month on food, housing, utilities, etc. you should really have $15,000 to $30,000 saved in an emergency account.
If you recall, at the beginning of this article, most Americans don't even have $400 available to pay for an emergency. Saving $5,000, let alone $30,000, seems almost impossible. (It's not, but it won't happen overnight.)
I'm not disagreeing with the masters. Having an emergency savings account is crucial. Stuff happens as you have seen first hand this year. However, I also know saving that much money is a feat in itself for many of us.
What should you do? Oprah Winfrey once said, "Do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do.” I think that quote applies well to an emergency fund. Put at least 1% to 5% of your pay to your emergency fund. If you can take on a side hustle gig or two and maybe sell some stuff you no longer are using.
No matter how 2020 ends or 2021 begins, do what's best for you and at the pace that makes the most sense for you.