When I finally earned more than what I spent, I asked myself this question. Due to the time I already squandered, there are so many places need my money badly:
Emergency fund and cash savings
Individual retirement accounts (IRA) such as Roth and traditional IRA
Employer sponsored retirement accounts 401k, 403b (non-profit organization and education institutions)
A regular brokerage account to invest in the stock market
My order is the following:
1. Roth IRA
You may be surprised that I put to Roth before emergency fund. The reason was not only that Roth is one of the best places for young professionals and graduate students’ money, but also that you can withdraw your contributions (the money you put into such an account) any time without incurring any penalty or taxes. So your contributions can serve as your EF. It is so nice that no wonder you can only contribute $4000 a year.
2. 401k or 403b and a lull with employer matching
Many people have this on the top of their lists. The argument was simple, you can get free money. Many people contributed to their 401K and got those employer matchings. However, because they do not have enough liquid asset (contributions in Roth or emergency fund), they were forced to get the money out in case of urgent financial needs, which leads to taxes and penalty.
3. Emergency Fund
The contributions in Roth is not a perfect emergency fund, because you will not be able to put contributions back after withdraws, which leads to the loss of opportunity for tax-free earning growth. I have shared my experience in a recent post. The good news is that you do not need to constantly put new money there. After you find out how much to put in, and fund it, then you are mostly done. Also as Moomin Valley commented, after you accumulate more assets, you can get away without a real emergency fund since it’s very likely you’ll have very liquid assets because of asset diversification.
4. 401k or 403b remaining portion
You can decide for a self how much you want to put into your retirement account, because this portion is not liquid-able. However, if you want to invest in the stock market, the advantage of text deferment cannot be understated. As two late-starters, Jacqui and I are maximizing this part. Another late starter moom shared his experience.
5. Savings as in savings account, CD or regular brokerage:
You do want to enjoy your life before retirement also, right? However, I do not over-save for this part as I think my future income is good enough to cover my future expenses.
We do not own a house yet and are saving for a down payment. Normally, it should be listed as 5. However, the more I learn about the housing market and the unprecedented housing boom, the more I realized that how over-valued the current housing market is. I guess it will be number 6 for the next two years at least.
What’s your list like?