I didn't feel like I could increase the percent I saved, because I was living paycheck to paycheck. But Malani pointed out some easy fixes. First, she noted that, while I have been diligently contributing to my 401(k) since 2013, I didn’t have much to show for it. "The monetary benefit of a company 401(k) match will almost always exceed what you can expect from market returns,” Malani told me. “It's a guaranteed return on your money." But, my company does not match my contributions, which makes it less appealing.
The key word here: "match." Today, my 401(k) balance is $4,466.40. I've contributed 4% of my pay for two and a half years. If my company had matched at the standard national rate
— essentially giving me 50 cents on the dollar up to the first 6% of my salary — the total contributions to my account would be at an estimated $6,723.06 — an additional $2,256.66.
This isn't even taking into account for any growth. A reasonable expectation for the rate of return for someone my age with a diversified portfolio is around 8%. At that rate, my 401(k) would be close to $8,000.
If I had increased my contributions to maximize the match at 6%, and my company matched, the estimated amount in my fund would be $10,154.97. With the 8% growth, my account would be closer to $12,000. That’s three times what I’ve got right now. Ouch.
So, Malani advised I switch to a Roth IRA, an investment fund for individuals whose adjusted gross income is less than $117,000 per year. (This amount changes by state and each year. For more information, click here
Immediately I panicked. The 401(k) has always been held up as the gold standard As soon as I got a job, the first thing my parents asked was if it came with a 401(k) option. So, I was just supposed to stop contributing? Even though I had faith in Malani, I asked for a second opinion from a trusted friend and mentor. She agreed with the advice, and so I stopped putting money into my 401(k)and began allotting the same amount of money from my paycheck into a Roth IRA at Capital One. One thing to note about doing this: It comes out after tax. But, Malani and I decided it was better to pay tax on it now then to pay when I’m retiring.
Malani also suggested I set up Digit
, an app that monitors your spending habits and sneakily squirrels away money into a savings account for you. The app works on the principle that it will come to know your spending habits so well, that you won’t even miss the money in the first place. And again, Malani was right. In my first month of my new financial life, Digit saved me a little over $34, and I didn’t even notice it was gone.
When we started talking about how I could set up a better budget, I thought maybe a good way to control my money would be to go to an envelope system. You know, take out all the cash I’m allowed to spend each week, and never use my debit or credit cards so I don’t risk overdrafting. I like cash. When I empty my pockets at night, I toss the coins into a shoebox in my room. When the box is full, I cash it in at a Coinstar machine, and use the extra money for groceries. But, Malani held firm. “Digit is your new shoebox,” she said. And to avoid any overdraft fees, of which I paid about $200 last year, she advised me to break up with Bank of America, which was charging me $35 per overdraft, and to move my money to Capital One, where they charge nothing.
It wasn't enough to just start saving more. One of the big questions Malani asked was what I wanted my salary to be in, say, two years. I had no idea how to answer that. I felt like I was being underpaid, but I didn’t have a firm concept of what a reasonable salary would be for someone with my experience. But Malani didn’t ask me to guess how much my salary should be — she asked me to tell her what I wanted.