If you’re waiting on a tax refund, figure out how some of this money can help boost your 2024 savings strategy. Right now, rates for savings accounts and certificates of deposit remain high. But rates are expected to drop later this year.
Depending on your financial goals, you may not need to pivot from your current savings strategy. “Instead, the beginning of the year is a time to review your finances and plans,” said Alaina Fingal, owner of The Organized Money and CNET expert review board member.
If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to save more, our experts have a few saving strategies that may help you set aside more toward your goals, regardless of where rates go next. Here’s what our CNET Money experts recommend.
Certified financial coach and founder of The Organized Money
Money coach and founder of Crush Your Money Goals
Corporate accountant and founder of Polished CFO
Rita-Soledad Fernandez Paulino
Money coach and founder of Wealth Para Todos
Revisit your budget and expenses
We all have short-term savings goals, such as setting up a sinking fund for an upcoming trip. But if you’re struggling to save, Fingal recommends looking at all your expenses first.
“If you are kickstarting your savings for the year, I am a fan of referencing your budget, bill list and debt obligations to determine what your saving capacity currently is,” Fingal said.
List out all of your bills and any recurring expenses, such as gas and groceries. Then, subtract your monthly expenses from your income to determine how much you have left. Once you know what’s going in and out of your account regularly, you can set a realistic savings goal.
If there’s less money left over than you were hoping, consider cutting back where you can -- such as revisiting your cellphone plan or comparing car insurance policies.
Start with a savings goal you can stick to
Setting big goals like saving $10,000 before the end of the year may sound more appealing, but if you’re just getting started, you may find it harder to reach a lofty goal like this. Starting small and using tools like automatic transfers can help you make real progress.
“If you are new to saving, set an auto-transfer on payday that is 2% to 5% of your income. Starting small will help you keep the money in your savings account and grow it consistently,” Fingal said.
Setting up automatic transfers to a high-yield savings account can help take the guesswork out of saving. Automatic transfers can also help you avoid the temptation of spending since it’s quickly moved to a new account.
For instance, let’s say you were able to cut two streaming subscriptions to put an extra $30 in your pocket each month. You may set up an automatic transfer to move this amount from your checking to your savings account once a month. As you’re able to free up more money, you can change your transfer amounts to bulk up your savings even more.
“Many times when we try to save big chunks of money we fail and transfer the money back into our checking accounts,” Fingal said. “When we start small it’s easier to build the habit. Once you build the habit, it will get easier to save more money over time.”
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Build your emergency fund
Emergencies (and their costs) can be inconvenient and expensive. The best way to prepare for the surprise expense is to save. Otherwise, you’ll lean on borrowing to cover the costs, which can land you in more trouble financially, especially with credit card APRs averaging over 20%.
If you feel daunted by lofty emergency fund savings goals, setting a more manageable goal for 2024 may help.
“Many start off with three to six months of savings for emergency funds, but I tell people to start off with one month’s worth of expenses first and then focus on paying down credit card debt for the rest of the year,” said Bernadette Joy, a personal finance coach.
Experts agree that a high-yield savings account is the best place to keep your emergency fund. A high-yield saving account offers an overall higher interest rate, the ability to access funds within three to five days and is FDIC- or NCUA-insured, Fingal said.
Try a savings challenge
There are plenty of savings challenges on social media that can motivate you to meet your 2024 savings goals. No-spend months, like “no-spend January,” encourage people to only pay for necessities in order to put more toward saving.
You could also tap more into soft saving, a new savings tactic from Gen Z. Soft saving focuses on what’s within your control and finding balance in your finances. For example, instead of stressing about retirement, you might put more emphasis on growing an emergency fund or paying down debt. It’s a calmer approach to tackling your finances piece by piece instead of trying to find room for every possible money goal.
If you didn’t kick off your new year with a savings challenge, there’s still time to get started. For example, the “eating-in challenge” encourages you to go grocery shopping and cook at home to save money instead of eating out. Even if you only stick to the challenge for a month, it can add extra money toward your goal. You may even try other challenges throughout the year, such as shopping your closet in February and only free leisure activities during the spring.
Don’t be afraid to pivot from your plans
A lot can happen within a year. You may have started planning a vacation for 2024 at the end of last year. Or you may still have the same goals but have found your priorities have shifted. Maybe you needed to buy a car or fund a home repair. Your financial plans may still be doable for this year, but experts suggest being pragmatic and pivoting where necessary.
Lanesha Mohip, owner of Polished CFO Solutions, recommends reviewing the progress you’re making toward your short-term savings goals and making any necessary adjustments. If you bought a car last year and now have a car payment you weren’t counting on, you may want to put less toward your vacation fund to make room in your finances for the new expense, Mohip said. But it’s important to be honest about your expenses and how much you’ll have left over to put toward your goals.
“Be very realistic about what your savings goals are,” agreed Rita Soledad Fernández Paulino, a personal finance coach and founder of Wealth Para Todos, who goes by “Soledad.”
“If you’re trying to save $12,000 by the end of the year, that means you should have at least $1,000 in extra cash flow each month,” she said.
If you can’t find room in your budget to hit this $1,000 goal or if you don’t know where your money is going each month, setting savings goals will be more challenging, Soledad added.
But if you’re already feeling confident about your saving strategy, now’s the time to focus on maximizing your earnings while rates are high. If you have funds set aside that you won’t need for a few years, locking in a high CD rate now before rates fall can help you earn guaranteed interest. You may also want to compare bond and high-yield savings accounts to make sure you’re getting the best rate possible, said Mohip.
Worry less about finding the ‘best’ rate
If you’re already earning a fairly competitive rate, don’t worry about getting the highest rate possible. There may only be a few cents’ difference between what you’re earning in a 4.25% APY savings account and a 4.50% offer from another bank. Plus, moving your money as rates continue to fluctuate could mean more hassle for the same return.
Instead of chasing yield, focus on putting your money to work as soon as you can. Find a high-yield savings account that you feel comfortable stashing your money in. Even if it doesn’t have the highest APY, you should still be able to deposit and withdraw money when you need. Unless you’re keeping money at an account that’s giving you pennies on your savings (such as 1.25%) you’ll still earn a decent return on your savings -- whether it’s 4% or 5%.
“Yes, we want to get the highest rate of return on our investments and our savings,” said Soledad. But she still stresses the importance of building savings over chasing a high interest rate. Otherwise, she warns you may have to rely on debt, which can put you in a precarious financial situation.
Revisit your retirement goals
When thinking about the future, Mohip also recommends looking at your retirement investment portfolio from last year. Rates may have changed that can help or hurt your investment, and you may decide to make some changes. Long-term goals, like retirement or sending your children to college, may be decades away. But experts still recommend investing now for long-term goals if you can.
“At the top of a new year, I recommend individuals always review their retirement investment portfolio from the past 12 months to see what mix of assets they have and review if rate changes have either helped or hurt their return on investments since these savings buckets are meant for long-term growth,” said Mohip.
But above all, Joy recommends getting your short-term financial goals in place before investing -- especially if living from paycheck to paycheck.
“In 2024 the focus should be on paying off all consumer debt and getting their emergency funds in place before considering investing this year,” said Joy.
Celebrate your savings goal milestones
When balancing your daily expenses and other priorities, keep an eye on your progress toward your financial goals. Every step counts.
You may try a visual representation such as a savings tracker that you can color to show your progress. Or you can write it down on a chart month-by-month. Apps such as You Need a Budget and Loot also offer ways to monitor your progress virtually.
“It’s good for you to notice your progress so you can celebrate that,” Soledad said.