Learning to Live on Your Own, Part 2

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Learning to Live on Your Own, Part 2Last week we discussed the many ways you can save money as you learn to live on your own. Our suggestions included sharing housing costs, buying a previously owned car with cash, preparing meals instead of eating out, and eliminating the frills from services that are deducted automatically each month from your checking account. Here we offer some sound advice on how to put that money you’ve saved to work for you.

First, look carefully at your company’s benefits plan. Disability insurance is probably the most neglected insurance. Consider signing up through a work plan. More employers are implementing health savings accounts, which allow you to pay for your medical expenses with pretax dollars. They are coupled with a high-deductible health insurance plan. If you are young and healthy, these provide you with disaster insurance as well as health-care insurance savings. If your employer has one, put the maximum away annually, and invest it if possible.

All the pundits say, “Save as much as you can,” which is fine advice but not specific enough. You need to take a substantial chunk of change out of your discretionary money each month, some before it even makes it to your checking account and most of it after you deposit it. The amount, about half your take-home pay, may seem excessive at first, but remember, you are trying to grow rich, not live rich.

As your first priority, get the benefit from your company’s 401(k), which usually amounts to contributing 5% of your salary while your employer matches with another 4%. This is the portion we mentioned that’s deducted before you ever see a paycheck. If your employer has a health savings account, the money you contribute will also come out before your collect your paycheck.

After these deductions, you probably have the remainder of your paycheck deposited automatically into your checking account. You should then automate a transfer out of your checking account into an investment account to meet many of your long-term financial goals. Money in your investment account will appreciate. Always keep your goals in mind and stay on track.

For example, make a list of all the big-ticket items you will need to pay for over the next several years. You need to pay your car insurance. Transfer the appropriate monthly amount to your investment account. You should be saving for your next car. Transfer the appropriate monthly amount to your investment account. All of these significant purchases may comprise around 10% of your take-home pay.

You should be fully funding your Roth IRA while you are young and in a relatively low tax bracket. For 2008, to meet the $5,000 limit for your Roth IRA, you need to save $416 a month. Put this money into your investment account and then transfer it once a year to a Roth IRA account.

Save 5% of your take-home pay in a taxable account allocated for your retirement. This is after fully funding your 401(k) match and your Roth IRA. There are times in life when you will need taxable savings, and you should be saving and investing 5% of your take-home pay.

Save and invest 10% of your take-home pay for charitable giving. As your investments earn money for you, you will give appreciated assets to the charity and replace the same dollar amount from your take-home pay. Donating appreciated assets provides an additional 15% tax savings.

Finally, as a margin of safety, save and invest 10% of your take-home pay to help cover the cost of unknown unknowns. If your first response to this suggestion is to ask, “Like what?” the answer is “Exactly.” Most people who run up credit card debit keep their regular spending within 100% of their take-home pay until some unexpected expense causes them to deficit spend. You can’t anticipate unknown unknowns, so the best you can do is set aside some money to cover them when they arise.

All of these expenses can easily comprise half of your take-home pay. Even if you’ve landed a good paying job straight out of school, don’t spend over half of your take-home pay on daily expenses. Transfer half of your pay directly to an investment account and let it start growing. Cash in the bank is the best financial security. Cash doubling in an investment account is the best financial future. By the time you need money from your investment account for some of those long-range purchases, ideally it will have already started earning a nice return.

Saving and investing should be automatic. You won’t miss what you don’t see. Have half your take-home pay transferred out of your checking account and into an investment account each month.

Live simply. Avoid buying items you have to store, repair and maintain. Produce twice what you consume. Be generous. Avoid liabilities you have to pay each month. Invest in assets that pay you instead. Do these things and you will have a peace of mind that your contemporaries may never find.

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Follow David John Marotta:

President, CFP®, AIF®, AAMS®

David John Marotta is the Founder and President of Marotta Wealth Management. He played for the State Department chess team at age 11, graduated from Stanford, taught Computer and Information Science, and still loves math and strategy games. In addition to his financial writing, David is a co-author of The Haunting of Bob Cratchit.