Monday, March 15, 2010

Money Monday: Money for Nothing

Even if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, it is unspeakably essential that you start setting aside anything you can, for retirement and in case of a layoff or medical emergency, even if those possibilities seem less remote than imminent starvation. (Difficult to care about social security shortfalls when you want to gnaw your own arm off for sustenance, I know.) The simple math facts are that the earlier in life you begin to save, the less you actually have to put away in the long run in order to have a decent retirement (or at least hopefully not die naked in a ditch). So even if it’s only $20, which you make returning cans or forgoing one latte per week, start a savings account and contribute to it regularly. Do it NOW.

I’ve had an account with ING for a year now, and I couldn’t be happier. They pay a slightly higher interest rate than most banks because they are online only and don’t have to support expensive edifices. They also usually hand you $25 or $50 for joining or adding a checking account… email me for a referral and we’ll probably both get some dollars ;) There are other options- check out this article for comparisons. You could start a regular savings account at your brick-and-mortar bank too, but my favorite thing about ING, pointed out recently by my financial guru, Ramit Sethi (of I Will Teach You to Be Rich), is the “Bucket” system.

For someone very visual and very Virgo like me, being able to move money in and out of labeled accounts within my savings account (they call it opening a “new one but it’s just a sub-account) is the best method of saving for specific goals ever invented. It's like having jars labeled "Summer Vacation,"House Down Payment," "In Case My Job Goes Up in Flames," "Car With Four Wheels," except you can't steal quarters for laundry or bus fare out of them.

My new “buckets” are the main “Dez-Savings” that I transfer money into, and then:





My dream dress by The Secret Boutique on Etsy, $650 (custom)

Right now I have a month and a half’s pay in Emergency, slightly more in both Wedding and Home Improvement, and about week’s pay in Vacation. If I hadn’t diverted $1000 to my Roth IRA to buy a target-date mutual fund (more on this when I discuss Ramit’s book in detail), I’d be a lot closer to re-doing the kitchen, setting an actual wedding date and location, and planning a honeymoon. Oh well. It seemed like the thing to do at the time, but it took a great deal of straining against impulses for instant gratification.

If you’re one of those lucky people who has achieved most of the improvements and toys and sojourns that your heart desires and you have money languishing in a savings account, even a high-ish interest one, you should probably move some of it out into a Roth, CD, or other investment. (By the way, I am a firm believer in having some fun money in the market: I bought a tinch of Harley and a wee bit of Victoria’s Secret stock when I was in my early twenties, and I hang on to them, in addition to my more sensible holdings. They say buy what you love, don’t they?)

The next thing to do, once you have set up your savings accounts, is to find ways to cut expenses and up your income so that you can increase your rate of savings. You simply must track your expenses. Some people really like to do so electronically, through a service like Mint or their own bank’s online statements. The only problem with this solution is a little-known ethical one: most small business owners are charged several dollars per debit or credit transaction by the issuing bank or the card machine leasing agent. They have to take cards because “no one carries cash anymore” but they lose money on every transaction. This eliminates their already-miniscule profit margins and helps to drive them out of business, destroying neighborhoods and contributing to the Walmartification of America.

If you can get off of the debit card habit, give yourself a cash allowance and keep strict track of how much you have on you and how much you’re spending on incidentals. If you run out, examine where it all went. And try to do a little bit better next time (or re-evaluate whether your allotment is realistic). Think of your spending like you’re on a business trip and will have to account for every penny or it’s lost to you forever. Learn to ask for a receipt every time and to collect them in a centralized place (if you find a gorgeous flat wallet or pouch or a small notebook with a pocket , you’ll adore looking at it so much you’ll remember to put the receipts in it. Hopefully).

Pink Giraffe wallet clutch by DesignSK on Amazon, $13.99

Growing your savings is akin to tending a garden: plenty of work-- but in the end, enjoyable. Do avoid fixating on the long-term—retirement— so much that you forget about surrounding yourself with beauty, rest and relaxation, and the occasional rich meal prepared by someone else or good bottle of imported wine that makes life worthwhile.

Happy saving!


  1. You go girl girl with all of this GREAT advice!! TOTALLY agree--I almost whittled my 20's away until someone told me some of these kinds of tips!

  2. I love the idea of the buckets and you're so right about the powers of compound interest and the need to start early.
    I can understand that for some folks, money is incredibly tight and they find it hard to get started. For them, I'd suggest selling a few unwanted things on Ebay and saving the proceeds. Apparently, most of us have $1000s worth of stuff at home we never use....

  3. This post is full of good advice. My son has an ING account and is very happy with it. He closed his Bank of America account because the service charges were so high.

    My husband is from MA and is eager to get back to New England, as am I. We hope to cut living expenses by combining households with our daughter and her husband. Can four live more cheaply than two? We hope so by sharing mortgage, utilities, insurance, cable TV and internet costs.

    Also we plan to enjoy each other and have fun!! We will each have our own space which is key!

    Thanks for visiting Porch Days! I will post about the move and how it all goes.


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