GOTP: The Secret Sauce to Budgeting and Saving

Today, we’re back with our first true post in the Get Off the Pile: Personal Finance Edition Series!

This post is all about budgeting and saving. Not the most thrilling subject, but doing it right can mean you have the ability to enjoy your days and nights, without dreading the next credit card statement or utility bill.

Thankfully, we got some advice from an expert some of you may know. Eric Hanson works at an investment firm in Burlington, and also teaches about personal finance at the Grossman School of Business here at UVM!

He was kind enough to answer some of our questions about budgeting. He laid out a few things to keep in mind, and a different way to think about budgeting:

“First of all, traditional budgeting is not really something many people can do. People can build a budget, but sticking to it is another thing entirely.

1. A better idea with budgeting is “pay yourself first”.  This means setting up a simple system of taking the important things out of your paycheck before you start spending.

This might include your retirement fund contribution, monthly rent payment, emergency fund savings, or student loan payments. Then you can shoe horn your expenses into what your take home pay is, rather than seeing the entire paycheck as available to spend. This is probably a more realistic approach for most people.

2. Live within your means.  This is not as easy as it sounds. Although it is probably not a scientific fact, I have found that many people are either spenders or savings.

If you are spender it is very hard to convince you to do any saving.  If you are a saver you will continue saving indefinitely. Most of us are neither extreme spenders or extreme savers but somewhere in the middle. This means there’s room for us to learn from our mistakes, and get better at saving as we grow.

3. Save as early and as much as you can. The secret sauce to saving early is compound interest.  This is the phenomenon of earning interest on interest.

Albert Einstein called this the most powerful force in the world and the earlier you get started saving, the more powerful compound interest is.

This means in your 401k plan, your 403b plan or whatever you have available.  Most people sign up for a small amount of withholding for retirement when they start working. Then five years later, if you ask them they can’t remember what they signed up for and they certainly are not saving to the maximum.

To start, you should at least save what the corporate match is (if you have one). This is free money and basically a 100% return on anything you contribute.  For instance if you put up 4% and the corporate match is 4%, you are saving 8% and you have a 100% return.

If you don’t have a match, just contribute something — even if it’s small — to get into the habit of saving and start cashing in on the power of compound interest.

4. Do not abuse credit.  There is no way you can possibly justify paying 15% to 25% on credit card balances.  You should pay off your credit card every month, period.

This is very difficult for young people because Madison Avenue is extremely good at convincing us any “want” we have is a real “need”.

There’s no worse way to blow-up your budget than to see credit card debt grow each month.

5. Get Insurance.  Young people need to remember that bad things can happen to good people.  Auto insurance, health insurance, and life insurance are important and in many cases the earlier you buy the cheaper the price.

If you can, build these into your budget — particularly if you can get health and life insurance through your employer because they can come directly out of your paycheck (see the “pay yourself first” paragraph above)

6. Start thinking about the future. Scary, I know. But, putting some money away that you don’t touch for a while is critical. Whether you want to save to buy a house, a car, or a trip, it usually takes planning and time — so get started!

For example, most young people are not going to accumulate enough savings for a down payment until they are at least in their 30’s, so it is good to set a goal and start now.

Or, if you aren’t a long-term planner, just stashing away some money each month for emergencies can be one of the best budgeting decisions you make.

Now, for some resources:

If you want to learn more you can check out these resources that Eric recommends.

  • If you want to go seriously in-depth, you can check out the textbook that Eric uses for his UVM course here. It’s pricey, but very comprehensive.
  • If you’re looking for something a little more fun than a textbook, you can check out The Index Card by Olen & Pollack. They set out to prove that everything you need to know about personal finance can fit on an index card!

And here are a few of our favorite resources here at Afterword:

Remember: This is big stuff, and can be pretty freaky to think about. Talking with Eric gave us a lot to think about in our own finances, and we all learned something new from his advice.

Mostly, he reminded us of a few important things:

  • Don’t be compulsive, but do have a plan.
  • Get involved in your community – volunteer!
  • Spend your money, that’s what it’s there for.

Okay gang, that’s all for this week. Let us know if you have any questions that you think we might be able to answer, or anything that you’d like us to pass on to Eric.

Have a great weekend!