The Easiest, Smartest Way to Save Up for The Awesome Things

Budpest castle district 1.jpg

In the spring of 2015, Kellie and I took a dream trip to Europe. The bulk of our time was spent in Budapest, Hungary, where she had served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. After Budapest, we spent a few days in Vienna, Prague, and Dresden, Germany. It was truly an experience of a lifetime, and we’ve looked back on it fondly many times since.

Two weeks ago, our announced church that it would soon begin constructing a temple in Budapest, Hungary. Not only does this provide another opportunity to visit a marvelous country with a new, beautiful building, but the dedication of this temple would likely bring many old friends and acquaintances to the area as well. For a former missionary, a temple dedication is akin to a mega-family reunion!

Needless to say, Kellie and I have committed to attending the Budapest temple dedication. But now that we have two kids and a still up-and-coming small business which isn’t exactly spewing out gobs of cash, where will the money come from?

This is a situation almost every family may face at many points in their lifetime. In some cases, families have some cash savings that they can tap into, but this often means sacrificing their emergency fund. In many more cases, the family will use the most readily available source of “cash”: their credit card. While many of us may take this approach, we know deep down that there are wiser, less costly ways to spend (even if you get credit card points).

In this article I’d like to share my financial plan to get to Hungary. I’ll call it Operation:Budapest. I’m sharing this approach with you because I feel it’s one of the smartest, most practical ways to save for the stuff that you’d really love to do. The really awesome things. I hope you’ll find it helpful.

Know How Long You Need to Save For

Any savings plan should start with the end in mind. How far out is your goal? In our case, Operation:Budapest is a bit of a moving target, since we won’t know for another year or two exactly when the temple dedication date will be. I’m estimating temple completion to be about 3 years out, so we’ll be saving for 3 years.

You’ll probably have an easier time picking the date of your savings goal: A graduation trip, a family reunion, or that new car you’ve always wanted. If it’s hard to be certain, make an estimate and get started. Don’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “good” when it comes to saving for awesome things.

Choose Where to Save

Deciding on how long you need to save will help dictate where you should save--meaning the types of investments you should use. In my opinion, anything less than 3 years away should be kept very safe, meaning you don’t want to lose any of your principal amount.

For me, a high-yield savings account like Ally Bank is perfect for Operation:Budapest. It’s convenient and it’s paying around 2% interest right now. That won’t earn much, but every little bit helps and it’s way better than what your checking account is earning.

Operation:Budapest! It’s alive!

Operation:Budapest! It’s alive!

Choose How Much to Save

The most thorough way to set your target savings amount is to add up all of the expenses you’ll have for the trip. In our case it’s food, airfare, hotels, food, more food (come on, it’s Europe!), transportation, tourist nik-naks, and so on. Our family is on a limited budget right now, and while there’s a chance that we can pay for the trip in cash in 3 years, we don’t have the cash flow to set aside $150 per month right now to save for the whole thing (our last trip to Europe cost around $5,000). This gets to an important point: If you can’t do it all, do something anyway.

This lesson became clear to me recently when I set a fitness goal to get to the gym three times each week. Week after week I fell short and after a month or two I gave up on fitness completely. Why didn’t I just keep doing something? Even three weekly walks on the treadmill at our home can make a huge impact on my health. It’s not the workout I’d get at the gym, but it’s something.

Use this same line of thinking with saving up for the awesome things. In our case, we’re planning to save $25 per month in year 1, $50 per month in year 2, and $75 per month in year 3. That will give us $1,800 (before interest) saved for Operation:Budapest. Enough money? Hardly. But it’s infinitely more than $0. That’s the difference.

Automate Your Savings

This step is absolutely crucial. A big reason that many people have success with saving for retirement is that contributions are taken directly from their paycheck. It’s money you never see, and never miss. How many people do you think would write a check for their retirement savings once the money was in their checking account? Not many.

This same reasoning is used when saving for Operation:Budapest, and should be used by everybody. If it’s not automated, it’s not going to happen. Fortunately, Ally Bank makes this easy. You can link any checking account to Ally Bank and set up transfers into your Ally account to occur weekly or monthly (I did monthly, which corresponds with my monthly budget).

Ally Bank’s interface makes automated savings flexible and super-easy.

Ally Bank’s interface makes automated savings flexible and super-easy.

As mentioned before, I’m not expecting any huge amounts of interest to be earned by using an Ally Bank account for Operation:Budapest. Over three years it should only earn an extra $80 or so. The more important things are to keep my savings safe (Ally Bank deposits are FDIC insured) and to have a separate account tied to this specific goal where my automatic deposits can regularly go.

I hope this article has been helpful! I’m looking forward to sharing my progress with you as time goes along. See you in Budapest (in about 3 years)!