Emily and Noah came to me just after their big, beautiful wedding. She’s a New York native, he’s a transplant, and they both love the city, but there are… frustrations. Rent seems to ratchet up every year, getting back and forth to their jobs comfortably and quickly is so expensive as to not be sustainable, spending time with their friends is a priority they’re not really willing to eliminate, and all the time they’ve got “helpful” relatives out of the city who tell them “no more eating out” and “just move out of the city.”
In this article, we’ll talk about a few strategies Emily, Noah and I worked on to help them build savings as a couple in NYC… all without feeling restricted.
Approximate read time: 6 minutes
How to Build Savings as a Couple in NYC: Tips From an Online Financial Coach in New York
We all know we should be saving money, but no one really ever tells us HOW. Savings a rather large chunk of money, along with reducing debt, were what drove Emily and Noah to reach out to me… but there were other concerns. They each had a pretty clear idea about how best to budget, build savings, pay off debt, and prioritize spending. And rather than being a source of insight, those two opposing perspectives were already beginning to cause conflict.
We started off talking about how to talk about money, of course, but pretty quickly we were talking about savings strategies. Let’s talk about the three strategies for savings that Emily, Noah, and I talked about:
The First Way to Save: Change How Your Brains Think About Saving
This easy trick is basically you lying to your brain about savings. Don’t worry, though! Our brains tell us lies all the time and it’s ok to occasionally lie back!
The trick is to think of your savings as money spent, not money saved. Let’s say I’ve saved $700 this month. Here are two different ways I can think about that savings: “I saved $700 this month.” or “I spent $700 on savings this month.”
It’s subtle, but there is a difference. The second sentence “I spent $700 on savings…” tells me that money is spent. The first sentence tells me that that money is still available to me in my savings. Are we just playing a word trick on your brain? Yes.
So what do you think would happen if you moved just $100 from your checking account to your savings today and told yourself “I spent $100 on savings?” Do you think it might be easier to keep that savings there? What else do you think you might notice?
The Second Way to Save: Name Your Savings as a Couple Strategically
So you’re building up your savings, right? But how do you know when to use it and when not to?
Just calling your savings “Savings”, “emergency fund”, or “rainy day fund” is easy, but it’s too simplistic. This simplistic naming convention for savings means that you may use those savings and then regret it later. That kind of built-in failure is not a good way to make future decisions. Let’s be a bit more thoughtful and intentional with savings by categorizing and strategizing. I encourage my clients to have three kinds (flavors) of savings.
It may sound overwhelming, but you can have as many savings accounts, allotments, or funds as you like. Typically my clients have two all the time and one or two that come in and out of existence as needed.
There are three flavors of savings:
- Long-term savings: The purpose of building long-term savings is to smooth out the highs and lows of spending and income over the years. However you name it, savings like this are for quickly handling big emergencies like a flooding water heater, or taking advantage of opportunities like a screaming deal on an investment property. Withdrawing from long-term savings typically comes along with a lot of thoughtfulness. How would you know when it’s time to use these savings? Whatever your answer is for this, name your savings that! Good examples I’ve seen: “Loss of income fund” (this is what Emily and Noah elected to call their long-term savings), “Open the coffee shop fund”, etc.
- “Fly-Swatter” savings: This is typically a smaller dollar amount and money moves in and out of these funds quickly. No matter how great your planning and budgeting are, occasionally something comes out of left field, and this “fly-swatter” account is great for just smacking down that annoying thing without much fuss. How much is in these accounts depends on you, your life, and your income. (If you have limited savings, I recommend starting here). Commonly there is little emotional investment in using and refilling this kind of savings because that’s its whole purpose! The purpose of the “fly-swatter” savings is to protect the big savings above. How you name this savings is similar to the first kind of savings… How would you know when it’s time to use these savings? Good examples I’ve seen: “Cracked tooth savings.”, “The car blows up again.”
- Project-based savings: These are the savings or funds that come and go as your life changes. Installing a deck, buying a car, extended time off work, getting a tattoo (yes really), and vacations are all things I’ve seen people set aside money for in these temporary project-based funds. Emily and Noah wanted to work on a down payment for a home!
The Third Way to Save: To Build an Adaptive, Personalized Budget
Of course, this is what Noah, Emily, and I ended up working on. An adaptive, customized budget isn’t just a spreadsheet… it’s a communication tool, and if done properly, it strikes a balance between structure and flexibility.
An adaptive, evolving, customized budget cannot be downloaded off the internet and then plugged into your life. Those premade, prescriptive, restrictive budgets might work for a month, and then your life changes and it won’t keep up. Your June probably looks different than your December, for example, and you’ll need a slightly different system for each month.
Your life WILL change. And I want change for you! Imagine how boring it would be if you could successfully spend exactly the same amount of money on the exact same things month after month, year after year. Your budget, spending plan, or whatever you call it, MUST change with you. Whether the changes to your life are choices you made or choices that were made for you, your budget must adapt. It must be the right balance of structure and flexibility. Structure means you can carry forward your goals, flexibility means your life can change!
And it must be customized TO YOU. Which means it must comply with your life. A customized budget gets easier to use over time, not harder, and it should be intuitive. Your customized budgeting plan should reflect your values and priorities. And that’s just what Noah and Emily did! In addition to paying down their debt and building savings, they now have an easy-to-use budgeting system that complies with their life, their priorities, and what they want out of their future.
Building savings as a couple in one of the most expensive cities in the United States is very possible! And you’re probably much closer than you think you are! What would your lives look like if you had a budgeting and communication system that made talking about money easier WHILE building your savings?
Next recommended article: Debt free in NYC
Start Building Healthy Savings as a Couple With The Help of an Online Financial Coach in New York!
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2. Begin meeting with me, Hanna Morrell, a skilled online financial coach for couples
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