The question on whether it's possible (or makes sense) to save money and pay off debt at the same time is one I get asked pretty often.
In my opinion, Yes, it's very possible to save and pay off debt at the same time however, you need a strategy in place to be able to do it successfully, especially when it comes to the interest you are paying on debt versus the earnings you might be making on your savings and investments - it has to make sense - Let me explain.
"It's possible to save and pay off debt at the same time however, you need a strategy in place."
Here's how you can save and pay debt at the same time:
1. Make sure you save for emergencies as you pay off debt
When it comes to saving money and paying off debt, it's important that you have an emergency fund of at least $1000 to $1500 in place to start out.
This will be your buffer in the event an emergency or an unplanned circumstance occurs (e.g. your car breaks down, you have an unexpected home repair or bill etc), this way you don't have to rely on credit or acquiring more debt to get yourself out of the situation.
2. Have a plan to save for retirement as you pay off debt
Next, if your employer offers a retirement plan in which they match your contributions, contribute enough to get the full match a.k.a. the free money! If your employee doesn't match, contribute 5% to 10% anyway. If you are self-employed open up an IRA and contribute a small amount to it e.g. 5% of your earnings.
Why? By making these small contributions to your retirement accounts, you are ensuring that you are putting something towards your retirement and are able to take advantage of the power of compounding and the opportunity of time to invest. Accumulating the amount of money you'll need in your retirement takes time. The more time you have, the more you'll be able to put away and the more time your money will have to grow.
Given the day and age that we live in, you cannot rely on social security to take care of you in retirement plus no one is going to be waiting to give you a beachfront mansion and a million dollars on the day you decide to retire. (Not sure how much you need to retire? Check out this post). If you are paying off debt, your focus will need to be on paying off your debt quickly but you still need to put something aside for retirement.
3. Create a debt repayment plan to pay your debt off as quickly as possible
Once you have your emergency savings in place and have a plan to contribute towards your retirement savings, it's time to create a budget and become BFFs with it. Your budget will help you track your income and expenses and your goal with your budget is to keep your expenses as low as possible so you can get aggressive with your debt, starting with any high-interest debt you might have. Pick a debt repayment method and get to work knocking your debt down.
Why the aggressive focus on your debt? Well the cost of debt in terms of interest you have to pay is probably not be worth it at all (especially on your high interest debt) when you compare it to the average savings account interest rate (less than 2%) and the average rate of return of the stock market over the long term (~8%).
For example, if you are only earning 1% in your savings account but are paying 15% in interest on your debt, you are actually indirectly losing money by keeping your money in your savings account. It's better to pay it off asap and then once that debt is gone, ramp up on your savings and investment goals.
- Here's a calculator to help you compare paying off debt vs saving or investing so you understand the true cost or benefit of what you decide:
It's also important to adjust your mindset, remind yourself of your why and surround yourself with the right influences. This will keep you motivated to accomplish your debt repayment goals.