Cash Savings vs. Retirement Savings Accounts: Where to Stash Your Money When You’re Unsure What You’re Saving For

Cash Savings vs. Retirement Savings: Retirement Savings Accounts 101Everyone knows saving for retirement is a priority, because retirement is important and compound interest is powerful — but are the tax savings for retirement accounts so great that you should use them to save extra cash, too, such as for a hypothetical future home purchase? When I was in my late 20s — unmarried, not yet a homeowner, not sure how long I wanted to do the lawyer thing — this was my serious concern: cash savings vs. retirement savings. With my future so uncertain, and with so long to go before retirement, I wondered if I was losing more opportunities by saving money where I could get to it quickly, or by putting it away in retirement accounts… If I saved in cash, then my money was always available to me in case I wanted to buy an apartment, get married, or go back to school, but everyone told me to put it in retirement accounts instead to get the tax benefits (plus, retirement is important!).

In the early years, I was lucky because Schwab’s money market fund was paying ridiculous interest by today’s standards (5%!); I also finally did start maxing out my 401K in addition to saving money in cash when I was around 28. But when I finally got my bearings and started researching different retirement savings accounts, I was shocked to find that a lot of them would let me put the money (or some of it, at least) toward school, a first home, or more. A few years ago we did a post on tax-savvy investments that looked at these kinds of questions — but it’s been too long and we need an update. Thank you so much to editor Kate Antoniades for looking into the ultimate question: How do cash savings vs retirement savings stack up? If you’re already saving for retirement but have an extra $5,000 that you think you might need soon — but aren’t sure — should you leave it in a cash account earning very little interest, or put it in a retirement account to get tax benefits? – Kat

We haven’t gone into detail about tax-savvy investments like retirement savings accounts since 2012, so it’s definitely time for an update. What are the different retirement savings accounts available to most people? What are the tax benefits of them? Can you use the money for anything other than retirement, like grad school, a vacation or wedding, or a home purchase?  In the meantime, we’re shared posts on some pretty closely related topics such as setting financial goals for the year, making end-of-year money moves, choosing a financial planner, retirement savings in general, and paying down debt vs. saving. At election time last year, we talked about reacting to a stock market drop.

Before we get into the retirement savings vehicles — where, for the most part, you can’t touch your money until 59½ at the earliest — let’s discuss cash savings. (Oh, and a note on going back to school — if you’re 100% certain you’re going back to school, a 529 may be the way to go. Here’s a post from Fidelity that weighs the options.)

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Tales from the Wallet: Retirement Savings

retirement savingsLadies, how much do you save for retirement? Why do you do it? There was an interesting commenter thread about feeling saving burnout and wanting to splurge a little — do you count retirement savings as something you can cut back on, absent a strong need? We’ve talked about how much to save for retirement, what kind of tax-savvy investments exist to maximize your retirement savings, when to pay down debt vs. save, and where retirement should fit in your total money roadmap.

(Pictured: Hobo ‘Taylor’ Glazed Leather Wallet, on sale at Nordstrom for $70.)

For my $.02, I didn’t get started saving for retirement in a 401K or other tax-savvy vehicle until my late 20s, and I regret that — as they say, there are few powers in this universe stronger than the power of compound interest, and this kind of chart always freaks me out. My husband and I have generally taken the view that saving for retirement is one of our top priorities, and we max out every tax-advantaged vehicle. Like most parents of small kids, I’ll admit that these past few years (yay, childcare expenses) have been tight, and we’ve been moving money from our other, non-tax advantaged savings in order to max out our retirement accounts. (In case that’s unclear — I try really hard for us to spend less than we earn, and I kind of freak out if our take-home earnings for the month are less than we need to pay our bills. But then I remember that our retirement savings and 529 savings are deducted before they get to our take-home earnings, so as long as I can use our other savings to make up for the shortfall, I feel OK about it — within reason.)

How about you, ladies — what are your strategies for retirement savings? Does anyone get a match or perk you’d care to tell us about (anonymously)? Any good tips on how to do it? 

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Tales From the Wallet: How Much to Save For Retirement

women-savings-retirementHow much should you be saving for retirement? Are there savings benchmarks by ages? Is saving different for women? These are all questions that come up frequently (and no one really has all the answers) that I thought we should talk about them today. (Pictured:  Marc by Marc Jacobs Wallet, on sale at Bloomingdale’s — was $148, now $103.60.)

A few notes from poking around the Internet:

– According to the Department of Labor, on average women live longer than men, invest more conservatively, work fewer years (or work part-time/freelance jobs without access to a retirement plan).  Joy! MoneyLiving notes that women also have higher health care expenses, in part due to maternity expenses, but also higher premiums. [Read more…]

Tales from the Wallet: Tax-Savvy Investments

Marc by Marc Jacobs - Turnlock Shine Long Tri-fold (Electric Teal) - Bags and Luggage2017 update: See our new post about investing money in retirement accounts vs. saving cash. We’ve also made some updates below.

Something I’ve been thinking a lot about since I read it is this Mint article on “The Value of Tax-Deferred Savings.” According to the article, “[u]nless you make enough money to max out all of your tax-advantaged accounts (401(k), IRA, 529, HSA, and the like), it rarely makes sense to do any investing outside them.”  (Please note, I am not a financial adviser — this is all just my personal knowledge, so take it with a grain of salt.) (Pictured: Marc by Marc Jacobs – Turnlock Shine Long Tri-fold (Electric Teal) – Bags and Luggage, on sale at Zappos from $198 down to $150 today. Lots of great sales on Marc by Marc Jacobs stuff on Zappos today, actually.)

To be honest, the value of tax-deferred investing isn’t something I understood until really, really recently. So I thought we’d review some of the main vehicles for tax-savvy savings here, answering — for each, the main questions on everyone’s mind:

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