According to ycharts, the average personal savings rate in the U.S. at the end of 2016 was 5.5%.
That is what my family was saving, so we are average savers right now. Savings doesn’t happen without strategy, so this statistic shows we are prioritizing savings, but we can improve this percentage.
Eight years ago, my family had a savings account with a few thousands of dollars in it. We emptied the account in order to pay for a new roof. We saved for a couple more years and then we emptied it again to pay for a fence in the backyard, which we justified as an “emergency.” It felt like we couldn’t get ahead because we were filling and emptying our savings and couldn’t ever move on.
At the same time, I was feeling pressure to save for retirement, vacations, and my childrens' future college and marriages. I wanted the time value of money to be working for us in all of these areas. That resulted in me using that marriage fund for another expense. We only saved a couple of hundred dollars for college, and our retirement savings was minimal.
In 2010, we decided to focus on one savings goal and invest 3% towards retirement. We decided that our first goal would be to fully fund an emergency fund, which we would only use for emergencies. (Home improvements didn’t count as emergencies for us anymore!) About a year and a half into the goal, we had saved ¾ of our goal amount. I felt tired as we hit a savings wall. I started to justify that we had enough saved, but our commitment to this goal helped us to stay focused on it and climb over the savings wall. About a month after hitting that wall, Ty received a promotion and large raise from his employer. This raise was 5X bigger than any raise he had ever received in the past, and it allowed us to reach our savings goal within a few months.
I remember the Magic Eye 3-D images that required me to relax, focus, and disregard all of the distracting images in order to see the 3-D image through the busyness. You have to be committed to finding that 3-D hidden image. That’s what happened when we focused on one savings goal. We were able to ignore all of the busy distractions. We relaxed and focused in order to see the goal realized.
I don’t know who to give credit for the term “savings snowball.” When we were going through our Savings Attention Deficit Phase, I knew about the debt snowball. This focused on paying one debt off at a time while paying the minimums on everything else, and I thought it would be great to do that on the savings side so that we could avoid debt. I googled “savings snowball,” and found the phrase several times, so I wasn’t the first to coin it.
Think about how we make snowballs. My kids have been making a lot of snowballs. They can make a lot of little ones for a snowball fight, but to make a snowman, they have to focus on one and roll it until that snowball gets bigger and bigger. Pretty soon, we have a large snowball to use to build the base of a snowman. Once the snowball is big enough, we can move to the next snowball, which doesn’t need to be the same size as the first. We decide how big it needs to be, and then we roll it until it gets to be that size.
We started doing this with our savings. After saving for an Emergency Fund, we saved for a trip to Disneyland, which was a much smaller goal that we reached quickly. Then we saved for a minivan. Now we are saving for an SUV to replace my husband’s SUV. The savings snowball has worked well for us because we see progress in reaching our goals in a relatively short amount of time.
This method also helped me relax and focus. I don’t goal hop anymore or try to do everything. The percentage of our income that we saved has changed. We started with about 5%, and each time we got a raise, we put it towards savings until we were saving 20%. Then, with our job loss, we weren’t saving at all for a short time. Then, once again, we started saving 5%, which is where we are now.
Look at your budget to determine what percentage number is right. As you free up money by reaching your savings goal or increasing your income, you can add to that. What other savings strategies have helped you?
I am not ready for Christmas, so why am I thinking and writing about retirement? Our parents are both retired, and it came fast. I remember when my parents were my age. Even though it’s Christmastime, I’ve been thinking about retirement.
Over the years, I’ve tried every retirement calculator tool available. I’ve estimated my family’s expenses. We have met with financial planners. I have concluded that there are a lot of unknown factors about retirement and have accepted this.
According to the Social Security website, currently full retirement age is 67, which is close to the age of our parents. I’m fascinated with young retirees I’ve heard about. Retirement doesn’t have to mean “age 67.” I understand it to mean the time when we are not actively earning money and living off passive or saved income. This could be any age.
My husband plans to work as long as he physically can. He loves to work so he will probably work during retirement, but it will be a different kind of work. He worked construction for his first job, which was very physical. His current production job requires physical labor, but not at much as construction required. I assume that he will do less physical labor but still work as much as he does now.
During retirement, some passive income will come from investments that you made earlier. So, we need to decide what type of investments we will make.
What kinds of expenses will you have? The best way I know to estimate retirement expenses and income is to look at those who are retired. My parents and inlaws have these expenses:
I realized that our parent's expenses are pretty similar to ours but the amounts are different. These amounts can range from a little to a lot, which is why it’s important to think about your personal plans.
This Wasatch Peaks Retirement Calculator was a great tool to use after I figured out what I think our expenses will be. The calculator said our investments need to be $300,000 to $400,000. This number depends on interest rates. Also, I didn’t calculate in social security benefits. So, it might not be an accurate number, but that is ok. Just figuring an estimate helps our family prioritize saving now. We are relatively young and there are a lot of urgent expenses we have in raising our family like clothes, braces, and Christmas to name a few. Retirement savings can easily be put on the back burner, which I have done plenty of times. Knowing this number helps me prioritize saving now in order to build to the necessary nest egg we need for the time when we don’t actively work and earn money.
A financial planner once told me that planning for retirement at my age will open up options. I want you to have a lot of options in retirement. Please join me in spending a few minutes planning for retirement.