Sandy L asks
Opinion. Pros and cons of saving concurrently vs consecutively for big financial goals.
Wow, this is a really intriguing question that I hadn’t really thought about before. We talk a lot about this in terms of debt repayment– should you pay off debts concurrently vs. consecutively, and if consecutively, in what order, but I’m not sure I’ve seen this one addressed on the PF blogosphere in terms of savings. I guess Dave Ramsey is like, get your emergency fund in order first, but after that… huh.
Because money is fungible, maybe in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. If you’ve been saving up for a vacation and your car gets totaled, you can take money from the vacation fund (and the emergency fund) and put it towards the car.
Some money isn’t fungible though. Should you save for retirement first and then 529s for the kids, or should you do both at the same time? What about vacations? What about houses?
I think really you have to do a bit of both, or if not both, then break up your savings goals into pieces and save them consecutively that way. What I mean by this is, for example:
- Get some form of transportation to work and some form of housing.
- Save up an emergency fund of $X.
- Put enough in your retirement that you get the match.
- Save in an HSA
- Put some money in for a down payment (YMMV depending on your housing situation, income, etc.)
- Put more money in your retirement fund to what you “should” be saving given your years to retirement and income
- Save for a bigger emergency fund
- Max out retirement
- Finish saving for a down payment (YMMV) and buy a house
- Vacation fund (most people will put this earlier– I think of it as more of a luxury than 1-8, but some people are willing to make trade-offs)
- Start saving in a 529 for the kids
- Save for a new car
- Prepay the mortgage
and so on… [As always, YMMV and you should do your own research and/or talk with a professional prior to making major decisions]
Some of these will be maxed out each year (ex. retirement), but some are much more lumpy (ex. new car). So you probably can’t do a lifetime of retirement savings before saving for other things unless you are extremely high income and low spending, but you may be able to max out your tax-advantaged funds each year.
Some people get really motivated for saving for vacations or cars or houses. It’s possible that saving for these might work better in a savings snowball, one at a time. On the other hand, cars and housing are generally more necessary than vacations, but vacations cost less than cars and houses and you might have to wait 10 or more years before going on a vacation if you put off saving until you have a downpayment. If you save for the vacation first, you might end up going on too many vacations or you might take vacations too soon. (Still, money is fungible and there’s nothing really preventing you from taking vacation money out of the house fund…)
Some saving needs to be automated because it just isn’t easy to save for otherwise. It’s easy to do automated saving concurrently because it all happens without you paying attention. In addition, changing up the automation requires attention, which means that you might not get around to saving for the next item on your list if you try to do automated saving consecutively.
[Update: See some discussion in the comments about diversifying risk vs. return for saving/investing goals.]
What do you think, Grumpy Nation? What are the pros and cons of saving consecutively vs. concurrently? What do you do?