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Money Saving Quick Guide: Where to Put Your Money for Financial Goals

You have your financial goals set, you are ready to start building up your savings but you have one problem – you don’t know where to save your money.  Not to worry here is a quick guide on where you should put your money for the five most common savings goals, and where not to put those savings.

Where to Save for an Emergency Fund

An emergency fund should be safe and secure and ready for you when you are in need.  That is why it is called an emergency fund!  Thus you want your savings for emergencies to be in a savings account or money market.

You do not want your emergency funds to be in the stock market nor do you want to rely on a credit card!  The stock market goes up and down and you need to be able to depend on a set dollar amount for your emergency funds.  Using a credit card to manage your emergencies is unwise as it puts you in debt and makes your emergencies more expensive, which throws off your whole purpose of savings.

Where to Save for a Car (or Other Major Purchase)

When you are saving for a near term purchase such as a car, vacation, wedding or other big item you want this money to be safe and ready when you need it, just like the emergency fund.  Therefore you should put it in a savings account or money market also.  In fact a great way to easily save for these items is to set up an automatic transfer from your checking into a savings account set up for your goal.

You do not want to “save” for these items by taking out a loan or putting it on your credit card.  Buying depreciating assets and experience items on credit makes them cost more in the long run which means you have less money to actually accomplish your goals.  Instead save up for these items and enjoy the freedom of only paying what each item actually costs.

Where to Save for a House

This one is a bit trickier as it depends on when you plan on buying your house.

Less Than 3 Years: If you are planning on buying a place within three years you will want to keep the funds in a savings account or you could use CD’s to get a bit higher return.  Yet again the importance here is making sure you have the funds and not on getting high returns in the market.  The market can go down and if it is down when you are ready to buy your house you won’t have as big of a down payment as you wanted, causing you to buy less house or take out a bigger mortgage.

Less Than 5 Years: This one is a bit trickier because you are close to needing the money but you do have some time to ride out the waves of the market.  I actually put this in the category of your personal preference.  If it would stress you out too much that the money might go down in value then stick with savings, however if you are okay with taking on a bit more risk you could put a small percentage in bonds or a stocks mutual fund.

How much could you put in the market?  I would recommend staying between 30 – 50% in the market and the remainder in a savings account or CD.  Slowly start moving the money to savings as you get closer to your buying time.  Remember even the bond market goes up and down and is only considered “safe” because it has smaller swings than the stock market.

In Between 5 – 10 Years: This is the range when you do have a bit more flexibility to add more asset allocation to your savings plan.  Again this is going to depend on your preferences but the closer you are to 10 years the more you can have in the stock market, then slowly as you approach your target purchase date to move to the less risky allocations.

Try to focus on high quality less risky stocks; this is not the money to be betting on a tech startup!  You might consider some index funds to keep costs low and not have to worry about stock or bond picking.

You do not want to save for your house by taking out a 100% mortgage, I am not really sure you can even do this anymore but if you find you can – don’t do it!  Also like I said earlier don’t pick investments that are too risky, after all the goal is to eventually be able to put a down payment on a house and move in!

Where to Save for Kids College

My preferred place to save for your kids’ college would be in an Educational Savings Account (E.S.A.).  While the contribution limits are low it does offer you the most flexibility in where you can invest the funds and gives you the added benefit of being able to use it for private school before college.  While using the 529 allows you to save more, you have a lot less flexibility, and you can only use it for college.  For more information on ESA.

You do not want to save for kids’ college in a pre-paid plan.  This is where you pay your child’s tuition to an instate school at today’s rates.  This is bad because it restricts where your child can go, but it also locks you into your rate of return being the rate that tuition increases.

Where to Save for Retirement:

This is my favorite one.  Retirement savings is easy because I recommend you save everywhere!  The more you save the better, so utilize everything that you have at your disposal.  These include: 401K’s, IRA, ROTH IRA and even taxable accounts.  Try and first max out any of your tax favored accounts and then move on to the taxable accounts.  It is more important to just start saving for retirement than in which retirement account you are going to save in.  Don’t become paralyzed from action by worrying about which one is perfect, just get to saving!

You do not want to save for retirement by relying on the government and social security.

Bonus: Where Else Can You Save Money

One extra place that you can put your “savings” is on to your debt!  When you pay off your debts you free up money to do some real lasting savings.  Get those credit cards out of your life and you will quickly have money to save for retirement, college, cars, emergencies and houses.

Now that you know where to save it is time to get saving.

Roger @ The Chicago Financial Planner says February 26, 2013

Good info Andrea. I especially agree with your advice not to use pre-paid college tuition savings plans. In addition to the reason you cited, a few (Alabama comes to mind) had some financial issues and there was some doubt as to whether they were going to be able to fund the tuition levels originally promised. Overall a good thought process for folks saving for different goals over various time frames.

José R. Figueroa says February 26, 2013

Very nice summary!

    Andrea says February 26, 2013

    Thank you Jose!

Toshiba Burton says February 26, 2013

Nice post! People call me cheap all the time because I choose not to spend my money like other people do. Instead I make sure that I save for emergencies so that I don’t have to beg & borrow from others which includes family. I remember last summer I needed some work done on my car & a very good friend of mine told me that I should have a credit card in place so that I don’t have to pull from my emergency fund account, but I totally disagreed with him.

I don’t believe in credit cards especially after reading The Total Money Makeover, because they don’t do anything but get you into a lot of debt. Dave Ramsey teaches us to save for emergencies so when something breaks down we can pull that money, fix it & invest back into our emergency fund.

I’ve gotten a lot of grief from others & I even developed some Haters for some reason because my way of thinking is totally different from theirs, but that’s okay in the long run I’ll be a heck of a lot better off than they will & that’s what’s important to me:)

    Andrea says February 27, 2013

    Toshiba, You are definitely on the right track to use your emergency funds instead of credit cards! You are right to ignore the haters and remember you are creating a more stable future for yourself which will give you the freedom to live life they way you want and not the way the banks want you to! 🙂

Shawn James says March 7, 2013

Great money saving quick guide! An important factor in determining your level of investment is how close you are to retirement. If retirement is fast approaching, you may want to increase your annual savings in order to meet your financial goals.

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