If you find yourself with extra money at the end of the month or quarter after all of your expenses have been paid and you’ve made your regular retirement account contributions, congratulations! Now for the next question: should you be investing the extra cash, and if so how?
Following is a look at some of your options to help you decide the best course of action for your situation. But first, make sure that it is indeed excess cash and there aren’t any hidden or forgotten expenses lurking. If there are, devote the excess funds to these expenses first.
- Establish an emergency fund. A study recently conducted by the Federal Reserve found that four out of 10 Americans don’t have enough money in savings to cover a $400 unexpected expense. This drives home the importance of establishing an emergency savings fund you can easily tap when unexpected expenses arise, such as a car or appliance repair.
Everyone’s situation is different, but many financial experts recommend saving up between three and six months’ worth of living expenses in case of a financial emergency. This would likely be enough not only to cover an unexpected repair, but it could also help tide you over if you lose your job or experience a significant reduction in income.
Keep your emergency cash in an FDIC-insured savings account, like a bank or online money market account, so you can withdraw funds quickly and without penalty when they’re needed. You won’t earn much interest but that’s not the goal with emergency savings. The most important thing is that the funds be kept safe and liquid.
- Save for a short-term need. In addition to an emergency savings fund, you might also establish a savings fund for specific upcoming need. A car is a good example.
Instead of financing your next car, you could use extra cash to start a car savings fund. For example, let’s assume a monthly car payment of $400. If you put this much money in your car savings fund each month, in five years you would have $24,000 saved up to buy your next car. This could be enough money to buy a quality, low-mileage used vehicle or it could be a hefty down payment on a used vehicle, thus lower your car payments significantly. Beyond that, being able to pay cash means you have on less thing to haggle over when buying your car.
- Invest in alternative investments. There’s a whole universe of investments that go beyond stocks, bonds and Treasury issues. Known as alternative investments, these include real estate, art and collectibles, hedge funds, private equity, precious metals, commodities and cryptocurrencies, among others.
Alternative investments can provide more diversification to your portfolio. They usually have a low correlation with traditional investments so they can help smooth out portfolio volatility. Some alternatives can also provide a hedge against inflation and a safe haven during times of economic uncertainty. As your net worth grows, alternatives can help you spread your assets out among a wider range of different types of securities, thus reducing volatility. One note of caution when it comes to alternatives – they are typically less regulated and can be more complex than investing in stocks and bonds. So, before you invest in alternatives, make sure you have a clear understanding of the investment.
- Beef up your retirement savings. It’s never a bad idea to devote extra cash to a long-term financial goal like saving for retirement. If you haven’t maxed out contributions to your IRA, 401(k) or other retirement savings account for the year yet, consider putting your extra cash toward this.
In 2021, you and your spouse can each contribute up to $6,000 to a traditional or Roth IRA (or $7,000 if you’re 50 years of age or over), up to $13,500 to a SIMPLE IRA (or $16,500 if you’re 50 years of age or over) and up to $19,500 to a 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan (or $25,500 if you’re 50 years of age of over). If you own a business or are self-employed, you can contribute up to $57,000 (or 25% of compensation) to a SEP IRA.
- Pay down debt. If you have high-interest outstanding consumer debt, paying this down may be a wise use of excess cash. But how should you prioritize paying down debt vs. saving or investing the money? Start by comparing the carry on your debt to what you could earn by saving or investing the funds.
For example, if you’re paying 19.5% interest on outstanding credit card debt, it’s pretty obvious that you’ll be better off paying this down than putting excess cash in a money market account earning less than one percent. But the answer isn’t as obvious if you’re trying to decide whether to pay down a 30-year mortgage with a low interest rate or invest the money for the long term, where it could generate a higher return than you’re paying in mortgage interest.
It often comes down to how you feel personally about debt. Some people just have an aversion to borrowing money and want to avoid debt or pay it down as quickly as possible regardless of what “the numbers” say. On the flip side, leverage can be a powerful financial tool if it’s used wisely and responsibly and you’re comfortable owing money.
As fee-only financial advisors, we can help you analyze these and other options and make the best decision regarding what to do with excess cash based on your situation. Book an introductory call with us or send us an email if you’d like to talk in more detail.