Ever feel like your savings goals are out of reach? If so, you’re not alone.
More than 20 percent of working Americans aren’t saving any money for retirement, emergencies or other financial goals, according to a survey by Bankrate. Low-income working Americans find it even harder to save. According to the same survey, 45 percent of households earning less than $30,000 per year aren’t saving any money.
But what is the best way to really save? Common wisdom says to open a savings account and divert a certain percentage of money there on paydays, or on a certain day of the month. With this strategy, your funds grow automatically as you continue making regular contributions and earning interest on your account.
However, some experts say contributing to a single savings account doesn’t go far enough. To make your savings “stick,” you may need to break your money up into multiple goal-driven, mini-accounts.
More than 20 percent of working Americans aren’t saving any money for retirement, emergencies or other financial goals.
The case for multiple savings accounts
Having multiple bank accounts can bring immediacy to your savings goals. Instead of daydreaming that you have enough cash saved up for a vacation or a new car, for example, budgeting with multiple savings accounts can set you up to realistically save money for whatever you desire. And unlike the alternative where you’re earning a paycheck and saving a portion into a single account, multiple savings accounts can teach you to purposefully divert funds to the goals that matter most in your life.
When deciding which of your financial goals deserve their own savings account, consider opening at least one for your emergency fund, says Taylor Schulte, CFP®, owner of a personal finance blog. Schulte and other experts suggest keeping at least three to six months of living expenses in a targeted savings account for emergencies only. This way, you’ll have money in the bank if you lose your job, take a cut in income or face unexpected medical bills. And by keeping your emergency fund separate from your other savings accounts, you’ll be less tempted to “borrow from it,” Schulte says.
Frugal living expert Lauren Greutman agrees with the emergency fund angle, but also stresses the importance of having multiple savings accounts for other goals. “I have savings accounts set up for an emergency fund, vacation fund, car fund and Christmas fund,” she says. “Each of these accounts has an end goal, and when I contribute to each account I like to see how far away I am from that goal,” she adds.
Consider opening multiple bank accounts to experience other financial benefits:
- See your savings grow to help stay motivated. One big reason multiple savings accounts work so well is they help you stay motivated to reach each of your goals, Schulte says. Your savings become more tangible when you know you have $2,000 in your emergency fund, $1,000 ready for that new set of wheels and $500 for your tropical getaway (versus $3,500 total). Watching each account grow every month can help you stay excited about saving.
- Get what you really want in life. When you’re not saving for anything in particular, it can be easy to lose momentum. Creating targeted savings accounts can help you determine what you really want in life, whether it’s a down payment for a house, the ability to travel or a college education fund for your children.
- Pay for your goals in cash. Keeping multiple savings accounts can be a great way to ensure affordability. Instead of charging what you want to credit, you can push yourself to save until you have the money in the bank. “Only $500 in your travel savings account?” asks Schulte. “You better find a way to spend less and save more if you want to take that trip to Hawaii,” he says.
“I have savings accounts set up for an emergency fund, vacation fund, car fund and Christmas fund. Each of these accounts has an end goal, and when I contribute to each account I like to see how far away I am from that goal.”
How to use multiple savings accounts
To budget with multiple savings accounts, you must make sure you’re implementing this strategy effectively. For starters, make sure juggling multiple accounts isn’t distracting you from your biggest financial priorities, Schulte says. If you’re not saving enough of your income for retirement, for example, opening savings accounts for travel and a new car may not leave you better off.
“A new car sounds like a lot more fun than retirement—and more attainable in the short term,” Schulte says. But will it help you retire? Probably not. To avoid neglecting the most important aspects of your financial life, it might be wise to sit down with a financial planner to make sure you’re on track with retirement before you start saving money for a vacation or other treat-yourself goals.
Once you’re on track with your primary financial goals, opening multiple bank accounts can only help you, Schulte says; however, it might be helpful to start small so you’re not overwhelmed.
“Start with one goal—like an emergency savings account—and save the minimum amount needed,” he says. “Then, move on to the next. Trying to save for too many things simultaneously could prevent you from making any of them a reality.”
You can also save yourself some headaches by only considering savings accounts that are easy to open, and easier to manage. “Online savings accounts are a great way to continue saving money without the hassle of driving to a physical bank,” Greutman says. For example, the Discover Online Savings Account, winner of NerdWallet’s 2020 Best Savings Account Award, offers a high interest rate and no account fees.1
Budget with multiple savings accounts
“Having more than one savings account is a good idea because it creates a specific plan for your money,” Schulte says. At the end of the day, how much you save matters—but so does where you save. If you’re trying to accomplish multiple savings goals, opening multiple bank accounts may be the right plan for you. At Discover, there is no limit for how many online savings accounts you can open, and with a high interest rate, you can watch those savings grow.
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1 Outgoing wire transfers are subject to a service charge.