It’s almost that time, when everyone resolves to do better and achieve more in the coming year. And a new survey suggests that some people may be fueling their 2024 resolutions with the financial regrets of 2023.
About two-thirds (67%) of Americans have financial regrets for 2023, according to a NerdWallet survey conducted online by The Harris Poll on Oct. 10-12. And three-fourths (75%) of that group say those regrets will lead to new resolutions in 2024.
Every year we face obstacles to our money goals. We may start out with plans to save more and spend less, but life happens. This year began with expenses taking bigger bites out of paychecks, in the form of high inflation. And as the year progressed, increasingly high interest rates added costs to credit card balances and loans, making it more expensive to borrow. Macroeconomic factors like these can be enough to derail financial goals alone, but if they’re paired with job loss, unexpected expenses or other household circumstances, they can push goals further and further out of reach.
If you have financial regrets, you’re in good company. And if your hope is to turn them into successes in 2024, plenty of other Americans have the same plan. Here’s how some of those regrets may have come about and what to expect in the year ahead.
Money regret No. 1: Not saving more
Nearly one-fourth (23%) of Americans regret not saving enough for their financial goals in 2023, according to the NerdWallet survey. And about one in five (21%) regret not saving for emergencies.
Government relief payments paired with constrained spending during COVID shutdowns to bring the personal saving rate to all-time highs in 2020 and 2021. In 2023, that rate, which measures the percentage of disposable income that can be saved, on average, settled below historic averages, making it more difficult to save for big purchases or unexpected emergencies.
In 2024: The personal saving rate, as a national average, is likely to stay on the low side. However, with inflation continuing to come down, you may find it easier to set aside funds in 2024 than you did in 2023. If you don’t have an emergency fund, start there — having a cushion set aside for unexpected expenses can insulate many of your other financial objectives. Then, set measurable and specific benchmarks — such as setting aside a certain portion of every paycheck — to get you toward your longer-term savings goals.
Money regret No. 2: Overspending
More than one in five (22%) Americans regret overspending on entertainment in 2023; 11% regret overspending on travel and 11% regret overspending on a big event (such as a wedding or party), according to the survey.
Consumer spending in 2023 has been surprisingly resilient in the face of inflation and high interest rates. This consumer resilience has been credited with keeping the economy strong when many expected a recession. But there is also evidence that this spending in the face of adversity has been achieved by busting household budgets.
In 2024: Overspending is a risk every year — it’s hard not to splurge on things like entertainment, travel and parties (we all enjoy a good time). The first step to reining in these urges, however, is setting a clear budget. Whether it’s a weekly entertainment budget or a wedding budget, setting a clear expectation for yourself beforehand can help ensure you’re not left with remorse when the dust settles.
Money regret No. 3: Mismanaging credit card debt
Equal shares of Americans (16%) regret not reducing/or paying off their credit card debt and taking on too much credit card debt in 2023, according to the survey.
Credit card debt levels fell during 2020 and early 2021, as people had excess money thanks to relief payments and student loan forbearance, for example, and were generally spending less due to COVID lockdowns. But since then, debt levels have been surpassing pre-pandemic normal. If you used your cards less in 2021 and even paid off some debt, this return to “normal” can feel especially bad.
In 2024: When your finances are in good shape, using credit cards as a tool — to earn points and cash back, for instance — can help you reach money goals more quickly. However, when you’re in debt or have to turn to a credit card to cover an emergency expense, the interest can pile up quickly and make it difficult to dig yourself out. Interest rates will likely remain high throughout 2024, so getting those balances under control is even more important. Make a concrete debt payoff plan, and if you’re struggling to make payments, consider debt relief options such as consolidation and debt management.
Lest 2023 sound like nothing more than money woes: More than three in five (62%) Americans say they achieved financial goals they set out to reach in 2023. Financial headwinds are always present in one form or another. Preparing for them and learning from mistakes may set you up for a greater chance of success in the near future.
This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet from Oct. 10-12, 2023, among 2,096 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within +/- 2.7 percentage points using a 95% confidence level. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact [email protected].
NerdWallet disclaims, expressly and impliedly, all warranties of any kind, including those of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose or whether the article’s information is accurate, reliable or free of errors. Use or reliance on this information is at your own risk, and its completeness and accuracy are not guaranteed. The contents in this article should not be relied upon or associated with the future performance of NerdWallet or any of its affiliates or subsidiaries. Statements that are not historical facts are forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties as indicated by words such as “believes,” “expects,” “estimates,” “may,” “will,” “should” or “anticipates” or similar expressions. These forward-looking statements may materially differ from NerdWallet’s presentation of information to analysts and its actual operational and financial results.
Inside: Tight on time or money? One of these mini savings challenge printables is perfect for you. With these free printables, you’ll be able to save more money in no time.
The concept of a mini savings challenge is all about making money-saving a fun and engaging process. It breaks down your broader financial goals into manageable, short-term targets that cumulatively will help you reach your long-term objectives.
Around here at Money Bliss, we are known for having the best money saving challenges. While they are super popular on Pinterest and Google, what matters the most to us is that people are actually using them and their lives are changing.
So, if that is what you are looking for, then you are in the right place.
We know that the personal savings rate is dipping into the lowest range since 2007-2008 financial crisis around 3.4%.1 That is alarming because many people are one step away from not being financially stable.
Let’s dig into those mini saving challenges to make an impact in your financial life.
This post may contain affiliate links, which helps us to continue providing relevant content and we receive a small commission at no cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Please read the full disclosure here.
Why is a Savings Challenge Beneficial?
A savings challenge, while enjoyable, serves a more significant purpose. It instills a sense of financial discipline and allows you to visualize tangible results.
By making saving a fun and rewarding game, you’re more likely to stay committed and motivated.
This is why my money saving challenges are so helpful for thousands of my readers.
How this Mini Challenge Works?
Mini savings challenges work on the principle of small, regular savings resulting in significant sums over time.
By following a set rule – such as saving a particular amount every week, or matching a specific spending habit with a savings deposit – these challenges make it easy and fun to grow your savings without feeling overwhelmed.
Popular Mini Savings Challenge to Save Money
I love that I am known as an expert in helping people save money. The reason is simple – I love a good challenge.
If you have the right mindset, then you can save money on your income.
1. $300 Mini Saving Challenge
Many of us dream about having a comfortable savings account, but it’s often easier said than done. However, with the $300 Mini Saving Challenge, you can start building that financial safety net one step at a time. This challenge aims to help you stow away $300 and note slight improvements in your spending habits.
The $300 Mini Saving Challenge works by asking you to save a small amount each day. The goal is to gradually increase the daily savings, making it less burdensome and more achievable to hit your target of $300. This challenge is perfect for beginners who are apprehensive about taking on substantial financial commitments all at once but still want to cultivate good money-saving habits.
Expert Tip: Utilize a savings tracker, whether it’s a traditional paper-and-pencil method or a digital app, to keep track of your progress.
Simply select one of the high-yield savings products offered by their network of federally insured banks and credit unions to begin your savings journey.
You can open a free Raisin account in just a few minutes!
2. $500 Mini Saving Challenge
Learning how to teach yourself to save is one of the hardest things for my readers to do. So, they love these easy milestone challenges
This $500 mini savings challenge is a simple yet effective strategy to begin accumulating a substantial nest egg. This challenge requires you to systematically set aside a predefined amount each day, week, or month, consistently working toward a $500 goal.
Expert Tip: For the $500 Mini Saving Challenge, set a weekly savings goal and commit to reducing unnecessary expenses to manage and accumulate your targeted amount effectively.
3. 10 Week Saving Challenge
Kick-start your savings journey with an invigorating 10-week savings challenge. This feasible initiative can boost your bank balance and cultivate a savings habit.
As James Clear states in his famous bestselling book, Atomic Habits, it takes 21 days to build a new habit.
The challenge will triple your dedication as you will be setting aside a predetermined sum each week for ten weeks. The amounts could steadily increase to enhance the yielded savings.
Week 1 – Save $10
Week 2 – Save $15
Week 3 – Save $20
Week 4 – Save $25
Week 5 – Save $30
Week 6 – Save $35
Week 7 – Save $40
Week 8 – Save $45
Week 9 – Save $50
Week 10 – Save $55
By the end of your 10-week tenure, you will have amassed a handsome total of $325! This challenge is particularly beneficial for beginners who are striving to enforce a strict savings regimen.
Then, you can move on to our popular 52 week money saving challenge and choose the proper amount for you.
Expert Tip: Use a calendar or a mobile application to track your savings and keep you motivated throughout the challenge.
4. Mini Birthday Fund
Like a little surprise gift to yourself, the Mini Birthday Fund Challenge is for those who want to ensure they have a little extra cash to celebrate their special day in style. This delightful savings plan can be started at any time of the year, but the closer to your birthday, the more urgent the catch-up.
The plan is intuitive. Choose a monthly savings goal—say, $20—and diligently tuck away that amount every week or month until your birthday arrives. Then, voila! You have a mini birthday fund to splurge on a rewarding gift or experience gift for you. My personal favorite is spa time!
This is self-care and financial discipline bundled into one smart package.
Expert Tip: You can modify the amount you need to save and the total you need to save.
Our Top Pick
Hailed for its competitive APY rates and digital ease of use, GOBankingRates named CIT as one of the Best Online Banks for 2022.
Earn one of the nation’s top rates.
Daily compounding interest.
No account opening or maintenance fees.
Your deposits are FDIC insured.
Deposit checks remotely.
Make transfers with the CIT Bank mobile app.
5. The Penny Challenge
The Penny Challenge further simplifies savings. Plus you will be AMAZED at how much you can save with this simple penny challenge.
Every day you will save one more penny than the day before, yes, just one more penny. That will equal $667.95 in a year.
You can collect all the pennies you acquire and store them in a jar. Once your jar fills up or you hit your 365 days, deposit the pennies into your savings account.
Note: Though the denomination is small, you’ll be surprised at how much you can amass over time. Remember that every penny counts!
6. 365-Day Nickel-Saving Challenge
The 365-Day Nickel-Saving Challenge is perfect for those who like a daily commitment. Start on day one with a deposit of $0.05, and each following day, add a nickel to the previous day’s savings.
By day 365, you will deposit $18.25, accumulating a total of $3339.75 for the year. It’s a manageable and rewarding way to save.
7. The Dime Challenge
The Dime Challenge is similar to the Penny Challenge but uses dimes instead. Though the denomination is small, you’ll be surprised at how much you can amass over time.
Each day you will save ten cents or a dime more than the previous day, by the end of the year, you will save $6,679.50.
Day 1 – Save $0.10, Day 2 – Save $0.20, Day 3 – Save $0.30, and continue for 365 days
Collect all your dimes in a jar, and when it fills up, deposit them in your savings.
10X Effect: This challenge can help you save more money, more quickly than the Penny Challenge because dimes are worth ten times as much as pennies.
8. Dollar Savings Challenge
The $1 Savings Challenge is all about setting aside every single $1 bill that comes your way.
This is a great challenge if you use the cash envelope method for budgeting.
Even if you do this for just three months, you can save up to $1,000. It’s simple — every time you find a $1 bill, put it in your savings jar. This method makes saving money entertaining and gratifying.
9. The $5 Challenge
The $5 Challenge is similar to the $1 Challenge, with just a slight increase in the amount. It involves saving every $5 bill you come across.
Once again, better for those who use cash. But, you still can transfer $5 at intermittent increments to a separate online savings account.
The money saved from this challenge depends on how often you use cash and the duration of your challenge. It’s a doable and straightforward approach to savings.
Simply select one of the high-yield savings products offered by their network of federally insured banks and credit unions to begin your savings journey.
You can open a free Raisin account in just a few minutes!
10. 25 Envelopes Challenge
Another popular choice is the 25 Envelope Challenge which is a simpler version of the 100 Envelope Challenge. You get 25 envelopes, number them from 1-25, and each day, choose an envelope at random and put in an amount equivalent to the envelope number.
By the end of the challenge, you will save $325 in less than a month.
This challenge makes saving money unpredictable and exciting, leading to substantial savings over time. Next, you can try the 50 envelope challenge.
11. The Spare Change Challenge
The Spare Change Challenge involves saving all your loose change in a jar or piggy bank. Once the container fills up, deposit the savings into your bank account.
You’ll be surprised at how quickly the change adds up! However, this challenge works best for those who frequently use cash.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to pick up spare change on the ground!
Our Top Pick
Hailed for its competitive APY rates and digital ease of use, GOBankingRates named CIT as one of the Best Online Banks for 2022.
Earn one of the nation’s top rates.
Daily compounding interest.
No account opening or maintenance fees.
Your deposits are FDIC insured.
Deposit checks remotely.
Make transfers with the CIT Bank mobile app.
12. Round Up Savings Challenge
The Round Up Savings Challenge is best suited for card users. Whenever you make a purchase, round the figure to the nearest dollar and deposit the difference into savings.
For instance, if you spend $17.50, round it up to $18 and save the remaining 50 cents. It may seem small but will accumulate over time.
Go Digital: You can easily do this with the Acorns app.
13. No-Spend Challenge
The No-Spend Challenge encourages participants to avoid spending any extra money beyond the essentials for a set time. This involves taking a “financial fast,” where any non-essential spending is put on hold.
As such, this is one of my personal favorites, especially for those new to budgeting. It really helped me grasp what I truly needed to spend money on and what I didn’t. The same is true for all of my readers. The savings from this challenge can be substantial.
You can tailor the time frame to your own liking — try a no-spend day, week, or even month. Learn more about the no spend challenge.
14. No Eating Out Challenge
A no eating out challenge serves as an excellent tool to realize your spending habits as it eliminates the often overlooked cost of frequently dining out, enabling you to save more than expected. Right now, the average person spends $166 per month with most average costs in the $10-20 range.2
Combating your habit of eating out can lead to considerable savings, hence the No Eating Out Challenge. Under this challenge, you commit to avoiding restaurants, takeaway, and delivery for a set period, typically a month. The money saved from not dining out is then transferred into your savings, leading to substantial amounts over time.
This challenge makes you conscious of your expenditure and allows you to understand the significant amount you can accumulate over a period, promoting better spending habits.
15. The Spending “Swear Jar” or “Bad Habit” Challenge
Implementing a swear jar or a ‘bad habit’ jar can serve multiple purposes effectively. Not only does it stimulate the accumulation of savings, but it also aids in the transformation of replacing a bad habit with a good habit.
The rule is simple – each time you indulge in a specified bad spending habit, like making an unplanned purchase, you deposit a set amount (like a dollar) into your “swear jar.” This challenge effectively boosts savings while reducing unwanted expenses.
This is a great tactic to reduce your variable expenses.
Bonus: Savings Percentage Challenge
Last, but not least, my personal favorite! Increasing your Savings Percentage challenge.
The Savings Percentage Challenge urges you to save a fixed percentage of your income, preferably 20% every month. By adjusting the savings percentage to your comfort level, this challenge provides adaptability and the potential for significant savings over time.
To encourage savings as a regular habit, increase your savings percentage by 1% each year or with any pay raises or expense reductions.
See how the saving percentages work.
Tips for Successful Savings Challenge
Tip #1 – Creating Your Savings Goals
Creating specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) savings goals is the first step to your savings success. Your goals could be anything, ranging from a weekend getaway to creating an emergency fund.
Having clear savings goals keeps you motivated, providing a sense of purpose and direction. Learn more about smart money goal setting.
Tip #2 – Establishing the Savings Timeline
Once you have your savings goal, establish a realistic timeline to achieve it.
If your goal is to save $1000 and you decide to save $100 per month, your timeline will be 10 months.
If you need to save $300 in 30 days, then you must save $10 a day.
Establishing a clear timeline helps you organize your savings efficiently and remain motivated in your journey.
Tip #3 – Automatic Savings
One area I always stress to my readers is to pay yourself first. This concept is to set money aside first when you get your paycheck.
Then, take it one step further and establish an automatic transfer from your regular account to your special savings fund each pay period or month. This way, you won’t have to remember to make the transfer yourself, and it becomes an out-of-sight, out-of-mind saving habit!
Tip #4 – Staying Motivated through the Challenge
Track your progress visually, say, by coloring a box each time you save is habit-worthy. Keep your progress chart somewhere easily visible. This practice makes tracking fun and keeps you encouraged to save more.
Our free resource library of printables is full of possible money saving challenge ideas!
Staying motivated throughout your savings journey is crucial. Plus, watching your savings grow over time can be incredibly satisfying.
Tip #5 – Adjust your mindset for Improved Savings
Achieving your savings goals is truly a mindset game. Instead of seeing savings as a subtraction from your income, adjust your mindset to view it as paying yourself first.
Moreover, remember not to beat yourself up over occasional slip-ups. Continue to focus on your goal and celebrate small achievements.
Every dollar saved gets you one step closer to your goal.
Extending the Mini Savings Challenge – What’s Next?
Once you have completed a mini savings challenge, take your saving habit to the next level. Assess your financial situation and savings goal to determine new challenges.
You could consider higher-value monetary challenges or extend the challenge’s duration. Remember, consistent saving habits can greatly impact your long-term financial health.
Maintaining consistency in saving money is a golden key to long-term financial health.
Here are our popular money saving challenges:
Regardless of the amount, the habit of regularly putting money aside significantly contributes to building considerable savings. Remember, it’s not always about how much you save, but how consistently you do it.
Consistently saving, even smaller amounts, can lead to substantial totals over time.
Download the Printable Savings Tracker
To make your savings challenge fun and interactive, download one of our free printable savings trackers. These printable trackers will help you visually track your progress, boosting your motivation.
Every time you save money, color in a box or check it off.
Seeing this visual representation of your savings grow is a fun, rewarding way to track your journey toward your financial goal. Once you reach your goal, start again and keep the momentum going.
**To access these free printable, you must subscribe to my newsletter and you will be emailed the password.**
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Yes, you can start a savings challenge at any time. There is no specified period or date to begin.
You can choose a day that suits you best and kick off your savings challenge. Remember, the important part is not when you start, but that you start – and consistently save.
Staying committed to your savings plan is primarily about discipline and motivation.
Personally, I visualize my financial goals and stay motivated by celebrating small wins. You can do the same thing.
Also, use a savings tracker to make your progress tangible and fun. Finally, involve family or friends in your savings challenge so you can motivate and encourage each other along the way.
Of the Mini Savings Challenges, Which Will You Try First
Embrace the journey of a savings challenge, enjoying the process just as much as the destination.
This is key to becoming financially stable. It’s not only about reaching your financial goal but also about developing lasting habits of financial discipline and stewardship. These mini savings challenges are a learning experience and remember, no matter the size of your savings, every step is a step in the right direction.
With the help of a mini savings challenge tracker, you can start small yet grow big in savings.
These mini challenges, though small-scale and manageable, can lead to a significant increase in your savings over time. More than that, they encourage the much-needed habit of saving regularly.
Get started on your savings journey, make it enjoyable, and watch your money accumulate over time.
FRED St. Louis Fed Ecomonic Data. “Personal Saving Rate.” https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/PSAVERT. Accessed November 8, 2023.
US Foods. “The Diner Dispatch: 2023 American Dining Habits.” https://www.usfoods.com/our-services/business-trends/american-dining-out-habits-2023.html. Accessed November 8, 2023.
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We maintain our forecast for a modest economic contraction in the first half of 2024. Fundamentally, personal consumption remains at what we believe to be an unsustainable level relative to incomes, and the full effects of monetary policy tightening are still working through the economy. We have upgraded our 2023 real GDP growth outlook to 2.2 percent from 1.9 percent on a Q4/Q4 basis largely due to incoming July data, while our forecast for growth in 2024 is unchanged. Meanwhile, we forecast the topline and core measures of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to end the year around 3.1 percent and 4.0 percent in 2023, respectively, slowing further in 2024 to 2.4 percent and 2.5 percent.
With the jump in mortgage rates to above 7 percent, the housing market faces renewed headwinds. Mortgage origination activity has slowed further in recent weeks and total home sales remain at levels not seen since 2011. The new home market, which showed surprising strength over the first half of 2023, due in part to a limited inventory of existing homes for sale, may now be taking a breather. We forecast total home sales to be around 4.8 million in 2023, which would be the slowest annual pace since 2011 and 4.9 million in 2024. Similarly, our expectation for 2023 mortgage originations was downgraded from $1.60 trillion to $1.56 trillion in 2023 and from $1.92 trillion to $1.88 trillion in 2024.
Q3 GDP Growth Poised to Accelerate, but Strength is Likely Temporary The third quarter started off on a strong note, with real personal consumption jumping 0.6 percent month over month in July, pointing to a stronger Q3 2023 GDP growth figure than previously anticipated. Even if personal consumption expenditures were to remain flat over the next two months, July’s growth alone would translate into a pace of personal consumption over the quarter of around 3.8 percent annualized. However, this surge in spending is likely unsustainable and our outlook is for decelerating activity. We believe much of the July consumption was the result of pulling forward future spending in part due to a combination of the release of popular movies and concerts as well as an increase in spending on energy during the July heat waves, and perhaps due to seasonal timing related to online retailer sales. Both recent credit card transaction data and auto sales data point to a likely pullback in consumption in August, with auto sales falling 4.6 percent month over month. August nominal retail sales jumped by 0.6 percent, but this was almost entirely due to price increases in gasoline. Control group retail sales, which feed into the GDP report, rose by only 0.1 percent in nominal terms, suggesting flat or slightly declining real sales. Furthermore, the 0.6 percent pop in real consumption in July came despite a decline of 0.2 percent in real disposable income, increasing the divergence between the two series. Recent spending growth has come via a further reduction in the already below-trend personal saving rate to 3.5 percent in July. This was down from 4.3 percent in June and around an average of 8.0 percent from 2017 to 2019. Especially when accounting for an expected deceleration in wage growth, we expect more modest consumer spending growth in coming quarters.
Refinance Application-Level Index (RALI), remains depressed given that mortgage rates remain above the 7 percent level.
Economic & Strategic Research (ESR) Group September 14, 2023 For a snapshot of macroeconomic and housing data between the monthly forecasts, please read ESR’s Economic and Housing Weekly Notes.
Data sources for charts: Bureau of Economic Analysis, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mortgage Bankers Association, National Association of REALTORS®, Fannie Mae
Opinions, analyses, estimates, forecasts and other views of Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research (ESR) Group included in these materials should not be construed as indicating Fannie Mae’s business prospects or expected results, are based on a number of assumptions, and are subject to change without notice. How this information affects Fannie Mae will depend on many factors. Although the ESR group bases its opinions, analyses, estimates, forecasts and other views on information it considers reliable, it does not guarantee that the information provided in these materials is accurate, current or suitable for any particular purpose. Changes in the assumptions or the information underlying these views could produce materially different results. The analyses, opinions, estimates, forecasts and other views published by the ESR group represent the views of that group as of the date indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of Fannie Mae or its management.
After more than three years of an interest-free payment pause on federal student loans, millions of Americans will soon be on the hook for monthly payments. The effects could be felt across the economy.
How resuming payments will affect a single borrower varies widely, depending on, among other things, whether they stopped making payments at all, how much debt they have, the repayment program they’re in, and their current and future expected income. It also depends on the other expenses competing for a piece of their monthly budget. Because so many people are affected — 43.6 million people hold federal student loan debt, according to the Department of Education — the impact to the economy stands to be broad even if some borrowers don’t have a difficult time adjusting.
Currently, there is $1.6 trillion in federal student loan debt outstanding, according to data from the New York Fed’s first quarter Household Debt and Credit Report. This will come down by at least an estimated $39 billion (about 2.4%) before repayment begins, as long-time debtholders who have been paying for 20 years or more stand to have their slates cleared in a one-time adjustment recently announced by the Biden administration.
The White House is also implementing a repayment plan that could significantly reduce the monthly payments due for some borrowers, and a 12-month “on ramp,” where debtholders who enter repayment in coming weeks will not face repercussions for paying late. These two efforts alone could soften and slow the economic effects of those reentering repayment.
There’s little doubt that potentially hundreds of billions of dollars in consumer debt coming due will impact the economy — it represents debt held by roughly 17% of American adults and is the second-largest source of household debt, according to the NY Fed report. But the gravity of this impact is yet to be determined and likely to play out over the next several months and years. Here are four potential economic outcomes I’ll be watching for in the coming months:
1. Student loan delinquencies will rise
In the first quarter of 2020, nearly 11% of student loan balances were 90 or more days past due, according to the Household Debt and Credit Report from the New York Fed. The payment pause cleared this slate, and delinquency stands at less than 1% as of the first quarter of 2023. That will change. The 12-month on-ramp plan that promises to not penalize late payments will delay this impact, but there’s a good chance that at least some of those who struggled before the pandemic will soon find themselves back in a familiar situation.
2. Consumer spending will slow
Pandemic relief payments and forbearances on mortgages and student loans were just a few of the factors that led to households having more to spend during the pandemic. Money that may have otherwise gone to student loan debt could be used for home repairs, clothing, or entertainment and travel after pandemic restrictions were lifted. This robust consumer demand has played a role in higher-than-comfortable inflation rates over the past few years.
The return of a debt obligation means some households will have to rein in their spending once again, and consumer demand will likely fall.
3. Savings will remain low or fall further
The personal saving rate — a percentage of disposable income that people are able to set aside after taxes and expenses — rose significantly, hitting 34% early in the pandemic, but is now at the lowest since the Great Recession, at 4.6%, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. With student loan debt payments coming due, this rate will necessarily decline for those affected households.
4. Delinquencies across debt types may rise
Borrowers on a student loan payment pause “sharply increased mortgage, auto and credit card borrowing,” a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research reveals. Credit card balances initially fell in 2020 as relief payments came in and fewer debt payments went out, but that reduction in balances was ultimately undone. Overall, those balances were 10% higher by the first quarter of 2023. And it wasn’t just on credit cards that balances grew. Total debt balances grew by 19% from 2020 to 2023, compared to only 12% from 2017 to 2020, according to the Household Debt and Credit survey.
The increased liquidity, or available cash, in households with paused student loan debt may have gone toward home or auto down payments they previously struggled to afford, according to the NBER paper. Now, having to return to regularly scheduled student loan obligations after three years without payments could leave some new homeowners (and additional debtholders) strapped. Though the total share of delinquent debt balances fell from 3.2% to 1.4% in the three-year forbearance period, representing a difference of about $215 billion, it’s likely this will ultimately settle closer to the pre-pandemic rate.
How borrowers can cope
If you’re worried about your ability to make full student loan payments once the forbearance ends, the 12-month on-ramp period will save you from default, so consider easing back into full payments if it’s helpful. But remember, your loan balances will accrue interest during this time, so the sooner you can make full payments, the better. If your payments are simply too high to manage, contact your loan servicer; an income-driven repayment plan may be a good fit, and a new one is set to launch this fall.
In our recent discussion about tithing, I made a confession:
I do not tithe to church or charity. I feel guilty about this. My rationale is always: “Once I take care of myself, I’ll take care of other people.” Yet what do I mean by “taking care of myself”? I don’t know. Sometimes I think “once I’ve saved X, then I’ll start sharing my wealth”, but X seems to be a moving target.
I’ve thought a lot about this over the past couple weeks. I’ve looked at my own life: I have a $10,000 emergency fund, a growing business, and no consumer debt. I own an 1800-square-foot home on half an acre, a car, and a pantry stocked with food. Despite all this, I still sometimes feel poor. I’m not. I know this. According to the Global Rich List, my wealth places me in the top 1% of the world population, and that will likely increase as I get older.
I have enough. I’m ready to share. But how?
Learning to give I’ve written many times how important it is to start saving for the future, no matter how much you set aside. If you can only afford to save $5 a month, then start with $5. If you can afford $50 a month, start with $50. The key is to develop the habit. In time, most people find they can bump their saving rate higher — $10, $20, $200.
In our recent conversation about tithing, Kathleen M. urged me to consider using this same technique to develop the habit of giving:
If you do want to start giving regularly, start with something small, like $5 or $10 per month. A lot of people make a practice of giving the same amount that they put into savings.
Starting small with giving works the same as starting small with saving: The amounts may not really affect your budget, but they teach you the habit, the mechanics of contributing. Once you see that you can save, or that you can give to charity, you can begin to increase the amounts.
I started my own saving by setting aside just a few dollars a month. Now, four years later, I contribute about $1,000 a month to high-yield savings accounts. If I can save that much for myself, I can certainly afford to set aside a few dollars (or more) to help others.
So, I’ve made the decision that I can afford to give, and that giving is good. But where should I direct my money? There are hundreds of programs I could support. For example, I believe strongly in the missions of these groups:
I contribute to these organizations already, though. If I’m going to begin a campaign of personal giving, I want my money to do something more.
Micro-lending Last fall, I wrote a review of Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty, which describes the work of Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Yunus established the Grameen Bank, which offers small low-interest, collateral-free loans to the poor. These micro-loans — most of which are given to women — are used for entrepreneurship, and are surprisingly effective at helping recipients escape the bonds of poverty.
I like micro-lending. I like that it combats poverty through personal entrepreneurship, a notion I value highly. It’s like teaching them to fish instead of giving them fish. But how can I, one man in Oregon, provide a small loan to somebody halfway across the world? Fortunately, there’s an easy way to do this.
San Francisco-based Kiva is “the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world.”
Kiva allows average people to act as micro-lenders. You can browse profiles of entrepreneurs from around the world, choose somebody to lend to, and then Kiva works with the actual micro-finance organization to distribute the loan. When lenders get their money back, they can re-lend it to somebody else in need.
My goal for today is to set up a Kiva account, and to fund one micro-loan. Though this is a small gesture — a very small gesture — it’s a start. It’s a first step on the road to charitable giving. In time, I hope to apply the same discipline toward this as I did toward saving. The battle against world poverty is made up of many such small gestures.
Fighting poverty Kiva is not the only organization working to fight poverty, of course. Other organizations I may consider donating to in the future include:
Though Grameen Foundation is not a part of Yunus’ Grameen Bank, the two work closely to fight world poverty through micro-finance. If I wanted to just donate money (instead of getting personally involved, as through Kiva), I might choose to do so here.
Heifer International is a “non-profit, humanitarian assistance, and sustainable development organization that specializes in providing livestock and related services to limited-resource families worldwide. Heifer does this regardless of race, creed, religion or national origin.”
Oxfam International is an “international group of independent non-governmental organizations dedicated to fighting poverty and related injustice around the world.” Oxfam’s lousy web site is vague about how this is accomplished, although several GRS readers have recommended this group in the past.
For more on the subject of giving and micro-finance, check out the following stories from the Get Rich Slowly archives:
I’m not naive — I don’t believe that poverty will ever be eliminated from the world completely — but I hope that through my actions I can help a few other people achieve their dreams, as I’ve been able to achieve mine.
Poverty does not belong in a civilized human society. Its proper place is in a museum. — Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor —
Today is Blog Action Day. The topic this year is poverty. This is the first of three posts about the subject today at Get Rich Slowly.
One of the oldest rules of personal finance is the simple admonition to pay yourself first. All the money books tell you to do it. All the personal finance blogs say it, too. Even your parents have given you the same advice.
But it’s hard. That money could be used someplace else. You could pay the phone bill, could pay down debt, could buy a new DVD player. You’ve tried once or twice in the past, but it’s so easy to forget. You don’t keep a budget, so when payday rolls around, the money just finds its way elsewhere.
And besides: What does “pay yourself first” even mean?
To pay yourself first means simply this: Before you pay your bills, before you buy groceries, before you do anything else, set aside a portion of your income to save. Put the money into your 401(k), your Roth IRA, or your savings account. The first bill you pay each month should be to yourself. This habit, developed early, can help you build tremendous wealth.
Why Pay Yourself First?
If you’re just getting started in the Real World, saving may seem impossible. You have rent, a car payment, groceries, and maybe student loans. Sure, you’d like to save, but there’s just no money left at the end of the month. And that’s the problem: Most people save what’s left over — left over after bills and after discretionary spending.
But if you don’t develop the saving habit now, there are always going to be reasons to delay: you need dental work, you want to go to Mexico with your friends, you aren’t making enough to pay your bills. Here are three reasons to start saving now instead of waiting until next year (or the year after):
You’re Prioritizing Saving
When you pay yourself first, you’re mentally establishing saving as a priority. You’re telling yourself that you are more important than the electric company or the landlord. Building savings is a powerful motivator — it’s empowering.
You’re Developing Good Financial Habits
Paying yourself first encourages sound financial habits. Most people spend their money in the following order: bills, fun, saving. Unsurprisingly, there’s usually little left over to put in the bank. But if you bump saving to the front — saving, bills, fun — you’re able to set the money aside before you rationalize reasons to spend it.
You’re Prepared for Money Emergencies
By paying yourself first, you’re building a cash buffer with real-world applications. Regular steady contributions are an excellent way to build a nest egg. You can use the money to deal with emergencies. You can use it to purchase a house. You can use it to save for retirement. Paying yourself first gives you freedom — it opens a world of opportunity.
I’ve never met anyone who does not wish they had started saving earlier. Nobody tells themselves, “Saving was a mistake.” No matter what your age, begin saving now. And if you already save, consider boosting how much you set aside each month.
How to Pay Yourself First
The best way to develop a saving a habit is to make the process as painless as possible. Make it automatic. Make it invisible. If you arrange to have the money taken from your paycheck before you receive it, you’ll never know it’s missing.
Part of your savings plan will probably include retirement, but you should also save for intermediate goals too, such as buying a house, paying for a honeymoon, or purchasing a new car. Here are three easy ways to begin doing this yourself:
If your employer offers a retirement plan — such as a 401(k) — enroll as soon as possible, especially if the company matches your contributions. Matched contributions are like free money.
Starting a Roth IRA is one of the smartest moves a young adult can make. These accounts allow your investments to grow tax-free. Because of the extraordinary power of compound interest(and compound returns), regular investments in a Roth IRA from an early age can lead to enormous future wealth.
Open a high interest savings account at a bank like Capital One 360 or FNBO Direct. Set up automatic transfers into this account, either directly from your paycheck or from your regular bank account. Treat these transfers like you’d treat any other financial obligation. This should be your first and most important bill every month.
Putting “Pay Yourself First” into Practice
For many people, saving is tough. Between housing, utilities, groceries, transportation, credit-card debt, student loans, and other expenses, there never seems to be enough left to set aside for long-term savings. And that’s the problem. Most people try to save something out of what’s left over instead of saving first.
But what’s the best way to do it? What’s the most effective way to pay yourself first?
While I was writing Your Money: The Missing Manual, I benefited greatly from the advice of Dylan Ross, a Certified Financial Planner (from Swan Financial Planning) and a long-time GRS reader. One thing Dylan stressed over and over was that I was looking at savings wrong. I kept writing that you should take whatever money you have leftover in checking at the end of the month and move it to your savings account.
“There’s a better way,” he told me. “People often have more success if they put money into savings first, and then transfer what they need to checking.”
It took me a while to understand what he was trying to say; it seemed like he was splitting hairs. Now, however, I realize that Dylan was espousing the true spirit of “pay yourself first”.
This probably seems a little vague to many of you. How would you actually go about following Dylan’s advice? Here’s a simple three-step process to make savings a priority instead of an afterthought:
Open a high-interest savings account. Although “high-interest” is something of a misnomer lately, eventually it’ll make a difference. I use ING Direct for my savings, but there are many other great options. (If you’re curious, you can read more than 1700 GRS reader reviews of high-yield savings accounts here.) I’m a fan of keeping my savings account at a different bank than my checking account — it just makes it that much harder for me to tap my savings on a whim.
Deposit your paycheck to your savings account. If possible, have your paycheck automatically deposited. (The more you can automate this process, the easier it will be to save.) This is the key to Dylan’s plan. By putting the money into savings instead of checking, you don’t have “extra” cash sitting in your bank account at the end of the month that can be mindlessly spent on other things. Plus, the money’s already in your savings account, so you don’t have to remember to move it.
Set up regular transfers from savings to checking. Based on whatever system you have — a detailed budget, a rough guess based on last year’s spending, whatever — schedule monthly (or weekly) transfers into your checking account to take care of routine expenses. The money left in savings stays in savings.
The difference between the checking-first and savings-first systems may seem trivial, but Dylan swears it works. As he reviewed the manuscript to my book, he flagged every every instance where I encouraged readers to save by moving money from checking to savings. “You have it backwards, J.D.!” he said.
I have my own method of paying myself first, and it’s similar to Dylan’s advice, but on a bigger scale. I don’t pay myself first with each paycheck; instead, I try to front-load my saving every year.
That is, for the first few months, I save as much as I can. I set money aside for retirement, taxes, and other goals. I’m more frugal during the first half of the year, and there isn’t much left over for indulgences.
Once I’ve set aside all the money I think I’ll need, I’m able to loosen up and spend more on the things I want. I still save more throughout the year, but after I’ve met my initial goals, all other savings are a “bonus”.
How to Overcome the Challenge of Saving
The real barrier to developing this habit is finding the money to save. Many people believe it’s impossible. But almost everyone can save at least 1% of their income. That’s only one penny out of every dollar. Some will argue that saving this little is meaningless. But if a skeptic will try to save just 1% of his income, he’ll usually discover the process is painless. Maybe next he’ll try to save 3%. Or 5%. As his saving rate increases, so his nest egg will grow.
If you’re struggling to find money to save, consider setting aside your next raise for the future. As your income increases, set your gains aside for retirement and savings. Once you’re contributing the maximums to your retirement (and you’ve built emergency savings), you can begin to use your raises for yourself again. Sure, this means your effective salary will stagnate for a year or three or five. But it also means you’ll force yourself to develop the saving habit.
Example: My wife is a perfect case study. She started by having 8% of her pre-tax income set aside in her employer’s retirement plan. As her salary increased, she increased the amount she saved, routing it to various retirement accounts. Because she never saw the money in her paycheck, she never missed it. Now she saves 30% of her income, and she receives a 6% employer match! How did she do this? By paying herself first. (I should note that Kris just came to me the other night for advice on how to save even more. My wife is awesome.)
5 Ways to Pay Yourself First
If you are just starting to manage your money or you simply struggle when it comes to budgeting in the first place, paying yourself first may seem like one of those personal finance concepts that sounds good in theory but is difficult to put into practice in reality.
Fortunately, you can start small, get some good habits in place, and scale up from there. Here are five strategies to help get the ball rolling so you can start paying yourself first.
Strategy 1: Reduce Your Spending and Bank the Difference
The first step in implementing this strategy is similar to how you start to budget:
1. Figure out where your money is actually going. Using an app like Mint may help you identify and categorize your major expenses. (Full disclosure: Mint is at its best if you use a debit or credit card for all your transactions. Cash spending is a little trickier, though not impossible, to track.)
2. Figure out what to cut or reduce. Maybe you downgrade your cable package to a plan that doesn’t have the premium sports channels, switch to a no-contract cell phone plan, and increase the deductible on your auto insurance to lower your premium.
Now comes the trick:
3. Bank the difference. Add up your monthly savings from the changes and set up an automatic transfer to your online savings account for that amount. After all, what is the point of saving money if you don’t actually save it?
This can be addictive! If you channel your savings into one sub-account, then as you see it grow each month, you may be inspired to make even more cuts so you can increase the amount of your transfer and watch the savings grow.
Strategy 2: Start Small
But maybe that first strategy sounds intimidating though you aren’t sure you can actually save that much each month (especially if you’re currently spending more than you earn). If you really are starting from nothing, part of the problem may just be a matter of perspective. It’s unreasonable to think that you’ll go from zero to thousands of dollars in savings overnight.
Instead, try starting with $20 per month. Surely you have that much to spare, right? Set up an automatic transfer for that amount and see how it feels. This is actually how I started to save money, although it was for a different reason.
Back in the day when I opened my first savings account, an automatic transfer of at least $25 per month was required for the account fees to be waived. That’s no longer the case, but the transfer was already set up, so I never changed it. See? Laziness working in my favor!
Here’s the trick with this strategy:
Once you’ve been successful doing this for a month or so, bump that amount up. Can you save $40? $50? More? You’ll realize when you’ve hit your limit. And while the amount you are saving may not seem like much in the beginning, starting easy with something you can accomplish is kind of the point. Plus, the balance will grow quicker than you think!
Strategy 3: Bank Your Side-Gig Income
So you’ve got a side gig or second job. You’re in good company! Anyone can start a side business these days. But where does the money from your supplemental income go? If the answer is to your regular checking account and you’re still not saving any money, you may be able to put those funds to better use by funneling them directly to a savings account.
If it’s a second job, then go ahead and set up direct deposit to go straight to a savings account. Out of sight, out of mind — until you log in and admire your new-found savings! If your side gig is your own business, then hopefully you’ve got a business checking and savings account set up so you’re not mixing those funds with your personal money.
Keeping personal and business funds separate can make tax time easier and help you determine whether your side gig is successful. It also makes it clear how often you are paying yourself and how much you’re earning. Better yet? When you cut yourself a paycheck from your business, deposit it into your savings account rather than your checking account. Bank it, baby!
Strategy 4: If You’re Coupled Up, Live Off One Income
This one’s simple too. If you’re a member of a dual-income couple, then try to live off only one of your incomes. In this scenario, one of you has their paychecks direct-deposited into checking, while the other (preferably the higher earner, but do what works for you) has their paychecks deposited into savings.
A true one-and-done, this strategy probably enables saving the most money, and doing so very quickly. But here’s a couple caveats to remember: Obviously, both parties should have access to both accounts, and you should both be on the same page when it comes to saving and spending goals. Communication is key here.
However, assuming that is the case, the sky’s the limit. This strategy is especially effective for those who are planning to go down to one income at some point anyway — for example, those who want one spouse to stay home with a future family. Even if you don’t have plans to become single-income in the works, an accident or illness may make the decision for you, so it’s best to be prepared.
Strategy 5: Participate in Your Employer’s Retirement Plan
OK, this one is kind of a gimme, but it bears repeating. If your employer offers a 401(k) or similar retirement plan, you should be contributing! Saving for retirement is the ultimate form of paying yourself first.
The benefits are numerous. You may reduce your taxes in the here and now. You allow compound interest to work its magic on your behalf. If your employer offers a match, you literally get free money! I’m not seeing any downsides here.
Plus, participating in a retirement plan through your employer is another one-and-done method of saving. Rather than having to remember to do something every single month, you fill out the forms, turn them into HR, and — boom! — you’re providing for your future self. What could be simpler?
No matter what your age, you should make it a priority to develop a regular saving plan. Establishing this habit early can lead to increased financial security later in life. But even those of us who got a late start should do our best to pay ourselves first. I didn’t begin doing this until just a few years ago. Better late than never.
Though many personal finance books briefly explore the idea of paying yourself first, David Bach’s 2003 best-seller, The Automatic Millionaire is devoted exclusively to the subject. The entire book is a step-by-step guide to developing the saving habit and making it automatic. If you’d like more ideas about how to make this work in your life, this is the place to look. Any good public library will have a copy. Finally, here’s a recent Get Rich Slowly discussion about how much you should save for retirement.
Pay yourself first, my friends. It’s a habit that you will never regret.
Get Rich Slowly Philosophy
This is the fourth of a fourteen-part series that explores my financial philosophy. These are the core tenets of Get Rich Slowly. Other parts include:
Whether you can retire, and whether your money will last after you retire, starts with a very simple maxim: spend less than you have. However, once you start actually crunching some numbers, you find that the equation of retirement is actually quite complicated, with many variables that have different consequences. And that’s a good thing, because it gives you options — different levers you can pull to shore up your retirement security.
What are those levers, and which will have the biggest impact on your retirement? As with many things regarding financial planning, the answers depend partially on your unique circumstances. However, in this article we’ll discuss the factors common to most retiree-wannabes, and quantify their results for two hypothetical workers – one 35-year-old and one 50-year-old — using the “Am I saving enough? What can I change?” calculator found on Fool.com. That calculator produces results in terms of the number of months your retirement will be fully funded. As the tool estimates the impact each variable has on our test subjects, we will report the results in terms of additional years of a fully funded retirement, just so you don’t have to divide the results by 12 in your head (not that we don’t trust your math skills — we just think it makes more sense to think in terms of years).
And now, let’s lay out the starting point for each of our guinea pigs, whom we’ll call Fergie and Madonna.
Age at retirement
Monthly retirement income
Current value of 401(k)
Years retirement is funded
Age at which savings is depleted
As we go through this exercise, don’t focus too much on their particular numbers or how much those profiles are similar to yours. What we’re investigating is how many years of fully funded retirement are added due to various changes. The magnitude of those effects will be similar regardless of where Fergie, Madonna, or you are starting.
And now, let’s pull some levers.
Strategy 1: Increase savings rate from 10 percent to 15 percent Years added to Fergie’s retirement: 4.8 Years added to Madonna’s retirement: 3.0
Let’s start with the no-brainer: Saving more will boost your retirement security. The younger you are, the bigger the impact. Remember that your savings rate is the combination of your contributions to your investment accounts as well as an employer match, if you get one. So someone who saves 10 percent but also receives a match of 50 cents on the dollar up to a saving rate of 6 percent is actually saving a total of 13 percent.
Strategy 2: Retire later Years added to Fergie’s retirement: 2.8 at age 67, 10.0 at age 70 Years added to Madonna’s retirement: 5.0 at age 67, 8.1 at age 70
Retiring later can be very powerful, for three reasons: additional years of saving, additional years for portfolio to grow, and higher Social Security benefits. Also, while not captured in our analysis, another factor in your retirement security is how long your retirement will last, which is determined by when you’ll retire and when you’ll expire. You can control only one (assuming we don’t want to get macabre here), and the later you retire, the shorter your retirement will be. The benefits of retiring later also apply — though not as large — to working part-time in the first few years of retirement. All that said, a strategy of working a few years later is contingent upon being physically able to keep punching the clock.
Strategy 3: Require less retirement income Years added to Fergie’s retirement: 10.3 Years added to Madonna’s retirement: 6.9
Our original scenario assumed that Madonna could live on 75 percent of her preretirement income, and Fergie would require 100 percent (since she’s not reached the ideally higher income she’ll have right before retirement). If we Strategy 4: Get a lump sum due to downsizing, inheritance or other source Years added to Fergie’s retirement: 1.8 Years added to Madonna’s retirement: 3.2
This is tricky to quantify since the benefit depends on the size of the lump sum and when it’s invested. For our calculations, we assumed each Fergie and Madonna received a $50,000 windfall at age 50. The most likely source of such a chunk of change would be downsizing, which might be a good strategy for those who bought a big house many years ago in order to raise kids who have since left the nest. As for inheritances, they are big question marks since you don’t know what someone else’s estate will be worth or how much of it you’ll inherit. But those who are confident they’ll get something from someone might include a conservative estimate in their calculations.
Many other important factors
While those four are significant variables in your retirement equation that you might be able to control, several other factors will play a part. Here are just a few:
Investment returns: We assumed a 6 percent annual return for our calculations. Whether that turns out too pessimistic (as we hope) or optimistic, time will tell. But had Fergie and Madonna earned 8 percent a year, their retirements would essentially be fully funded. While that sounds oh-so-promising, don’t bet on getting bailed out by markets.
When to take Social Security, and what the program will look like: The decision about when to begin receiving benefits is not simple, especially if you’re married. Choosing the right strategy for your situation can provide higher benefits for the rest of your life. Of course, given the financial challenges facing the program and the country as a whole, it makes sense for younger workers to assume they’ll get three-quarters or less of what they’re currently projected to receive.
Income growth: Our analysis assumed that Fergie’s and Madonna’s income would grow at the rate of inflation, yet for most professionals, income actually grows faster. If our hypothetical workers were real go-getters and earned raises that exceeded inflation by two percentage points, that would fund another one to three years of retirement, due to bigger contributions to investment accounts and higher Social Security benefits.
Calculate, monitor, repeat
As you can see, your retirement has a lot of moving parts — some you can control, many you cannot. The good news is that a few tweaks here and there can have a large collective impact – and the sooner you begin tweaking, the better. No financial tool can predict the future, but some number-crunching can determine if you’re headed in the right direction, and the potential consequences of changing one or a few variables. Once you’ve done the analysis and taken action, monitor regularly — at least once a year. The road to retirement will take many twists and turns, but keeping your hand on the steering wheel and checking the map every once in a while will increase the chances that you’ll get there safe and sound.
Last week, I wrote about a conversation with my investment adviser. In the article, I mentioned that my current income roughly covers my current spending except that I’ve been spending an average of $2,000 per month on travel. Because of that spending deficit, I’ve been drawing down my medium-term savings, which should last me until the end of 2014. Meanwhile, I’m exploring a variety of options to bring the income and spending into equilibrium.
Some GRS readers were taken aback by this.
“Maybe the name of this blog should be changed to Get Poor Quickly,” Marsha wrote. Brian from Debt Discipline expressed the common concern that withdrawing from my investments seems like a step in the wrong direction. And Greg wrote that this blog must be losing its way if I’m writing about “stealing from the future to maintain a current lifestyle of travel.”
Other readers, however, took a different view.
Frugal Scholar noted that there’s nothing wrong with taking withdrawals if my total savings can support them. The always-perceptive Sam wrote, “If J.D. is living a life of semi-retirement, which it seems to me he is, then it would make sense to pull money from investments as that is what one does in retirement.” And EMH was even more direct: “Why have all those investments and not use them?”
I spent a lot of time replying to comments on last week’s article. In doing so, I noticed that I’d done a poor job of sharing all the facts about my situation. I’ve been timid about total transparency, which means readers don’t have all the info they need to make a judgment. Today, I want to change that.
It also occurred to me that there are differing opinions about what savings are for. On some levels, those differing opinions are a result of each of us having different plans and priorities. But I think something that gets missed is that money is used differently at different stages of life.
The Stages of Personal Finance
In February 2009, I wrote a meditative article about the stages of personal finance. This then led to a series of articles on the subject. Here’s how I defined them:
In the zeroeth stage of personal finance, we’re fumbling in the dark. We have no financial skills and has no idea how to best use our money. We live impulsively, reacting to life around us.
In the first stage of financial development, there’s a candle in the darkness, and we’re drawn toward the light. We become aware that certain actions produce better financial results. We learn basic skills like frugality and saving and debt reduction. We still make many mistakes, but we now have some idea of where we ought to be headed.
During the second stage of personal finance, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve moved beyond the basics to create a solid foundation for future growth. We’ve eliminated debt, built up our savings accounts, established emergency savings, and begun to set aside money for retirement. We learn that we are in control of our financial future and not at the mercy of some vast, uncaring universe.
In the third stage of financial aptitude, you light the way for others. (Boy, my metaphors were strained!) Our foundation is solid, and we now spend years (or decades) constructing a financial edifice that will support us for the rest of our lives. That generally means paying off the mortgage, supercharging our income (and thus, our saving rate), and preparing for the ultimate goal…
The final stage of money management is financial independence. At this stage, we no longer need to worry about money. We have enough saved to do whatever we please. Because we each have different goals, strengths, and weaknesses, financial independence means different things to different people. Financial independence is really just another way to say “retirement.”
When I started this blog, I had just progressed from the zeroeth stage of personal finance to the first. Over the next few years, I documented my progress as I achieved greater knowledge and control of my money. Today, I am fortunate to be in that final stage of personal finance. I am financially independent.
What do I mean by financially independent?
Some people believe you’ve achieved financial independence only when you can live off the dividends or interest your savings produce. Others — including me — take the stance that you’re financially independent if, given reasonable assumptions (4 percent inflation, 6.5 percent long-term real return on stocks, 4 percent withdrawal rate, etc.) you’ll also draw down your principal.
As I shared in the comments last week, I could stop working today and live off my savings for the rest of my life. In essence, I could choose to retire early — if I wanted. But I don’t want to, and for several reasons:
By continuing to work, I earn more money, which does two things. When my income exceeds my expenses, I add to my stockpile. When my expenses exceed my income — as they do now — income mitigates how much I need to draw down my savings.
Work gives me meaning. I enjoy writing about personal and financial freedom. It’s fun. Plus, the emails I get indicate I’m able to help other people pursue their dreams as well. So long as work gives me purpose, I’ll continue to work.
For me, work creates social connections. I get to meet readers and colleagues and financial professionals, which helps me expand my knowledge and learn about lots of other things.
And so on.
When people choose to continue working even though they could call it quits, they’re said to be semi-retired. I think that’s an apt term, and that’s how I classify my current state. I am semi-retired.
What Are Savings For?
Saving is a key part of personal finance. In fact, I’ve come to believe it’s the key part of personal finance. When we save money, we build smart habits today while protecting and providing for our future.
That said, saving plays different roles in different stages of personal finance.
For instance, when you’re accumulating or repaying debt, saving ought not be a high priority. Aside from a minimal emergency fund (of $500 or $1,000), your money is better directed elsewhere. That’s why in my beloved Balanced Money Formula — which urges folks to spend less than 50 percent of after-tax income on Needs, more than 20 percent on Saving, and the rest on Wants — debt repayment is actually classified as saving. There are few uses for money that provide a better return than paying down credit cards and other high-interest loans.
Once debt is eliminated, however, saving becomes a high priority. During the second and third stages of personal finance, we work to build three types of saving:
Short-term saving, such as in an emergency fund. Most experts urge people to save between three and twelve months of their current spending so that they’re prepared if something unexpected happens, such as a job loss or catastrophic illness.
Long-term saving for retirement. This is why we save in a 401(k), Roth IRA, and other retirement accounts. We’re saving for the far future when we’ll be unable to produce income at the level we can today.
Medium-term saving is what I commonly call targeted saving. For most folks, this takes the form of saving for a car or a house or a vacation or for college education. But other people use medium-term saving as a way to fund sabbaticals and mini-retirements. Others use this money to quit their job and take a chance on a new business or a new career.
We save money for two purposes: To protect against an uncertain future and to help us fulfill our dreams.
Short-term savings and long-term savings are generally defensive. They’re a form of self-insurance to shield us from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Medium-term savings is used more for offense; it’s to pursue the things that provide us pleasure and purpose.
There seems to be a subset of people, however, for whom it’s never acceptable to spend savings. We’re all familiar with folks who spend too much and never save, but there are also people who save too much and never spend. They’re mocked in books like A Christmas Carol and Silas Marner. They’re demonized in movies like It’s a Wonderful Life. But for some reason, in real life, these types are often considered heroes. This puzzles me.
I see nothing heroic about dying with a fortune. I see nothing noble about saving and saving and never spending. Money is a tool. Its purpose is to provide comfort and pleasure for ourselves and for others. Saving isn’t an end in and of itself. We accumulate savings so we can do the things we want to do.
My Own Situation
In the past, I’ve been close to the vest regarding my financial situation. My attorney, my accountant, and my ex-wife all wanted me to keep things quiet. However, after some recent conversations — including one with Pat Flynn — I’ve decided to be more transparent. I can’t (and won’t) reveal everything, but I’ll share some broad info.
I’ve already shared that I’m currently outspending my income by about $2,000 per month because of travel. That’s what got some people riled up last week. I’ve also shared that I have enough medium-term savings to maintain this deficit until the end of 2014 (meaning I have about $25,000 saved for this purpose). I also have about $5,000 in emergency savings. Plus, I’m fortunate to have over a million dollars in long-term retirement savings.
Note: Yes, it’s true: While writing a blog about how to get rich slowly, I got rich quickly. This irony is not lost on me. One commenter last week suggested that this could cause problems since I didn’t have time to build the necessary mindset to manage the money. This is a valid concern, and one reason I’m trying to be cautious and make only “small moves.” I’ve read plenty of horror stories about people who squander sudden wealth.
In an ideal world, I’d be earning an income that meets my expenses. And, in fact, that was the whole point of last week’s article; I’m looking for ways to bring earning and spending into alignment. At the same time, I feel no shame about outspending my current earnings by $2,000 per month. Why not? Because that’s what my money is there for.
If I were still in debt, this $2,000 monthly deficit would be a concern. If I had only minimal savings, it would still be a problem. But I’d argue that even for somebody in the third stage of personal finance, deficit spending for a short time is perfectly acceptable. And if you’re in the final stage of personal finance? Well, then that’s actually how you’re expected to be living. When you’re retired, you’re drawing down your capital.
Note: Last week I wrote that Mr. Money Mustache would probably advise me to be more frugal. I was wrong. After reading the article, MMM e-mailed me to say: “Just enjoyed your latest post on GRS. I think you might be underestimating your passive income from savings…Since this is more than your spending by a wide margin, I would feel very confident that all your work income is 100% optional. Of course, you should still do enjoyable work because it makes you happy just as it makes me happy. But the paycheck is really just some icing on the cake.”
In fact, the fundamental problem of personal finance is figuring out how much to save so that you can live off your investments in retirement and die with a zero balance. (Or, if it’s your intention, to leave money to others.) A quick calculation (using conservative assumptions) shows that I could choose never to work again and even if I lived until 80, my assets would allow me to live on about $4,000 per month for the rest of my life. If I sold my condo, that number would climb to $5,000 per month.
And if I chose to spend $2,000 per month, which was the idea that created such a fuss last week? According to FIRECalc, my money will probably never run out! And, in fact, because of the extraordinary power of compounding, my savings will continue to grow forever.
The Bottom Line
Last week’s discussion was fascinating. If I were to draw down my savings in one fell swoop in order to buy a car or to purchase a house, I doubt anyone would object to my actions. After all, that’s how we think savings should be spent. But because I’m choosing instead to use my savings to fund travel and to buy time while I look for additional ways to make income, some people think I’m being foolish.
I suspect that even after this long discussion of saving and retirement, there will still be folks who believe it’s irresponsible for me (or anyone else, for that matter) to draw down savings for this sort of thing. If that’s you, tell us what you find objectionable. Under what conditions do you believe it’s okay to draw down savings? Does it matter which phase of personal finance you’ve reached? How do you decide when it’s okay to use the money you’ve saved to do the things you want to do?
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Do you want to make your money work for you?
I know what you’re thinking—money doesn’t grow on trees.
It takes money to make money.
That is a true case, but it doesn’t mean you have to be a millionaire to start. You can invest $100 to make $1000.
But there are a few things that will help any of us start seeing some green: time, patience, and perseverance.
We all know that money is a powerful tool. It helps us get what we want, live the way we want to, and achieve our goals. But how do you make your money work for you?
If you’re new to financial success or are looking for some fresh ideas on increasing your wealth, then you are in the right place!
That’s where this post comes in! In it, we delve into the five best ways to grow your wealth and show you how they work.
How can you make your money work for you?
There are many ways to grow your wealth. You can invest in stocks, bonds, and other securities. You can also start your own business or invest in real estate. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you are diversified and have a plan.
Making your money work for you is all about creating passive income streams.
This means finding ways to make money without having to actively work for it. Some examples include investing in stocks, real estate, and businesses.
How to Make Your Money Work for You: The [Best Ways] to Grow Your Wealth.
Your money is a powerful tool that can help you save, invest and grow your wealth, but only when you know the ways to make it work for you.
This is something that many people don’t learn and don’t invest the time to understand.
The best way to grow wealth is by taking your time and doing the research necessary for you to understand what it takes. You have to know how much money you need, where it will come from, and how you will invest it.
#1 – Create Financial Goals
It’s important to have specific financial goals because they give you something to work towards and help keep you motivated. Having specific goals also makes it easier to measure your progress and see how far you’ve come.
To create specific financial goals, start by thinking about what you want to achieve.
Do you want to save for a down payment on a house?
Are you looking to pay off debt?
Looking to increase your saving percentage?
Or do you want to retire early?
Once you know what your goal is, break it down into smaller steps that you can take to get there. For example, if your goal is to save for a down payment on a house, your first step might be saving $2000 for a down payment fund. Then, once you have that saved up, your next step might be saving $1,000 for the down payment fund.
Keep breaking your goal down into smaller and smaller steps until it feels achievable.
When setting financial goals, avoid setting goals that are too vague or unrealistic. For example, don’t set a goal of “saving money” without specifying an amount or timeline. Also, avoid setting goals that are so small they’re not worth achieving (like saving $5 over the course of a year).
#2 – Develop Passive Income Streams
Passive income is a type of earnings that does not require active work to generate. This can include earnings from investments, rental properties, and other business ventures in which you are not actively involved.
There are several different types of passive income:
Interest and dividends from investments: This can include earnings from stocks, bonds, and other investment vehicles.
Rental income: This can come from renting out a property you own, such as an apartment or vacation home.
Business income: This can come from owning a business in which you are not actively involved in the day-to-day operations. For example, you could own a franchise or be a money-only investor.
Royalty payments: These are payments made to you for the use of your intellectual property, such as patents, copyrights, or trademarks, a book, or a song.
Other types of passive income include blog or affiliate revenue. For example, if you have a blog and it generates ad revenue or affiliate income from referrals to third-party products, that would be considered passive income.
Passive income is money you earn without having to work directly for it. It can come from any number of sources. Remember, passive income is different than active income, which is money you earn through a job or business ownership.
In fact, most millionaires have at least 3 passive income streams (source).
Passive income is the Holy Grail for online marketers. It’s automatic. Effortless. But, not at first. In the beginning, it’s grueling. I liken this to doing the most amount of work for the least initial return. However, over time as your passive income begins to increase, your reliance on an active income plummets.
That’s when the real magic starts to happen.
#3 – Plan for Each Dollar
The first step to making your money work for you is creating a budget. This will help you track your income and expenses so you can see where your money is going. You can use a budgeting app or spreadsheet to do this.
When it comes to managing your finances, it’s important to have a plan for each dollar that comes in. You should make conscious choices about where to spend your money and what type of accounts to use.
Your highest priorities should be determined by what is most important to you.
It is also important to remember that every penny counts- so use your money wisely!
#4 Pay Yourself First
One of the best ways to grow your wealth is to save first. This means putting away money into savings or investments before you spend it. This will help you reach your financial goals more quickly.
When you get paid, make sure to put some money into savings or investments before spending it. This way, you are prioritizing your own financial well-being.
Automating your finances is a great way to make sure your bills first are always paid on time and that you are saving regularly. You can set up automatic transfers from your checking account to savings or investment accounts
#5 – Get Out of Debt
Debt can be a major financial burden, preventing you from achieving your financial goals. It’s important to get out of debt as soon as possible so that you can free up your money to save and invest for the future.
In fact, this is one of the first steps we stress here at Money Bliss – pay off debt!
There are a few different ways to get out of debt. You can try negotiating with your creditors, consolidating your debts, or making more money to pay off your debts faster. Whatever method you choose, make sure you have a plan and stick to it.
There are a few things you should avoid when trying to get out of debt.
First, don’t miss any payments or make late payments, as this will damage your credit score.
Second, don’t use credit cards while you’re trying to pay off debt, as this will only add to your balance.
Finally, don’t take on any new debts while you’re trying to get out of debt – focus on paying off the debts you already have first.
#6 – Start an online business
This can be a great way to create passive income and build wealth over time. There are many different types of online businesses that you can start, so do your research and find the one that is best suited for you.
Starting an online business is a great way to make some extra money on the side. It can be done relatively easily and doesn’t require much upfront work. Once you have the foundation in place, it’s easy to start generating income without any additional effort.
In fact, learning how to make money online for beginners is a hot topic!
The internet provides a unique opportunity to start and grow an online business. With the right tools, you can use the internet to your advantage and build a successful business.
#7 – Invest in the stock market
There are many ways to invest in the stock market, but the most common is through buying and selling shares on a stock exchange. You can also invest in mutual funds, which pool money from many different investors and then invests it in a portfolio of stocks or other securities. Another way to invest is through exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which are similar to mutual funds but trade like stocks on an exchange.
Before you start investing in the stock market, there are a few things you should consider.
First, you need to decide what your investment goals are. Are you looking to grow your wealth over time, or do you need access to your money quickly?
Second, you need to understand the risks involved with investing in the stock market. While there’s always the potential for making money, there’s also the potential for losing money.
Finally, you need to research different investments and choose one that fits your goals and risk tolerance.
Investing in the stock market comes with a number of risks, including the potential for losing money. While there’s always the potential for making money, there’s also the potential for losing money. Before you invest, you should understand the risks involved and make sure you’re comfortable with them.
#8 – Automate your finances
Automating your finances means setting up automatic payments for your bills and other regular expenses. This can help you to stay on top of your finances and avoid late payments or overdraft fees.
There are a few different ways that you can automate your finances. You can set up automatic payments through your bank or credit card company. Alternatively, you can use a service like Quicken to track your spending and create a budget.
Automating your finances can save you time and money. It can help you to stay on top of your bills and avoid late fees or overdraft charges. Additionally, it can free up more of your time so that you can focus on other aspects of life.
#9 – Habit of Automatic Savings
Automatic savings works similarly to automating your finances, but instead of paying bills, money is automatically transferred into a savings account each month. This can help you build up your savings without having to think about it.
With automatic savings, you can grow your savings without extra work; however, if you need access to the money in your savings account quickly, it may take a few days for the funds to transfer back into your checking account.
Challenge yourself to save more than the average 5% personal saving rate.
Overall, automating your finances can be a great way to stay on top of your bills and save money. Just be sure to consider the pros and cons of each method before you decide which one is right for you.
#10 – Use a Rewards Credit Card and Pay It Off Each Month
When you use a rewards credit card, you earn points for every purchase you make. These points can be redeemed for cash back, merchandise, travel, or other perks. Some cards also offer bonus points for spending in certain categories, such as gas or groceries.
To get the most value from your rewards card, it’s important to pay off your balance in full each month. This way, you’ll avoid paying interest on your purchases and will actually save money by earning rewards.
This is something we do on a regular basis and helps us to pay for our travel.
There are both pros and cons to using a rewards credit card. On the plus side, you can earn valuable rewards just by making everyday purchases. And if you pay off your balance in full each month, you’ll avoid paying interest and will actually save money.
On the downside, if you carry a balance on your card from month to month, the interest charges will outweigh any benefits you earn from the rewards program. Additionally, some cards have annual fees that can offset any savings you might accrue from using the card.
#11 – Learning How to Budget
A budget is an estimation of revenue and expenses over a specified future period of time. A budget is often created annually, but may also be created more or less frequently like biweekly or by paycheck.
Budgeting is important because it allows you to track your income and expenses so that you can make informed financial decisions. It also enables you to save money by identifying areas where you can cut back on spending.
Simple Budgeting tips:
Make sure your income and expenses are realistic
Track your progress over time
Don’t be afraid to adjust your budget as needed
Keep your long-term financial goals in mind
Budgeting shouldn’t feel constricting – just that you are able to do what you want to do.
#12 – Save Your Money
Saving money is a key component of building wealth. You need to have money saved in order to invest, and you need to be investing in order to grow your wealth. There are a few different ways that you can save money.
One way to save money is to create a budget and stick to it. This will help you track your spending and make sure that you are not spending more than you can afford.
Another way to save money is to make sure that you are taking advantage of all of the tax breaks that are available to you. This can help you keep more of your hard-earned money in your pocket.
Finally, another way to save money is by automating your savings so that you do not have to think about it every month.
Try to save your money wherever you can, even if it is a small amount. Every little bit counts in the long run!
#13 – Now, Invest Your Money
Investing your money is one of the best ways to grow your wealth over time.
When you invest, you are essentially putting your money into something that has the potential to grow over time. This can be done through stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, and other investments.
The key is finding an investment that has the potential for growth and then holding onto it for the long haul.
Especially learn how to flip money!
#14 – Put Money away for retirement
How much you need to save for retirement depends on a number of factors, including how long you expect to live and what kind of lifestyle you want in retirement.
A general rule of thumb is that you’ll need 70% to 80% of your pre-retirement income to maintain your standard of living in retirement.
There are a number of different options for where to save for retirement, including 401(k)s, IRAs, and annuities. Each has its own set of benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important to do your research before choosing one.
The main benefit of saving for retirement is that it gives you a nest egg to help cover expenses for retirement. Additionally, many employer-sponsored retirement plans offer matching contributions, which can help boost your savings.
#15 – Invest in yourself
The most important thing you can do with your money is to invest in yourself by getting higher education or learning new skills. By investing in yourself, you are ensuring that you will be able to earn a higher income and grow your wealth over time.
There are a few different ways you can invest in yourself.
One way is to invest in your education by taking courses or attending seminars that will help you learn new skills.
Another way is to invest in your health by eating healthy foods and exercising regularly.
Finally, you can also invest in your relationships by spending time with positive people who will support and encourage you.
Investing in yourself has many benefits that are normally overlooked.
First, it will help you earn a higher income which means you will be able to save more money and grow your wealth faster. Second, it will improve your health so that you can live a longer and happier life. Third, it will help improve your relationships so that you can have more supportive and positive people in your life.
This can help you earn more money over time and set you up for success.
Bonus Tip = Be Generous
When you give to others, you are actually helping yourself. Numerous studies have shown that giving makes us happier and can even improve our health.
There are many ways to be generous. You can give your time, your money, or your talents. You can also simply be kind and helpful to others. Whatever way you choose to give, make sure it is something that feels good for you.
Many people ask what to give and there is no one answer to this question. It depends on what you have to offer and what would be most helpful to the person or cause you are supporting.
Things to consider when putting money to work
When it comes to making money, there are a lot of different ways you can go about your little endeavor. But before we get into the specifics of how and when you should put your change to work, we have some general tips to help you along the way.
Where are you today?
First, start by looking at your current spending and saving habits. If you’re not saving anything right now, start small by setting aside $50 from each paycheck into a savings account. Once you have a cushion built up, you can start thinking about investing your money.
Also, think about your long-term financial goals and how much money you’ll need to save to reach them. Automate your savings so that it’s easier to stay on track.
How Much are You Spending?
You should also be mindful of your spending habits as they can have a big impact on your ability to grow wealth over time. Try to live below your means and avoid unnecessary purchases so that more of your money can go towards savings and investments.
It can also be helpful to create a budget so that you have a better idea of where your money is going each month. This will allow you to make adjustments as needed in order to free up more money for savings and investing.
Are you Investing?
Investing is one of the best ways to grow your wealth over time. When you invest, you’re essentially putting your money into something that has the potential to earn more money in the future. This can be done through stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other investment vehicles.
It’s important to do some research before investing so that you understand the risks involved and don’t end up losing all of your hard-earned money.
Is Debt Holding You Back?
Last but not least, debt can also impact your ability to grow wealth over time. High-interest debt, such as credit card debt, can eat away at your savings and make it difficult to invest.
If you have high-interest debt, it’s important to focus on paying it off as quickly as possible. You may need to make some sacrifices in other areas of your life in order to do this, but it will be worth it in the long run.
How to Make Your Money Work for You FAQs
1. Invest in stocks: This is one of the most popular methods of growing wealth. When you invest in stocks, you are buying a piece of a company that will be worth more in the future. The key to making money with stocks is to buy low and sell high.
2. Invest in real estate: Another popular way to grow your wealth is to invest in real estate. When you invest in real estate, you are buying a property that will increase in value over time. The key to making money with real estate is to make sure your portfolio is set up for high probability of success.
3. Invest in bonds: Bonds are another way to grow your wealth. When you invest in bonds, you are lending money to a company or government that will pay you back over time with interest.
Saving money is one of the best ways to use your money. It allows you to have a cushion in case of an emergency, and it also allows you to save for future goals. There are many different ways to save money, but some of the best include setting up a budget and sticking to it, setting up a savings account, and investing in yourself.
Investing your money is another great way to use it. When you invest, you are essentially putting your money into something that has the potential to grow over time. This can be a great way to build your wealth over time and secure your financial future. Some of the best things to invest in include stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.
Of course, you can also use your money by spending it on things that you need or want. While this may not seem like the most productive use of your money, it is important to remember that spending is necessary in order to live a comfortable life. Therefore, it is important to find a balance between saving and spending so that you can enjoy both now and in the future.
Keep your money in a safe place.
Invest in a good financial institution.
Diversify your investments.
Review your insurance coverage regularly.
Have an emergency fund.
Money Works for You
In this article, we covered a few different ways to grow your wealth.
Making your money work for you is a great way to grow your wealth without having to put in a lot of extra effort. By following the tips and tricks in this guide, you can easily make your money work for you and watch your wealth grow over time.
If you are looking for where to put your money to make it work for you, we uncovered the 15 best ways to make your money work for you.
Whichever method you chose is up to you.
The best answer is to diversify your portfolio and create multiple streams of income.
So what are you waiting for? Get started today and see the results for yourself!
Know someone else that needs this, too? Then, please share!!
This is another guest post from JoeTaxpayer. On my blog, I’ve shared several articles that discussed the Roth IRA conversion event of 2010 in great length and detail. While this is can be a great opportunity for many, there are several instances that a conversion does not. I looked to JoeTaxpayer to share some pros and cons of the Roth IRA conversion and for unforeseen consequences that could result.
There’s been much hype regarding the ability for anyone to convert their retire money to Roth regardless of their income. Many professional planners and writers of financial blogs have offered compelling reasons why one should convert. Today, I’d like to share some scenarios where you might regret that decision.
You don’t have a crystal ball
All signs point to higher marginal rates, this is one factor that prompts the advice to convert, but who exactly would that impact, and by how much? Let’s look at the first risk of regret. You are single, and an above average wage earner, just barely in the 28% bracket. (This simply means your taxable income is above $82,400 but less than $171,850, quite a range). Any conversion you make now is taxed at 28%, by definition. You get married, and start a family quickly, your spouse staying home. That same income can easily drop you into the 15% bracket as you now have three exemptions, and instead of a standard deduction, you have a mortgage, property tax and state tax which all put you into Schedule A territory and a taxable income of less than $68,000. Now is when you should use the conversion or Roth deposits to take advantage of that 15% bracket, before your spouse returns to work and you find yourself in the 25 or 28% bracket again. It’s then that you should convert enough (or use Roth in lieu of traditional IRA) to ‘top off’ your current bracket.
Life isn’t linear
It’s human nature to expect the next years to be very similar to the past few. Yet, life doesn’t work quite that way. The person who makes more money year on year, from their first job right through retirement is the exception. For more people, there are layoffs, company closings, major changes in family status, disability, and even death. Except for permanent disability or death, the other situations can be considered opportunities to take advantage of a full or partial Roth conversion. If one should become disabled, the ability to withdraw that pretax money at the lowest rates is certainly preferable to having paid tax on it all at your marginal rate.
Transferring your 401(k)
The Roth conversion is available for holders of 401(k) (and other) retirement accounts as well as holders of traditional IRA accounts. Back in October 07, I cautioned my readers on a somewhat obscure topic they need to be aware of when considering a transfer from the 401(k) to their IRA and the same caution exists for conversion to a Roth. Net Unrealized Appreciation refers to the gains on company stock held within your 401(k). The rules surrounding this allow you to take the stock from the 401(k) and transfer it to a regular brokerage account. Taxes are due only on the cost of that stock, not the current market value. The difference up to the market value at time of sale (thus the term Net Unrealized Appreciation) is treated as a long term capital gain. Current tax law offers a top LT Cap Gain rate of 15%. A loss of 10% or more if you are in the 25% bracket or higher and convert that company stock to a Roth.
Taking Money At Retirement
Given the low saving rate of the past decades, all projections point to fewer than the top 10% of retirees coming close to ‘retiring in a higher bracket.’ Consider how much taxable income it would take to be at the top of the 15% bracket in 2010. For a couple, the taxable income needs to exceed $68,000. Add to this two exemptions, $3,650 ea, and an $11,400 standard deduction. This totals $86,700. Using a 4% withdrawal rate, it would take $2,167,500 in pretax money to generate this annual withdrawal. What a shame it would be to pay tax at 25% to convert only to find yourself with a mix of pre and post-tax money that puts you toward the bottom of that bracket. Whose marginal rates do you believe will rise? Couples making less than $70,000? I doubt it. What’s the risk? That you should be in the 25% bracket at retirement? That’s still break even in the worst scenario.
What About Your Beneficiaries
While a tax-free inheritance might be great for the kids, a properly inherited, properly titled Beneficiary IRA can provide them a lifetime of income. Consider, if you leave a portion of your traditional IRA to your grandchild, a 13 year old, his first year RMD (required minimum distribution) will only be about 1.43% of the account balance. For a $100,000 account left to him, this RMD falls shy of the current $1900/yr limit before he is subject to the kiddie tax. To insure that he doesn’t withdraw the full remaining amount at 18 or 21, consult a trust attorney to set up the right account for this purpose. If left to your own adult children, the advantage can go either way depending on their income and savings level.
Are You a Philanthropist?
If you don’t have individual heirs you wish to leave your assets to, the ultimate poke at Uncle Sam is to leave your money to charity. No taxes at all are due. Leaving Roth money to charity just means that our government already got its piece of the pie.
Avoiding Roth IRA Conversion Regrets
Today, I’ve shared with you some scenarios that are cause for regretting a conversion. As I always caution my readers, your situation may differ from anything I addressed here, and your unique needs are all that matters. If you have any questions on when or if a conversion makes sense for you, post a comment and we’ll be happy to discuss.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Please see a tax professional before implementing any sort of IRA conversion. Joe TaxPayer is not affiliate or endorse by LPL Financial.