On the first day of retirement
I truly hope will be…
A party without poverty!
Happy Holidays, Moneymakers!
In the midst of parties and shopping for loved ones, I just want to touch base with you. You’re probably making a list and checking it twice for everyone else, but are you doing the same for yourself?
To hear the podcast episode that delved into this very blog post, click the image below to check out Doc G’s interview with me.
When I was designing the thumbnail image for this post, I’ll be totally honest with you. I initially got a gross feeling of Ebenezer Scrooge vibes. I thought, “Should I really be talking about personal finance when the holiday season is about giving?”
Mental health has gotten a lot of great exposure in recent years, and for good reason!
Along those same lines, I really think we need to do the same with financial health. It’s often been said that we’re in a financial crisis, and a crisis rarely goes away when it’s ignored. With that in mind, I propose we follow suit with the mental health positivity movement and remove the negative stigma around pursuing or talking about our financial health.
For me, financial health (like all the other aspects of health) is like the pre-flight instructions on a plane: each of us needs to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before we will be fully equipped to help someone else. And once we put ourselves in a stable financial footing, we can better help others in the world, too.
As Mama Ru famously says…
Similar to self-love, I say pay yourself first, Queen!
And then, once you set-it-and-forget-it with your different savings accounts, you can be generous AF with everything else you have left.
So, in the spirit of the song, “12 Days of Christmas,” I want to share with you the 7 ways I like to be sure I’m “putting the oxygen mask on myself first” so I have a solid foundation with my finances before getting swept away with my own holiday spending. If you enjoy buying gifts for your friends and family, but find yourself always running out of money to save for the future, here are the top ways I prioritize my savings accounts to “pay myself first” before budgeting with whatever I have left. I hope this list inspires a little holiday cheer at the thought of a jolly retirement that will await you in your golden years.
Dave Ramsey likes to share photos on social media of his devotees who are now debt-free with custom signs, fabulous golden balloons, and other props that show the amount of debt they’ve paid off. But what then?
Instead of hiring a commission-based financial advisor/salesman (boo!!!), what comes next after saving a $1,000 emergency fund, paying off high-interest consumer debt, and setting aside a secondary emergency bucket with 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses?
Being a single FIRE person with no kids who strives for more than the standard 15% put into my investments, I’m not a fan of his baby steps four through 7. As a debt-free devotee (having finished Dave’s first three baby steps), here’s the prioritized list of what I like to do with my extra Benjamins after that:
1. 401(k) match
This one assumes that your employer does a 401(k) match, and I’ll tell you why it’s the-bomb-dot-com. Check it out: a dollar-for-dollar match is instantly doubling your 401(k) contribution. That 100% growth is the best guaranteed return you will ever get on your money! Even if I had not yet completed Dave’s first three baby steps, I might have still made this my first order of operations. It’s too good to pass up, and also, it’s essentially a part of your salary that you don’t want to miss out on.
My employer matches the first 5% of our salary, so this is a no-brainer for me. Conversely, if I ever needed to reduce my contributions in these 7 “stockings,” this first one is the last thing that would ever get reduced. To quote the wise words of MC Hammer…
2. Roth IRA
The $500/month I put into maxing this out every month is set to automatically pull from my checking account at the beginning of every month and automatically invest in VTSAX so it’s earning an average of 7% or more per year. I prefer a Roth IRA over a Traditional IRA, because I’d rather be taxed on the seed (the $6,000/year contribution) than the harvest ($100,000s of compounded growth by the time I reach 59 1/2). Then I set those contributions on autopilot so I never need to remember to add to it every month. If you want to set up a similar automation for yourself, here’s a blog post for how I set my Roth IRA on autopilot with my Vanguard brokerage account. Spend an hour with your morning coffee to get it going and that’s it. Done. No more brain power needed. 🙂
3. Health Savings Account (HSA)
First off, let’s clarify something. No girl, this is not the same as a Flexible Spending Account (FSA). For more on the triple tax benefits of HSAs, check out my post from last month on all the benefits of an HSA. I max this out with $300/month, which automatically gets deducted from my paycheck and thereby reduces my taxable income. I keep around $1,000 accessible from my HSAbank debit card and the rest I invest in the market so it can also grow with compound interest of 7% or more. I gotta make that money work for me. Like a boss!
4. Maxing out my 401(k) beyond the employer match
In 2022, 401(k) contribution limits for individuals are $20,500, or $27,000 if you’re 50 or older. So, beyond putting in 5% of my salary (like I did in STEP 1 above), at this point I max out my contributions for my 401(k) to the full $20,500/year and have it automatically deducted from every paycheck.
Because my employer pays every two weeks (26 pay periods), I just do some simple math to figure out how much to have deducted from my paycheck to max it out…
$20,500/26=$788.46 per paycheck
Set it and forget it, honey!
5. Vacation fund
Okay, okay… this is not an investment per se, but it is an investment in my health and happiness, so I consider it a priority for myself. This one is not a fancy account earning interest, because I want to have the freedom to access it anytime.
For that reason, I just have a basic sub-account in my checking where I can set the money to be transferred from my main checking account every two weeks, watch it grow, and look forward to my next trip. After all, the anticipation of a future trip can be a great way to add to the mental health benefits of the trip itself! Personally, I have $200 automatically transferred over to my Vacay Fund every two weeks for a total of roughly $400/month going into this account.
It’s fun to see the balance grow and think about whether I might want to spend this money on a weekend getaway (maybe Palm Springs or Idyllwild?), or let it ride for 3-4 months and devote a bigger sum to something more fabulous, like a gay cruise with Atlantis.
In addition to rounding up to the nearest dollar for every purchase, I also like to step my p*ssy up and add an extra $10/day to Acorns. The same way that we usually don’t feel the pain of $5/day at Starbucks, what I like about Acorns is that it’s easy to round up your purchases or add an extra $5-10 every day and not notice that either.
This creates a nice secondary emergency fund or vacation fund without even noticing the money going out every day. And because this money gets invested in the market, it’s earning a lot more than a basic savings account. If you are not using Acorns yet, girrrrrrrrrrrrl…
Not to worry. The ad below has my affiliate link to get you started:
7. My real estate down payment fund
My plan for the next 2-3 years is to save up the down payment for a bigger property (something with more than one bedroom) to continue diversifying my real estate portfolio. Because high yield savings accounts are only bringing in around 0.4% at the time I’m writing this, my new strategy for this long-term savings account is to add extra to my Acorns account with it set on the most conservative option to minimize any losses from market volatility before I’m ready to withdraw the money.
My emergency savings accounts are at $10,000 so what I do is this: anytime I have more than that, I like to add the extra to my Acorns account. Ideally, I will do this at a time when there’s a temporary drop in the market. Investors call this strategy “buying the dip.” For example, let’s say I have $12,500 in my checking account. That means I have $2,500 of “extra” money to put into my Acorns.
So, as soon as there’s any scary news that the market is tanking, I will go into the Acorns app and do a one-time transfer of $2,500 into my Acorns account. Just be aware that you won’t be able to buy the dip with immediate precision. According to the Acorns support page, any deposits made into an Acorns account will take 2-4 business days.
Even though I don’t have the control to immediately “buy the dip” like I could if I were purchasing ETFs myself from a brokerage account, I prefer to use Acorns for my short-term real estate savings fund. You see, not only is the Acorns app great for it’s ease-of-use to help with behavior modification, making it easy to sock away a little bit here and a little bit there. There’s more! It’s also a robo advisor.
What I like about robo advisors is that they automatically rebalance your portfolio for you. That way, you can set it and forget it, with less worries about volatility that the market will tank right before you need the cash. According to the Acorns blog, they rebalance your portfolio quarterly and also, anytime you make a new contribution to your account.
I love that this takes the human emotion out of deciding when to rebalance a short-term portfolio, and instead, leaves that decision to Acorns’ artificial intelligence algorithms (which will not be prone to the same emotional drama queen over-reactions). 🙂
For this reason, I prefer Acorns over a brokerage account for the money I’m saving for a mid-range savings goal, like real estate. And because it will take me about 2-3 years to save up enough for my down payment, I like to go with the most conservative route from the handful of options that Acorns offers.
We dream this when we’re sleeping,
And still when we’re awake.
We’d save for real smart stuff like this, but
Our savings ain’t so good, for goodness sake!
I feel ya, queens! Trust me when I say that I’ve been there!
Just 11 years ago I was in a very different place. Take a look at the past posts in the HUSTLE tab of my blog archive for tons of tips on how to make more and save more. In the FIRE community, this is what we call “growing the gap.”
Don’t feel like you need to change everything overnight. For now, just look for the low-hanging fruit with easy fixes to get your finances 1% better. And before you know it, you’ll be stuffing your stockings with new savings you didn’t even realize you had!
This is just my Top 7 list, but as they say, personal finances are personal. Now I want to hear from you! In what order will you sock away your personal savings now that the holiday gift-giving season is “wrapping up” so you can start gifting a brighter future to yourself?
In the comments below, I’d love to hear how you allocate your own pay-yourself-first accounts.
Ho, Ho, Homo Money, out!