Is it important for a young couple to have a savings account? As a rule of thumb, how much money should we be saving out of our monthly earnings?
Yes, saving is absolutely essential. You may have friends who aren't saving any money at all, or who are spending more than they earn, but they're on very shaky ground. In today's financial climate, two spouses who suddenly lose their income could quickly run through their monetary resources.
The Bible advises us to save money, even if it's a little at a time. "Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow" (Proverbs 13:11). It's wise to set aside a portion of your income in case of a rainy day or with an eye to achieving future goals. So don't let the fear of never having "enough" money saved discourage you from saving at all. Start small – even $25.00 a month is significant. The main thing is to start building that cushion.
How much money should you plan to save? That depends in part on how you earn it.
If your income is consistent, it's a good idea to save at least three to four months' worth of expenses as an emergency fund. For example, if it takes $1,500.00 to keep your home running for a month, you should save $4,500.00 to $6,000.00.
If your income fluctuates – perhaps because you work on commission or are self-employed – you should save at least six months' worth of expenses as an emergency fund. Set this aside before you save toward a car, a down payment on a house, college tuition, or retirement. Don't dip into this fund to cover monthly budget overruns. This cushion is for crises like unemployment or major medical expenses.
The amount you save also depends on your needs. These can be broken down into three categories: short-term, intermediate, and long-term.
Short-term needs are those you anticipate in the next one to two years (this is in addition to the three-to-six-month reserve mentioned earlier). These resources are best kept in accounts that are easy to access without penalty – for example, cash or money market accounts.
Intermediate needs are those you expect to encounter in two to five years – replacing a car or finishing a basement, for instance. You might use certificates of deposit or short-term investments with little volatility to meet this savings goal.
Long-term needs might include a child's college fund or saving for retirement. For this fund you'll want investments that stay ahead of the inflation rate – typically equity-type investments or stock market investments with a diversified portfolio.
Here's another good idea: a "save to spend" strategy. If your car is paid off, make a car payment to yourself in a separate account each month. Drive your car until you've saved enough to buy a replacement. Once you've paid cash for this car, begin making payments to a car fund account again. You'll be earning interest on the money for the car rather than paying it to someone else. This idea can be applied to housing costs too. For example, if you're renting an apartment for $700.00 a month, you can budget $1,000.00 a month and set aside $300.00 a month toward the purchase of a home. This helps to establish the habit of spending less than you earn – an uncommon practice in our society, but one that that puts you in a good position to face unexpected events.
For additional help and information on this topic, we'd encourage you to consult the resources and referrals highlighted below. Or if you have relationship concerns and challenges associated with this situation, please don't hesitate to give our Counseling department a call.
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.
Complete Guide to Faith-Based Family Finances
Money and Finances