How I Finally Figured Out How to Save Money
In which I enlist professional help in the interest of saving my dollars/myself.
Numbers have never been my strong suit. I stopped taking math in the ninth grade in favor of learning much more relevant life skills (“Movement and Mime”). Tipping after a meal gives me anxiety. And when it comes to my taxes, the only thing I know how to do is whine about them with the voracity of a Kardashian scorned.
So when Stash Wealth founder and ex–Wall Streeter Priya Malani suggested I try out the Stash Plan, a financial plan specially designed for individuals and couples in their 20s and 30s, I was very, very nervous—nervous about exposing my amateurism (and bonkers spending habits), but also about getting bad news. Like, “You’ll probably never retire, and it’s your fault.”
Malani’s specialty is HENRYs: High Earners Not Rich Yet. For me, the emphasis is on the Not Rich Yet part. Cliff’s Notes: My boyfriend and I started a business together. It’s been amazing, and things are going really well. But, as with most start-ups, it’s more of a start-up-and-down. So exposing our finances in their raw, un-glossed-over state felt akin to sending the Stash team a bunch of no-makeup selfies after being ravaged by eczema: not pretty.
It also meant admitting the fact that I have:
1. Purchased an $80 skull-shaped bottle of vodka with the aurora borealis printed on it in holographic ink.
2. Paid someone on Favor $5 to fetch me a calzone when I was too lazy to walk down the street and get one myself.
3. Spent $65 on a five-class ClassPass membership and did not attend one class. Not. One.
4. Purchased and ate more than the recommended lifetime intake of steamed pork and chive dumplings.
5. Told someone on Craigslist I would pay them more than the asking price ($180) for That Bathing Suit Taylor Swift Wore That One Time.*
*In my defense, it was tags-on.
Fast-forward and, at the risk of sounding all Dr. Phil, just one meeting with the Stash team changed our financial lives. They say fear is caused by the things you don’t understand, and boy, did we ever not understand our own money.
These are the 10 key takeaways I learned through phase one of the Stash Plan:
1. You probably don’t know where your money is going
Step One of the Stash Plan was a Baseline Workbook—a nitty-gritty breakdown of your finances that covers all the comings and goings of your accounts. I’ll warn you: It’s a wake-up call (for us, it was the “dining out” column—we knew we ate a lot of tacos, but jeez). Luckily, Malani and her team of angel-saints didn’t bat an eye. Not once did they tell us to “cut back” or “rein in” anything—it was all about “How do we make it so you can enjoy all of these tacos guilt-free but still save enough to make sure you’re a millionaire later in life?” My kinda woman.
2. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all savings plan
No two Stash Plans are alike. They’re designed based on your goals, your fixed expenses, the age when you want to retire, your obsessive nail polish habit...you get the picture. There’s no magic number you should be putting into your savings account every month, but rather a percentage of your income that will get your savings where they need to be by the time you need them while not infringing on your fun.
3. Budgeting is like dieting—it doesn’t work long-term
What does work is what Malani calls a reverse budget, a plan that’s designed to help you save first and spend the rest, rather than the other way around. We learned that we just weren’t properly allocating and automating our funds, instead keeping them lumped together like an amorphous blob of bad decisions waiting to happen.
4. Automate, automate, automate
Did you know you can set up your accounts so that every time you deposit a paycheck or funds hit your “money hub” (main checking account), they’re automatically divided into designated accounts based on percentages you’ve pre-set? That way, you never “forget” to put money into savings and sub-savings. It’s like saving on cruise control.
“We can’t leave these decisions up to ourselves,” says Malani. “We need to automate it if we want it to happen. Don’t trust yourself to earmark savings each month. Set it up so that it happens automatically.”
5. Keep savings accounts out of sight
It’s like the Oreos in your cupboard: You reach in for something else, spot that blue box and grab a half-cookie. And then a full one. And one more couldn’t hurt, right? Before you know it, you’ve treated yo’self to Type 2 diabetes and have no cookies to your name.
The trick is to keep savings accounts—emergency and otherwise—out of sight in an online bank so you’re not tempted to grab a few dollars here and there. (Malani recommends CapitalOne360 and Ally for the interest rates.)
6. Nickname your accounts
“If you're putting money in an account to save up for a trip to Mexico next year, nickname it ‘Mexico Trip!’ or something more fun,” says Malani. “Studies show that we are much less likely to tap savings if they are assigned for a specific goal.”
7. Don’t compromise today for a tomorrow that might never come
I loved this line of Malani’s. Very in-tune with my lifestyle (read: trans fats and terrible driving). All jokes aside, the part that hit home for me was just how much emphasis they put on enjoying the benefits of your hard work right now as opposed to hoarding it for retirement all Ross Geller-y. Rather than telling you all the ways you should be saving, they put the emphasis on all the guilt-free fun you could be having while saving as much as you need for the future. So simple, right?
8. Optimization > Maximization
In the remixed words of Aubrey “Drake” Graham, if you’re reading this, it’s not too late. “We get it—we’re a competitive generation, and we want our stash to be as big as possible,” says Malani. “But saving too much for the future [now] means jeopardizing our lifestyle today. And if there’s one thing our generation is not a fan of, it’s compromise. Guess what—you don’t have to.”
9. You can be a millionaire
You’re laughing, I can tell. But this isn’t some lottery gimmickry—using actual math based on our actual incomes, Malani showed us exactly how much we have to put into savings every year to ensure we retire with millions (!!!) in the bank. And it’s 100 percent doable. It’s all about starting early to use those extra years of saving to your advantage.
10. And, above all, don’t save what’s left after you spend; spend what’s left after you save.
These are Warren Buffett’s words, and, as Malani says, “Are you really going to argue with a billionaire?”
No. No, I’m not.
STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO… INVESTING (GULP).