- Writer Sarah Li Cain wanted to save more for retirement, but knew that she had to find a way to make it a no-brainer.
- She decided to "hide" money from herself by making it much more difficult to avoid setting aside retirement savings.
- She took advantage of available pre-tax retirement savings accounts, automated her monthly IRA deposits, and decided with her husband to live on one paycheck, freeing up much more money for saving.
I was never really a natural saver or what you’d consider a frugal person.
Given my tendencies, I knew that if I wanted to set aside enough money for retirement alongside all the other financial goals I had, I had to find a way to make a no-brainer type of deal.
So I hid money from myself.
To put it another way, I made some simple decisions where I was able to essentially trick myself into setting aside money for retirement. And it’s been worth it, seeing my 401k, IRA, and brokerage accounts grow whenever I log into check its balance.
So how did I do it?
I took advantage of pre-tax accounts
My husband’s employer offers a 401k account and you bet we took advantage of it. This type of account means that whatever my husband contributed, his employer would match it up to a certain percentage of his paycheck. The great thing about a 401k account is that it’s a pre-tax account, meaning that the money comes out of his paycheck before it’s taxed.
We decided to increase my husband’s contributions by 1% each year so it doesn’t feel like we were missing out on much when his take home pay became smaller. That way, even if we somehow spent his entire paycheck, we knew we still had money set aside for retirement.
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We also decided to open an HSA account through my husband’s health care plan and invest the funds. That also comes out of his paycheck, so we’re starting with a small amount and working on increasing it. Whatever is in the HSA account we’ll invest and if necessary, take it out for qualified medical expenses.
The key here is to do it in a way where you don’t feel a significant difference. Make sure that if you do elect for your employer to set money aside from your paycheck that you can still cover your basic expenses and then some.
Automation is my best friend
My husband has always been the one who loves to automate his retirement contributions. On top of his 401k account, he had an IRA account since he was 18. He would have his bank automatically deposit $50 each month.
As for me, I had a brokerage account after we got married and would haphazardly put money in whenever I felt like it. What I’ve done now is automate my retirement contributions where every month a certain amount of money gets transferred over to our IRAs and brokerage accounts. That way, I have no choice but to save money.
Something else I also do is take whatever is left in my savings account at the end of each month and put even more towards our retirement accounts. It’s not exactly hiding money, but I’ve turned it into a game where it’s a surprise at the end of the month to see how much more we can save.
I turned earning money into a game
When I quit my teaching career to become a full-time freelance writer, my husband and I decided to live off his paycheck so that we know we would have all our bases covered in case I had a low-income month.
What this meant is that we assigned each of our paychecks a job. For my husband, his paycheck was used for our basic living expenses — things like rent, groceries, gas, utilities and childcare. Mine on the other hand was for extra things like entertainment and savings. Knowing this, I knew I had to make sure that my paycheck wasn’t being spent entirely on going out.
I decided to turn earning money into a game. As in: How much could I earn to deposit into our retirement accounts? Each month my husband and I agreed on an amount I would transfer over from my business bank account (after taking into account my business expenses and taxes) automatically for our entertainment budget and the rest would be for investing.
During this time, I "hid" my money by only checking my business bank account once a month. I knew that if I checked it more often, I would be tempted to spend what’s there. I implemented a rule that once I checked my account I would take whatever is in there and transfer it immediately to our retirement accounts.
It’s not a perfect system, but all of these methods have helped my husband and me triple our retirement savings in the last five years. We still have a long way to go until we feel safe enough to retire, but I’m confident that we’ll reach our financial goals we do retire.
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