Saturday, March 11, 2017

I Want to Start Investing. Where Do I Even Begin? - Part 1: The Importance of Saving

I Want to Start Investing. Where Do I Even Begin?

Part 1: The Importance of Saving

          "I want to start investing. Where do I even begin?" These two sentences are something most of us say to ourselves at some point in our lives. From knowing how much money to start with, knowing what kind of account to open up, and knowing what a stock even is, there is a mass amount of information that can seem overwhelming to a new investor. This often discourages most people from attempting to manage their own money. I believe, for those who have the want to take on this feat, it is a very liberating feeling to be able to have direct control of your financial future. It is also rewarding to watch your wealth grow as you stick with it. I won't be able to provide you with every detail, but I will cover as much as I can.

This first article of many is going to cover the VERY first place one would need to start: that is knowing priorities and how to save and allocate money from work.


The number one rule of investing is to not lose money. This can happen in many different ways. It can happen from buying a bad company's stock. It can happen from gambling on penny stocks. One way it can happen may not be so obvious. 

Priority #1 - Employer Matched Accounts

One way of losing money is not taking advantage of opportunities right in front of us. Many times, employers will offer matching contributions to a 401(k) or 403(b) (if you are unsure of what these are, we will go over different account types in a future article.) Ask your employer if they have a 401(k) plan with matching contributions. If your employer doesn't offer this, you do not have to worry about this. If your employer DOES offer this, pay attention to what I am about to tell you. If your employer offers matching contributions for a retirement account, you need to be maxing out whatever they match. Let's say they offer 100% matching contributions up to 3% of your income. You need to be contributing ALL 3% of that income. Why? This is an automatic 100% gain on your investment! If you are making $40,000/year, 3% would mean you should be contributing $1,200. This is crucial. If your employer is matching that, you just made an extra $1,200 on your initial investment!

Priority #2 - Savings

Pay yourself FIRST. The first bill you need to pay is your savings or retirement account. This should be treated as a non-negotiable bill. This may seem counter-intuitive, but study after study shows that making sure you have a safety net/nest egg reduces stress, keeps you disciplined on your budget, and helps build your wealth tremendously over time. If you are participating in matching contributions, paying yourself first would technically be the second place to allocate your money. The common response that comes up is, "What if I need to pay my bills?" If you are only making enough income to cover what I call essential spending (rent/mortgage, utilities, phone, gas, food, etc), then this would be understandable. Anything that is not an absolute necessity does not count. If you can only save 5% due to ESSENTIAL spending, save 5%. A common rule is to set aside at least 10% of your paycheck every payday, but you really need to save a minimum of 20% of your income.

Accessibility to your savings may also be important. Of course, you have your traditional savings accounts, checking accounts, savings bonds, and Certificates of Deposit as a means to stow away money. But, most of these options are inconvenient should an actual emergency occur. One option would be to use an Aspiration Summit Checking Account. This company provides a checking account that pays you up to 1% annual interest on accounts with $2,500 or more, 0.25% annual interest on accounts with less than $2,500, has no ATM fees worldwide, no service fees, no minimum balances or monthly deposits, and is FDIC insured. The interest that can be made in this account is greater than the majority of checking and savings accounts provided by other banks. The best part - it is highly accessible because it is a checking account. The only inconvenience would be that this is an online-only bank. You can still set up direct deposit with your employer, have paper checks sent to you, and also deposit checks through their mobile app. This checking account provides you with a place to hold cash without it completely decreasing in value due to inflation. To sign up for an account, just go here

Priority #3 -Essential Spending

The third priority should be to set aside exactly what you need for all of your essential spending. If you pay rent/mortgage, set that aside. If you have a car payment, set that aside. Utilities, cellphone, Internet, you should already know what you will have to pay each month. Fixed expenses should never cause a problem with a budget. You should also know how much you spend per month on food and gas, which are not fixed expenses. You can use a site/app like Mint to track your spending habits and set your budget.

After you have an average for your food and gas, set a budget for it slightly higher (e.g. $190 average per month on food would mean a $200 budget), and do NOT go over it! This should apply to all variable expenses that are considered essential. Examples of essential spending include: food (not dining out), gas, personal care (razors, shampoo, soap, makeup, etc), home supplies (paper towels, dish soap, detergent, etc), and essential clothing (work clothes, socks, underwear, etc.) It is important to set a budget for each of these expenses. This allows you to know exactly where your money is going each month and allows you to stay financially stable. 

Use the 20/50/30 rule to determine if you need to generate more income. The 20 part refers to your savings by using 20% of your income. The 50 part refers to the essential spending of your income using 50% of your income. The 30 refers to all other expenses using the remaining 30% of your income for this portion.

Priority #4 - Debt

Debt is not always a bad thing. Debt allows us to purchase a home, purchase a car, go to college, and build our credit scores. However, letting yourself be consumed by debt can ruin any one's financial goals. I'm not here to teach you how to get out of debt (this is a series about investing.) What I can tell you is this, after you have done the first 3 steps above, its time to start prioritizing debt. Some debt carries interest that a typical investment cannot keep up with. If you got stuck with a 10-15% on a car loan, for example, it does not make sense to put your extra money into investments. Paying off your car should be the priority due to the interest. You should still pay yourself first! Debt should only take priority after you have contributed to an employer-matched 401(k) (if applicable), saved at least 20%, and set aside enough for your essential spending. The one exception to this rule is if you have saved enough for a 6-month emergency fund - that is - enough saved up to fund your budgeted essential spending. If you look at the picture below, you can see the effects of debt interest.

Priority #5 - Pleasurables

Most people aren't robots and need some form of joy in life. If you have met all the priorities before this one, now it's time to enjoy yourself. The remainder of your income is okay to be spent on pleasurables. This can range anywhere from dining out, going to a movie, or buying a new gaming console. While I am somewhat of a robot and would prefer to save more than the 20% minimum of my income, I understand the importance of living a little as well. It is perfectly fine to do these things. 

The problem occurs when we don't pay ourselves first and live paycheck to paycheck, when it really isn't necessary. 69% of Americans don't even have $1,000 in savings. This is a HUGE issue and one of the reasons I am starting this article series. As you can imagine, something as simple as car trouble or getting sick can throw a major wrench in some one's financial situation, especially if they don't even have $1,000 saved. I understand that sometimes it just isn't possible to save even $1. I was in that situation for the majority of my life. For those in that situation, I hope you are able to find a way to start paying yourself first. Getting a second job, working overtime, and getting education/certification are the best way you can get out of that situation.

Ben Shapiro (a Harvard Law School graduate) is gifted at using statistics to give very informative (and often controversial) speeches. One statistic he uses often applies to this article in particular. It states that as long as you can do the following 3 things, you only have a 2% of landing in poverty while having a 74% chance of being in the middle class: 

1. Graduate from High School. 
2. Don't get married until after your 21st birthday, and don't have kids until you are married.
3. Have a full-time job.

Because of this, I believe the majority of those 69% of Americans have the ability to pay themselves first. 


The goal of this article is to emphasize the importance of saving your hard earned money. We need to take advantage of opportunities if available, such as employer-matched retirement accounts. We need to understand saving is as important as essential bills. A simple 20/50/30 rule can help you determine where you stand with financial stability. When saving, only debt can justify allocating your minimum of 20% savings to paying off your debt (after your emergency fund is set up.) We also need to learn that we don't have to be robots when it comes to saving money. 

Now that I have gone over priorities and income allocation, you are ready for the next step to investing.

Disclosure: The information provided in this article is not to be construed as investment advice. Any securities you buy are ultimately your decision. Investing carries risk. Always do your due diligence before buying/selling any security. We are not being compensated for writing this article.

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