According to various studies, the first crop of Millennials (those born between 1982 and 2004) who have entered the workforce are ahead of the curve when it comes to savings and spending than that of their parents. A 2014 Transamerica study found that 70 percent of Millennials in the work force were already saving for retirement either through employer-sponsored plans, such as 401(k)s or similar plans and they also found that these Millennials began saving at the unprecedented age of 22. According to the Financial Trade-Offs study, commissioned by Ameriprise Financial, Millennials are significantly more likely than both Boomers and Gen Xers to be consciously cutting back on discretionary expenses.
This is good news and a good trend if it continues. To ensure that it does continue I’d like to share some powerful money habits I uncovered in my five-year study on the daily habits of wealthy individuals. These money habits were instrumental in helping transform 177 ordinary individuals into self-made millionaires.
The Bucket System Savings Strategy
There are three steps to the Bucket System:
Step #1 – Allocating Savings by Category
- Bucket #1 = Retirement Savings Bucket – This includes 401(k) plans, IRAs and other retirement plans or retirement-specific products (i.e. annuities).
- Bucket #2 = Specific Expense Bucket – This includes a separate checking account, savings account, money market account or education savings account (i.e. 529 Plan) for major future expenses such as education costs for you or a child, wedding costs, costs associated with the birth of a child, home down payment, etc.
- Bucket #3 = Unexpected Expense Bucket – This includes a separate checking account, savings account or money market account for expenses such as wedding gifts, medical costs, sudden loss of income (unemployment, medical issues or birth of a child), etc.
- Bucket #4 = Cyclical Expense Bucket – This includes a separate checking account, savings account or money market account for birthday gifts, holiday expenses (Christmas, New Year’s), vacation costs, back to school costs, etc.
This will require that you set up at least one retirement account and three different bank accounts (one for each bucket). If you’re saving for education costs for you or your child, you will need to set up one 529 plan for you or your child.
Step #2 – Establishing Savings Goals
In order to make the Bucket System work, you need to establish the overall amount of savings you are able to set aside each pay period. For example, 10% of your net pay check. Then you need to allocate this 10% into each bucket as follows:
- 5% (50% of overall savings) into Bucket #1
- 2% (20% of overall savings) into Bucket #2
- 1.5% (15% of overall savings ) into Bucket #3 and
- 1.5% (15% of overall savings) into Bucket #4
Step #3 – Automating the Savings Process
This is where the rubber meets the road – implementation. Automatically direct each of the above savings amounts into each bucket’s separate account via automatic withdrawal from your net pay. You will need to instruct your payroll company to set up the automatic funding for each of the four bucket accounts. The payroll company will then automatically send each specific savings bucket amount to the custodial account or bank account that will be accumulating these amounts for you.
That’s it. Pretty simple, right? “But I don’t make enough to save,” you say. Or, “I’m just not sure if I’m saving enough and on the right track” (If you’re unsure how you’re doing financially, there are many ways to find out, like this net worth calculator). Well, I’m here to help, so let me share with you some strategies from my Rich Habits study that will help you find the money to implement the Bucket System:
- Track Spending – I like to call this spending awareness. Knowing where your money is going gives you control over your finances. You may find you are paying for things you are not using, such as club memberships or subscriptions.
- Periodically Audit Expenses – Many expenses can change over time. Insurance costs often change. They can go up or down over time. Make sure you are paying the lowest insurance rates for homeowners, auto and life insurance. Cable and Internet costs can increase without you being aware of it. Calling your cable or Internet provider to secure the lowest fees available should be an annual process. Periodically shop cell phone plans. Increased competition in the cell phone industry is driving down monthly rates. Make sure you are not paying more than you have to.
- Purchase Good Quality Used Cars – New cars lose value as soon as they come off the lot. Buying good quality used cars allows you to take advantage of this loss in value anomaly prevalent in the auto industry. 44% of the rich in my study purchased good quality used cars. Typically these are cars coming off a lease. They may be two or three years old. At 125,000 miles most cars will require some annual repairs. Expect to incur about $1,500 a year in repair costs when you hold on to cars beyond this 125,000 mileage mark. That is still significantly less than you would spend on a loan or lease for a new car.
- Refinance Your Mortgage and Home Equity Loans – Are you paying the lowest rate possible on your mortgage? Do you have a home equity loan with a high rate of interest that you can roll into your new mortgage? Can you roll your student loans into your new mortgage?
- Use Coupons – Even the wealthy in my study engaged in this money savings habit. 30% of the rich used coupons to buy food. Why pay more than you have to on groceries or other expenses?
- Shop at Goodwill Stores – Many goodwill stores carry high quality clothing. You may have to spend a few extra bucks on tailoring, but it is well worth the additional cost. Don’t let your ego get in the way. 30% of the rich people in my study didn’t.
- Downsize Your Home or Apartment – For most, a home or apartment is the most expensive part of the spending budget. Downsizing into a less expensive home or apartment will save you thousands of dollars in interest, taxes and repairs every year. Keeping your housing costs to below 30% of your monthly net pay should be the goal.
- Bargain Shop – Far too many make spontaneous purchases, paying much more than they otherwise would. That’s a Poverty Habit. Shopping for bargains and taking advantage of sales events is a smart money habit.
- Stick to BYOBs – There are many restaurants that do not sell alcohol, beer or wine and allow you to bring your own spirit of choice into their restaurant. Restaurants mark up liquor sales by as much as 100%.
- Vacation at Timeshares – Here’s the deal – those who sell timeshares significantly discount the cost of a 3-5 day vacation in order to get you into their timeshare. Your only obligation is to sit through a 2-3 hour sales pitch. Sure, it’s a nuisance but it can cut your vacation costs down by 50% or more. Is 2-3 hours of suffering through a sales pitch worth a $1,000?
Saving money is a process. Accumulating wealth is a process. It’s all one big process, this thing we call financial success. But if you don’t have a process or adopt good money habits you will never be able to save. It just won’t happen. When you develop good money habits you feel like you are finally in control of your life. It’s empowering.