In the first decade of your adult working life, finances can be tenuous. Salaries are rarely that great, expenses are expensive, and there are just so many things you need to save for. Emergency fund. Car. Home down payment. Retirement. The list goes on.
In this segment of the Motley Fool Answers podcast, a listener in just that situation is looking for advice on how he and his wife can navigate all of those competing priorities. To help respond, hosts Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp have enlisted Buck Hartzell, director of investor learning and operations at The Motley Fool.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Oct. 30, 2018.
Alison Southwick: The next question comes from Morrell? Morel? I'm not quite sure how to pronounce it.
Robert Brokamp: One of those.
Southwick: I'll pronounce it many ways. "My wife and I are 26 and 28, respectively. I just started a new job with what I feel is great pay, and I'm trying to start good savings and investing habits. I'm getting aggravated because there are too many goals to hit." Are you ready?
Southwick: "First goal: need three to six months' worth of income and savings for emergency fund, so a goal of $18,000. We currently have $10,000 saved. Need 10% for down payment on a car; $4,500 for a $45,000 car. Need a 20% down payment for a house to avoid PMI; $40,000 for a $200,000 home. Continue savings for baby expenses. It seems that all my savings energy is going to amassing a minimum of $52,500 savings account just to meet the basics. How in the world will we ever be able to invest? My wife and I both contribute minimum to match amounts to our 401(k)s, but we are nowhere near maxing out those accounts much less a Roth IRA or brokerage account. I feel we are decent stewards of our money, but it just seems like an impossible task to hit savings goals while investing at the same time. Any help would be amazing." Aw!
Brokamp: Such sympathy...
Southwick: Well, it's so much stress.
Brokamp: I know.
Southwick: You're doing great!
Brokamp: I'm sure you're doing great! First of all, you care about this and you're in your mid-20s, which is great sign. And it's certainly difficult to hit all these targets when you're just starting out and you're thinking of starting a family.
Here are my initial thoughts. You said three to six months of income in a saving-for-emergency fund. As I've mentioned in previous episodes, I don't think it's three to six months of income. It's about three months of must-pay expenses. You don't have a mortgage at this point. You don't have kids at this point. I think you can get by with a smaller emergency fund. You've already saved up $10,000. That's probably OK, especially if you feel like your jobs are pretty safe.
The $4,500 to put a down payment on a $45,000 car. I would say lower your car needs. I don't know what car you're looking at, but you can get a pretty good used car. Almost every car I've bought is a used car.
Southwick: We just bought a $16,000 new car, and it's delightful. I don't care if it's a manual transmission. That's our best theft deterrent -- the fact that our car is a manual transmission.
Brokamp: Not to mention you can pop the clutch if the battery goes dead. Anyway, so I would say lower your sights in what kind of car you need.
Buck Hartzell: The average new car now -- I did this quiz with my family last night -- is $36,000. That's the average price, and largely because they're not making little cars anymore, very much, and they've all gone to the more profitable SUVs, and that's driven up the average cost, but $45,000 is probably for a nice SUV.
Brokamp: And then a 20% down payment to avoid PMI. I understand how difficult that could be. If you're doing it for a $200,000 home, I'm jealous, because we live in the Washington, D.C. area and you could never find a home for that amount. I would say, especially with your first home, it's OK to put down less than 20%.
Southwick: We did the FHA loan. That was 4%.
Brokamp: And you can get out of PMI once you have built up 20% equity, so the combination of you making your payments and hopefully the home price increase means eventually you can get out of PMI, so you generally don't have to pay it forever. Just make sure you know what the terms are before you take on that loan.
Southwick: Also, you don't have to buy a house if you don't want to.
Brokamp: That's another big thing. We've talked about that. Homeownership is completely overrated. It's the biggest mistake my wife and I made that we've bought too many houses, partially because we bought the so-called starter home and didn't think down the line to how many kids we eventually would have. So if you're at a point where you're just starting this job and you're not sure whether you're going to like it or not, and you don't know how many kids you're going to have, you might want to wait on buying the house.
Hartzell: We see some house prices moderating. There's not a whole lot of inventory right now in most markets, and as more inventory comes on, it usually benefits the buyer, too. So patience, sometimes. I'll echo what Bro said. You're in your mid-20s. You're doing phenomenally well. Just prioritize things.
I would add one that Bro won't like, and we sit on the retirement committee here, but I remember we did it for our first house. We borrowed from our 401(k) to make our down payment for our first house. That's not your first option, but you guys are contributing to 401(k)s, so that is an option. And make sure that when you do buy that house that you want to be in that area for seven years, at least, because it's not something you want to do -- buy and sell houses. There's commissions that go along with those, and usually around 6%, so it's much more expensive to buy and sell houses than it is stocks or anything else, so make sure that when you do buy, you make that commitment.
Southwick: Like the schools and those things. That's a big deal in our area.
Hartzell: Go visit that house and do the early morning commute and do the commute back at nighttime as well. And one thing for those of you, since it's not a house show...
Southwick: Oh, I'm all houses all the time.
Hartzell: Oh, you're all houses. That's right.
Southwick: We're closing this Friday.
Hartzell: Alison is closing, but look for comparable rentals to your house, and generally you want to pay around 200 times a comparable monthly rent. It will fluctuate, but around there is pretty good. In the peak bubble times of 2005-2007 around here, people were paying up to 400 times monthly rents, and those people generally saw the value of their house decline by 30%-40%. Then you're underwater, and that's a bad situation to be in. So that's a good tip when you start to value what you should pay for a house.
Brokamp: And since this episode comes out right before Halloween, if you're going to have kids, it's a great time to drive around and see which neighbor has the most little kids walking around. Who's decorating the most for Halloween to get that vibe.
Southwick: That's true!
Brokamp: The final thing I'll say is if you can manage to save more money, the first place I'd put it is the Roth IRA, because that money grows tax-free, and as we've pointed out previously, the money you put into a Roth IRA you can take out tax and penalty-free if you need it. I wrote an article back when my kids were very young about us using a Roth IRA as an emergency fund. We put it in there. Hopefully we don't need to touch it, but if we did need to get it, we could. We didn't need to, but we did look at that as our emergency fund, and it worked out pretty well.
Southwick: So they could put that $10,000 that they currently have saved and shuffle it over to the Roth.
Hartzell: The contributions you can take out tax-free.
Brokamp: Right, not the earnings. And the limit per person is $5,500 for folks their age, although hopefully it's going to go up in 2019.
Southwick: The bottom line is you're doing great!
Brokamp: You're doing great!
Southwick: And you are investing! You're just investing in a lot of stuff!
Hartzell: That's right!
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