Today, Americans are facing an unprecedented economic crisis as the response to a novel coronavirus has left much of the country closed down. Sadly, far too many people are facing this crisis without enough savings.
If you don't have a savings account to see you through tough times and you're facing a loss of income, there are resources that can help, including expanded unemployment benefits.
But if you're not yet in financial crisis, it's time to stop making savings mistakes that make it harder to amass money you need for a rainy day, as well as for a bright future. In particular, there are four savings mistakes you should avoid.
1. Treating savings as optional
Before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic and governments across the country began issuing stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of COVID-19, the American economy was humming along nicely. In fact, unemployment was near record lows and many Americans were optimistic about their finances.
Unfortunately, even during these good times, many people were saving too little. Often, this was because savings were seen as something you could or should do only if you could afford it. The reality is, you can't afford not to save money. A rainy day will eventually come, and you'll have to retire some day. You must have savings to see you through those times.
To make sure you've got enough, saving must always be a top priority and treated as an essential expense. You wouldn't spend money on entertainment or dining out or other fun expenses until your mortgage or rent was covered, and you should treat contributions to your savings account as having the same importance.
2. Setting savings goals based on the best-case scenario
When you're setting savings goals, whether it's for retirement or the size of your emergency fund, it's easy to make unrealistic projections to make them seem more attainable.
This could mean you're planning for retirement at 70 instead of preparing if you have to leave the workforce at 62. Or it could mean erring on the side of saving a smaller emergency fund to cover three months of living expenses, rather than a larger fund that will see you through six months of tough times.
Most people don't regret having too much saved, but regretting having too little is common. To make sure you aren't left with insufficient funds when you need money, always be aggressive in the goals you set for yourself.
3. Sticking with the status quo when it comes to savings
Far too many people set their 401(k) contributions at a set percentage of their income and don't make regular increases. While this is fine if you're already saving the recommended 15% or more of your income for retirement, most people aren't.
Instead of sticking with your current savings level if it's too low, look for regular opportunities to up your contributions. The most obvious time to do that is when you get a raise. As your salary goes up, divert some or all of your extra money to savings before you even get a single larger check, so you don't get used to the extra cash.
You can also slowly increase the rate you save over time. If you're saving 10% of your income, up your savings to 11%, wait a few months, and then go up to 12%. These small incremental changes are easy to adapt to but can add up to big bucks over time when the money is invested for your future.
4. Not saving for all the things you need to
Most people know they need to save for retirement and emergencies. But if you want to be as financially secure as possible, you should also save for all of the regular and irregular expenses you're likely to encounter during the course of the year.
You know holidays and birthdays come up on a set schedule, so have a fund for them so you don't end up borrowing to afford gifts. And you know car repairs and home repairs will inevitably be needed sometime, so have a dedicated savings account to cover them.
If you have multiple savings accounts with funds earmarked for all of life's necessities, you can avoid having to tap your emergency fund for these expenses and can keep that money for a true unexpected crisis, such as when a pandemic unexpectedly cuts your income.
Avoid these savings mistakes
Amidst these uncertain economic times, having savings is more important than ever. If you're lucky enough to still have income coming in, now is the time to be very aggressive in putting aside as much of it as possible.
And if you've been affected by the coronavirus crisis, trust that you'll get through these tough times, take advantage of benefits available to you, and work toward saving more now if you can or later once the crisis has passed.