Most people work toward several financial goals at once but keep their money clumped together in a single savings account. With this setup, it’s easy to forget how much you’ve saved for each goal — and to borrow money from one goal to pay for something else. I’ve found a better way.
To save for my goals, I use targeted saving. Using an online high-yield savings account, I’ve split my money into several different subaccounts, each of which I’ve named for a specific savings goal. My bank lets me name my accounts and subaccounts, so I give them titles to indicate their purpose.
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I currently have:
- An emergency fund, which is designed to bail me out in case of catastrophe.
- A car fund, where I make a “car payment” to myself every month. (My current car is paid for; this is savings for an eventual new car.)
- A travel fund, where I set aside money to fund my current passion — visiting faraway places around the globe. This is where I stick any money I have leftover at the end of the month.
From time to time, I have other financial goals. When I do, I open a new targeted account to help me save. Our house may soon need a new roof, for instance. If that’s the case, I’ll open a temporary targeted account called “roof fund.”
Though organizing your accounts this way might seem trivial, it can actually be a powerful motivator. For me, there are several advantages over the traditional one-size-fits-all savings method.
- First, it lets me mold my savings to my personality. I’m able to name what I’m saving for. I’m much more motivated to set aside money for my travel fund than I am to just put it into a plain, vanilla savings account.
- Targeted accounts also make it easier for me to visualize my progress. When all of my money is lumped into a single account, it’s tough for me to know how much more I need to set aside for a new car, for instance. It’s much easier for me to look at my statement every month and see the account labeled “Mini Cooper fund.”
- Finally, by using targeted savings, I’m able to prioritize my goals. When my wife and I decided to travel to Africa last February, for instance, I stopped putting money in my car fund and my emergency fund. I pumped every spare cent into my travel fund instead.
Though I use an online bank for my targeted savings accounts, there are other options. Before I moved my banking online, I kept my savings at a community credit union. Despite their small size, they offered big benefits, including the ability to open several named savings accounts. (I’m not ashamed to admit that I opened my first targeted account in 2006 to save for a Nintendo Wii.)
And, of course, you don’t even need to open separate accounts to make this work. For a long time, my wife simply used a spreadsheet to designate which piece of her savings belonged to which goal. This worked great for her. Eventually, though, she joined the dark side. Now she too uses targeted savings accounts to pursue her goals.
Note: Targeted saving lets one person save for many goals. But what if you have many people who want to save for one goal? Check out SmartyPig, which bills itself as a savings program for chasing goals. The site lets your friends and family members add money directly to your account so they can help you save for things like your wedding or the down payment on a house.