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An illustration of a traveling van coming down the road.
An illustration of a traveling van coming down the road.
An illustration of a traveling van coming down the road.

Published July 20, 2016.
Updated May 7, 2019.

Four tips to save for long-term goals.

Saving money to pay for big, long-term goals like a house, a child's education, or your retirement can feel daunting.

About one-fifth of Americans have zero savings for retirement, emergencies, or anything else, according to a 2019 Bankrate survey. Of those who are saving, it’s no more than 10% of their annual incomes.

Take steps now to ensure you'll have dollars available down the road.

1. Start with a safety net.

It’s often the unexpected expenses, not the big ones, that make it difficult to set aside money: Just when you have some cash saved up, you crack a tooth or your radiator explodes.

Before you launch your savings strategy, make sure you understand your insurance ― and start an emergency fund for expenses insurance won’t cover. Your health plan and renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policies are your first line of defense against expensive emergencies. Don’t hesitate to ask your insurance company representatives to explain your benefits.

Then launch your emergency fund, an easily accessible savings account for immediate, unexpected expenses. Some experts suggest having at least three months of living expenses in your emergency savings, but a smaller amount also helps ensure you don’t go into debt or tap your long-term savings to cover bills.

Even if it's only a few dollars a week, start putting money away as early as you can.

2. Start saving early.

It can be tempting to put off long-term saving until “later.” But starting early in life, or at least now, can help immensely. Thanks to compounding interest, small investments made early typically offer better returns in the end than a single, late, large investment.

Even if it’s only a few dollars a week, start putting money away as soon as you can.

3. Take the full match.

If you haven’t started yet, it’s time to think about paying for retirement. Many employers match employee contributions to a retirement plan up to a certain percentage or dollar amount. These programs essentially pay you to save money, so take advantage of the full amount starting ASAP. Otherwise, you’re leaving free money on the table.

Changing jobs? Know your retirement-plan rollover options.

4. Be ready for the long haul

Saving for your goals is not a short-term proposition. In the short term, your plan may mean your savings will grow slowly, and that’s OK. Be emotionally and financially prepared for the long haul.

Know what you’re saving for, and keep your specific goal in mind to encourage you when savings seems like a drag. But also set smaller, realistic goals to accomplish along the way, like “save an extra $100 this month” or “pay off credit card this year to free up money for savings.” Smaller victories keep you motivated ― and add up to big victories.



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