How to create a savings plan

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Andrew Goldman

Andrew Goldman has been writing for over 20 years and investing for the past 10 years. He currently writes about personal finance and investing for Wealthsimple. Andrew's past work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, New York Magazine and Wired. Television appearances include NBC's Today show as well as Fox News. Andrew holds a Bachelor of Arts (English) from the University of Texas. He and his wife Robin live in Westport, Connecticut with their two boys and a Bedlington terrier. In his spare time, he hosts “The Originals" podcast.

It might not have quite the same poetry to it, but just as the old Chinese proverb says, “a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step,” the journey to a comfortable retirement begins with a few minutes of annoying paperwork. Really, no good savings plan can be undertaken without the right accounts in which to deposit savings. And be warned: You’re going to need more than just a savings account.

First thing's first

Do you have an emergency fund yet? If you’ve ever read the Book of Job or watched the local news, you know terrible things happen to very nice people, so you should absolutely have at the ready an emergency fund that will cover at the very least three months of you (and your family’s) expenses. This — along with eliminating any large credit card bills — must be undertaken immediately, to prevent having to rely on high-interest credit in the event of an emergency.

One piece of advice: make this nest egg a savings account, money market account, or cash account, that’s totally separate from your checking account since it’s awfully tempting to transfer savings into a checking account to cover bills. (So no, Netflix being suspended never counts as an emergency.)

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Retirement savings plans

We're generally not super-fans of financial aphorisms, but “pay yourself first,” is a solid exception. It simply means that, every payday, before you buy the first round of drinks for your freeloading coworkers, you should first put money away for your future. After your emergency fund is taken care of, move on to funding only “tax-advantaged” savings plans; tax-advantaged simply means that by either allowing your investments to grow tax-free or allowing you to defer paying taxes until retirement, the government is essentially handing you free money. Here's our own financial aphorism: “Grab as much free money you can.” So where should you look first?

Employer pension plans:

If you’re a full-time worker, there’s a decent chance your employer will offer some form of defined contribution pension plan, meaning, they’ll agree to either contribute a set amount or match a portion of some or all of whatever you contribute towards your retirement. They’re tax-deferred, meaning you’ll only pay taxes on your contributions when you retire, and won’t pay a cent on any investment gains made along the way. So between the government tax breaks and employer contributions, it’s like being deluged with money from a two-headed shower. You’re free to contribute as much as 18% of your prior year’s salary into your pension, and you absolutely should if at all possible; auto transfers from your paycheque will ease the discomfort.

If you max out your employer pension plan or aren’t offered one, immediately open an RRSP and/or a TFSA, both of which offer tax breaks that you should absolutely take advantage of before depositing savings in any other account.

Savings plan formula

Those looking to create an overall masterplan for their finances would do well to consider the 50:30:20 rule, which provides a roadmap to create comfort — even wealth — for your future retired self. The first step is to figure out what your take home, or net pay, is then divvy it up this way.

  • 50% goes to needs. This is the non-negotiable stuff, including rent or mortgage payments, groceries, and monthly health insurance premiums. This one tends to be the toughest one for younger people; recent studies have shown that millennials devoted a full 45% of their income to rent before turning 30. So understand that these are just guidelines meant to help you, not turn you into a blubbering ball of anxieties. Just do your best.

  • 30% goes to wants. This here is the fun percentage, the one who shops for clothes, vacations in sunny climates, dinners out, may even drink one-too-many on a Friday. All non-necessary expenditures fall under this umbrella.

  • 20% goes to savings. Though this percentage may be listed last, don’t forget what you learned above: “Pay yourself first.” So even before paying rent, you should first concentrate on using this 20% to eliminate your credit card debt, building an emergency fund, and putting as much as possible into your tax-advantaged retirement accounts.

How much should you save a month?

Ideally, you should be saving 20% of your net pay every month. If you carry no credit card debt and have 3 months of emergency expenses saved, this 20% should either go towards your work retirement account or deposited directly into a tax-advantaged pension or retirement account.

Weekly savings plan

Let’s get down to brass tacks, nitty-gritty, whatever folksy way you want to label a discussion of actual dollar figures. If your salary is $70,000, you’re making about $1,350 a week gross, but you actually bring home about $1,100 after taxes. Twenty percent of that is $216 a week. Manageable, no? If you’re not already taking that 20% off the top by contributing to your retirement plan at work, auto-depositing is a great option. You can easily link your checking account to a cash account that can serve as your emergency fund, or else straight into your own self-managed pension.

Last Updated October 30, 2018

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