Saving money is a very common goal that many of us nonetheless struggle to achieve. In fact, saving more money was Americans' top financial resolution going into 2019.
And we need savings for many different reasons. Not only is an emergency fund key for protection against unplanned expenses, but you'll need retirement savings to fund your golden years, whether in a 401(k) or in an individual retirement account (IRA). And let's not forget savings for milestones such as homeownership and college -- especially if you want to avoid a hefty mortgage or burdensome student loans. In this guide, we'll offer a host of tips for meeting your savings goals in 2019 so you're able to end the year wealthier than when you began.
Types of savings
We all need savings for various stages of life. Without immediate access to financial reserves, you risk racking up credit card debt and ruining your credit score the moment an unplanned bill falls in your lap. And without long-term funds stashed away for retirement, you could seriously struggle to pay your bills as a senior. Although you might have Social Security to fall back on, those benefits will only replace about 40% of your pre-retirement income -- and that's in a best-case scenario. Most folks will need double that amount to live comfortably, which means you'll need to save in a retirement plan to avoid falling short down the line. And then there are goal-based savings, the reserves that will allow you to achieve certain milestones, like homeownership or a child's college education.
Emergency savings is the money you can access right away to cover expenses you can't anticipate -- things like home repairs, automobile malfunctions, or medical bills. Your emergency fund might also serve the very important purpose of tiding you over if you lose your job and don't find another one for quite some time, so it should therefore be able to cover three to six months' worth of living expenses. Building an emergency fund should take precedence over all other financial goals you might have, including your retirement nest egg, college fund, or home down payment.
The best place to house your emergency fund is in a traditional savings account. This way, your principal is guaranteed, which won't be the case if you stick your cash into a brokerage account and invest it. Savings accounts are FDIC-insured for up to $250,000 per depositor, and while interest rates today aren't supremely generous, if you do your research, you might find a bank that pays well above the national average.
Without retirement savings, you risk struggling financially during your golden years. Since many of your expenses are likely to stay the same or even increase in retirement, you'll need money to ensure that you're able to pay the bills and enjoy your life when you're older. There are several tax-advantaged retirement savings plans you can choose from.
Employer-sponsored 401(k)s make it easy to amass savings for retirement. When you sign up for a 401(k), your employer will deduct money from your earnings automatically, month after month, so you don't have to think about it. From there, you can invest your savings to fuel their growth.
There are two types of 401(k) plan your employer might offer: the traditional and the Roth. With the former, your contributions will be made on a pre-tax basis, which means you'll lower your taxes and save more money in the present day. Your withdrawals, however, will be taxed in retirement. With a Roth 401(k), contributions are made post-tax, so there's no immediate tax benefit for putting that money away. But your withdrawals are tax-free in retirement.
In 2019, you can contribute up to $19,000 a year to either type of 401(k) if you're under 50. If you're 50 or older, you get a catch-up provision that raises this limit to $25,000.
Short for "individual retirement account," an IRA is available to workers without access to a 401(k). IRAs also come in two main varieties, the traditional and the Roth. Again, the former let you make pre-tax contributions, offering a tax break up front but taxing your withdrawals in retirement. The Roth version is funded with after-tax dollars, but withdrawals are taken tax-free in retirement.
In 2019, you can contribute up to $6,000 to either a traditional or Roth IRA if you're under 50. If you're 50 or older, you get a $1,000 catch-up that raises this limit to $7,000.
Long-term savings plans for self-employed workers
If you work for yourself or own a small business, there are several additional tax-advantaged retirement plans that might be available to you. First, there's the SEP IRA (short for "simplified employee pension"). SEP IRAs let you contribute up to 25% of your net business earnings, which are calculated by taking your earnings and subtracting your business operating expenses, your SEP contribution, and half of your self-employment taxes. You're allowed a maximum of $56,000 in 2019, but be aware that if you own a small business that employs other people, you must contribute the same amount to your workers' accounts, percentage-wise, that you do to your own.
Then there's the SIMPLE IRA (short for "savings incentive match plan for employees"). SIMPLE IRAs also require you to make contributions on behalf of any workers you may employ, albeit not to the same extent as SEP IRAs. In 2019, you can contribute up to $13,000 to a SIMPLE IRA if you're under 50, or $16,000 if you're 50 or older.
Finally, there's the Solo 401(k), which works just like a regular 401(k) only with higher annual contribution limits. In 2019, you can contribute up to 25% of your net self-employment income, for a maximum of $56,000 if you're under 50, or $62,000 if you're 50 or older.
Because college has gotten so pricey, many students have no choice but to rack up loads of debt to cover their tuition bills and expenses. If you'd rather spare your child that misery, you'll need to save for his or her education ahead of time.
There are several ways to save for college, but your best bet might be a 529 plan. Unlike a traditional savings account, it offers the potential for your money to grow significantly, and unlike a traditional brokerage account, it offers tax benefits. While your contributions are not pre-tax, the growth you achieve on your investments will be tax-free provided you use those funds for educational purposes. This means that if you contribute $100,000 to a 529 plan over time, and it grows to $150,000, you could avoid taxes on that additional $50,000. And since 529 plans don't come with annual limits, you're free to contribute as much as you desire (though there are gift tax implications that could come into play if you fund your 529 at a very high level in a given year).
Another college savings option you might consider is a Roth IRA. Though these plans are generally associated with retirement, they're funded with post-tax dollars, so you're technically free to withdraw your principal contributions at any time without penalty. That said, your savings in a Roth IRA (for college or otherwise) are limited to $6,000 in 2019 if you're under 50, or $7,000 if you're 50 and over. When you have 40 years or more to save for retirement, you can do a lot with these limits. But when you're looking at a more narrow savings window for college, sticking to them could put you at risk of coming up short.
Savings for a home
You'll often hear that you need to come up with a 20% down payment if you want to buy a home, and that's good advice. If you put down less to start with, you'll be hit with private mortgage insurance, or PMI, that adds to the cost of your mortgage. By making a 20% down payment, you'll keep your mortgage costs more manageable.
Though you can technically invest the money you're saving for a home down payment in a brokerage account in hopes of making more of it, you're generally better off keeping that cash in a savings account. The reason? Investing bears a certain degree of risk, especially when you're putting money into stocks. As a general rule, you should keep money you plan to use within seven years out of the stock market to avoid having to take a loss on it. Therefore, if you're planning to become a homeowner within the next seven years, you should keep that money in the bank, where its principal is insured.
That said, if you know you're at least a year or two away from buying, you might consider putting some or all of your home down payment into a certificate of deposit, or CD. CDs generally pay higher interest rates than savings accounts. The only catch is that you're required to lock up your money for a specified period of time, whereas savings accounts let you withdraw funds without penalty as you please.
Ways to save more money in 2019
Now that you understand why you might need savings, let's review the different ways you can boost your cash reserves in 2019. That way, you'll have more money to fund whatever account you choose to focus on, whether it's an emergency fund, a 401(k), an IRA, a 529 plan, or a CD. Here are some of the top ways to build more savings and reach your goals.
Follow a budget
It's hard to save money when you don't know where your income goes month after month. To remedy that, create a budget that shows you exactly what you're spending money on.
To set yours up, go through your bank and credit card statements from the past year to see what your recurring monthly expenses have entailed. Be sure to factor in one-time expenses, like annual subscriptions, to arrive at an accurate spending summary.
From there, you can compare your total spending to your earnings and see how the numbers stack up. Ideally, you should have enough room left over in your budget to sock away 15% to 20% (or more) of your earnings month after month. If your current level of spending doesn't allow you to do that, you'll know that it's time to start cutting corners.
One of the simplest ways to save more money in 2019 is to spend less of it. Once you have your budget in place, you'll be in a good position to identify expenses you can cut back on, keeping in mind that you'll want to focus first on those that have the least effect on your quality of life. For example, if you downsize to a smaller home or relocate to a less expensive area of the country, that's a good way to bank some serious cash. But how happy will you be living in cramped quarters or residing someplace that's far from your friends and family?
A better bet, therefore, might be to slash some costs that won't have as drastic an impact on your day-to-day happiness. For example, you could consider getting rid of the car you use primarily on weekends and not for work, or giving up one car if you're a two-car household. You'll probably find that it's much cheaper to rent a car here and there, or pay for the occasional rideshare, than own a vehicle you don't rely on daily.This is also a good opportunity to cancel rarely used subscription services or memberships, like the cable channels you hardly ever watch or the gym you frequent once a month at best.
Finally, consider doing more cooking at home and spending less on restaurant meals and takeout. Food establishments generally charge a 300% markup on the items they serve, which means that most of the time, you can prepare a $50 restaurant meal for just $12.50 in your own kitchen.
Max out your IRA or 401(k)
The more you contribute to your retirement plan, the more money you'll have in the future. And if you're saving in a traditional IRA or 401(k), the more money you put away this year, the more you'll lower your 2019 tax bill.
As we learned earlier, traditional IRA and 401(k) contributions go in tax-free. Your associated savings are a function of your effective tax rate, or the overall rate at which your income is taxed.
Let's imagine your effective tax rate is 30%. That means that if you earn $100,000 a year, you generally lose $30,000 to taxes. If you're under 50 and you max out your IRA at $6,000 this year, doing so will shave $1,800 off of your 2019 tax bill, thereby putting that money back in your pocket. Max out at $7,000, which is possible as long as you're 50 or older, and you'll lower your tax bill by $2,100.
The tax savings associated with maxing out a 401(k) are even more substantial, since their annual contribution limits are much higher than what IRAs allow. Assuming an effective tax rate of 30%, you're looking at $5,700 in tax savings if you max out your traditional 401(k) at $19,000. And if you're 50 or older and can max out your 401(k) at $25,000, you'll lower your 2019 taxes by $7,500.
Eliminate credit card debt
The longer you carry a credit card balance, the more interest you'll accrue, and the more money you'll waste. A good way to save more money this year, therefore, is to stop throwing it away on credit card interest. Once you've cut expenses in your budget, you can use that freed-up cash to chip away at your outstanding balance until it's down to $0. From that point on, you'll save money by virtue of not having to spend it on interest.
Get a second job
If it seems like everyone you know has a side hustle these days, you're not crazy. Millions of Americans work a second job because it's a guaranteed way to drum up extra cash. If you want to save more money in 2019, find something you enjoy doing with your spare time and turn it into a money-making opportunity. If you love designing websites, for example, find local businesses who need a better online presence, and offer up your services. If you're great with animals, sign up to pet-sit when owners are away.
Of course, you could also get a traditional job on the side, whether it's telemarketing or waiting tables at a local restaurant. It doesn't really matter what you do for extra cash, but if you find work you enjoy, you'll have an easier time pushing yourself to do it.
Sell unwanted holiday gifts
Chances are, the 2018 holiday season wasn't totally kind to you. If you're sitting on a pile of useless gift cards or clothing that just isn't your size or taste, why not unload those items and collect cash for them? There are multiple online gift-card exchanges that allow you to swap your collection for cash. Most of these sites take a small fee, however, so a better bet might be to pool your social network and see if any friends or associates are willing to buy your gift cards from you directly.
The same holds true for selling unwanted items, whether they're left over from the holidays or not. You can list your belongings on sites like eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), where they'll reach a broad audience but you'll lose a fee in the course of your sales. Or, try selling them to people you know directly, either by listing them on social media or throwing a good old-fashioned yard sale.
Shop and spend smartly
The more savvy you are when it comes to shopping, the more money you stand to save. One way to set yourself up for success: Make a shopping list before you hit the store and take only enough cash with you to cover those specific purchases -- leave the credit cards at home. In doing so, you'll eliminate the option to give into impulse buys, something an estimated 84% of Americans admit they're known to do.
Doing your research on big-ticket items is another good way to avoid overspending, thereby saving more. Again, quality of life matters; this doesn't mean you need to spend 30 minutes combing through supermarket circulars to see which has the best price on milk or potatoes. Rather, if you need a new fridge, or have a kitchen table that's falling apart, shop around before plunking down cash for what could be a pretty substantial expense.
Negotiating prices can also help you keep your spending in check. The next time you're required to pay for things like home or car repairs, see if you can get your contractor or mechanic to come down on price. For example, if you're dealing with a non-urgent matter, you might snag a reduced rate by agreeing to wait a week or two to have your work done. Or you might score a discount by agreeing to pay in cash rather than using a credit card.
Bartering for services is another good way to lower your spending on necessities. For example, if you're looking at a $300 heating system repair but notice that your contractor's website hasn't been updated in months (or more!), you might offer to do that work in exchange for a free service call.
It pays to save money
The more money you're able to save in 2019, the closer you'll get to meeting your goals, whether your sights are set on completing your emergency fund, boosting your retirement nest egg, sending your child to college, or putting a down payment on a place to call your own. And just as importantly, growing your savings can improve your happiness and peace of mind. That's reason enough to push yourself to make 2019 your most successful savings year yet.