Archive for the ‘Saving’ Category

Start Your Savings 2: Your 401k or 403b plan.

February 20, 2008

In this series we are discussing various savings accounts and how to possibly fund them. To get the rest of the series click here, or subscribe to our RSS feed. The post will be delivered as soon as they are made available!

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Lets take a few minutes and talk about your 401k or 403b retirement plan. If your employer does not offer one, take heart, you may change jobs in the future and work where one is offered. If you are very influential, you may convince your employer to offer one (encourage as many coworkers as possible.)

Taxes. We just completed our taxes the other day, so this is foremost in my mind. Your contributions to your 401k come out of pre-taxable income. Depending on your income level, this could place you in a lower tax bracket if your income is right on the line.

Employer match. Most employers will match a certain amount of your contributions. The amounts vary greatly, but it is usually x% of your contributions up to y% (example-they may match you 25% on the first 4% of your contribution). Regardless of the amount, this is free money. If you contribute nothing more, at least get the maximum amount that your employer will kick in.

Tax deferred growth. Again, I am going back to taxes. The contributions, and the earned interest/dividends (compounding is your friend), grow tax deferred. The 401k’s have investment options in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc., but the capital gains and dividends are not taxable until withdrawn.

It is automatic. You can set this on auto-pilot and forget it. We found that if it was gone before we seen it, we did not miss it. I would review once a quarter, and only change after careful consideration. Avoid watching CNN and other news networks at all cost. They live on promoting fear and the gloom and doom of “the coming recession.” The facts are these: recession or not, the market has cycles. It will forever go up and down. Whether it be the tech bubble bursting, or the sub-prime market falling on its face, it will always be a roller coaster ride. The Dow Jones started in 1896 with an average of 40.94. It is now over 12,000. Yes, it has seen low periods, but it continues to grow over the long run. Which brings me to my next point.

Stay in for the long haul. Unless you plan on retiring in the next 10 years or so, do not stress over the ups and downs of the market. Just keep plugging along and ride it out.

As we have stated in our about page, we are not financial advisers or professionals. Your situation is unique, and you should consult a competent professional before making any decisions. We are only sharing our thoughts and what has worked for us.

Do you contribute to your 401k? How much does your employer match?

Start Your Savings 1: Build an Emergency Fund

February 19, 2008

In this series we are discussing various savings accounts and how to possibly fund them. To get the rest of the series click here, or subscribe to our RSS feed. The post will be delivered as soon as they are made available!

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I will say that I am extremely biased on this topic. It seems to me, from the research that we have done, is that there are two schools of thought. Either you pay off you high interest debt, then build your savings, or you get a specific amount saved before you begin paying more than the minimum payment on your debt.

Having been in a situation where the income suddenly disappeared, I am now a firm believer in having an emergency fund. It would have been nice to have a cushion to fall on when things went haywire. We have started our emergency fund, but we have a long way to go to reach our goal. When you first begin, I recommend setting your goal to be enough to cover at least one month of expenses.

The first step is finding the money to place in the fund. We had a zero budget when we began, which means everything we had coming in (and then some!!) was going back out. Here are some of the ways we have “found” money to save:

  1. We created a budget. The list included all of our expenses that we had gathered. I am working on a spreadsheet budget, and as soon as I get it finished and uploaded we are going to do an entire post on budgeting. Once you have created a budget, any amount that is not used in a category (providing all other expenses are covered) can be placed in your savings.
  2. We started a change jar. We placed a simple mason jar on our kitchen counter and place all loose change (other than quarters) in the jar. Our first month we had around eight dollars. If you use your debit card for most purchases (as we do), this will not add up quickly, but every little bit will help.
  3. Look for ways to lower your expenses. For a list of general ideas on how to save on expenses check these post. Again, whenever you are able to lower an expense, place some (if not all) of the savings into your emergency fund.
  4. Sell unused items. Anything that has value, that you are not using or personally attached to, get rid of. This was a two fold bonus for us. We made money for our savings, and the extra space and clutter free rooms really made a positive difference in our house. Ebay is one place to start. Although, I do not recommend selling anything that will not bring at least five dollars. It is not worth the time and effort to list items and pay the associated fees for less. Ebay has great research tools available to see what most items are selling for.
  5. Take on additional work. This is not a favorite choice, but it is an option. Either volunteer for overtime or extra work at your current employer, or find “odd jobs” to help people with. Unless circumstances are dire, I would try to find other ways before taking additional time away from family.

Once you have a little extra money, the next matter to consider is where to save it. Here are some of the choices we considered.

  1. Our local bank. If you need to have the money immediately available, then this is your best option. You can walk in and withdraw your money if need be, but you are going to pay for this luxury dearly. I am not talking about an actual expense, but rather in lost interest. Our bank currently only pays 0.5%. Our bank also requires a minimum balance, or you are assessed a $3 fee every month your balance is below minimum.
  2. Online savings accounts. These accounts are insured just like your local bank accounts by FDIC. There are many options available, and the interest rates will vary, but we chose ING. At the time of this posting their rate is 3.4% APY. While there are banks that are paying higher, all of our research lead to the fact that ING has phenomenal customer service, and an easy to use site. We were not disappointed.
  3. Interest bearing checking. This was an option for about two minutes for us. First of all, most require a minimum. Secondly, we decided that this was to be a savings account, and even though we wanted to have “quick” access, we did not want immediate access. We know enough about ourselves at this point to know that we could find an “emergency” (we should buy that limited edition thingamajig, they might run out!) if we had instant access.

Even though there are many other options available, those are the only ones we considered. As with most avenues in personal finance, patience is a key factor. It may not make you feel like dancing in the street, but that $4.40 deposit (yes, we have made one) will get you closer to your goal.

Do you have an emergency fund? How do you save for your fund? Where do you invest the money? We would love to know!