Sure, saving is all the rage in the world of personal finance nerds, but here’s a fun fact: Even if you’re saving for retirement, you’re going to spend that money someday.
I learned that the hard way when three of my biggest savings goals all needed to be spent in a single month.
That’s right: I spent every dollar in three different savings accounts last month, and that was always the plan.
See, we bought a house last month, so all of a sudden, my house down payment account, my “big house purchases” account and my closing costs account were gone. Like, full on, zero balances gone.
Not to mention I also pulled some money out of my vacation savings, because we took two weeks off to set up the new house and wanted to do some fun vacation things, like getting one too many iced lattes.
Luckily, even this dedicated saver was able to enjoy the process of spending her hard earned savings – while making sure that it didn’t turn into a perma-spending state. Here’s exactly how I did it, and how you can prep for spending your savings someday too.
#1. Prepare Yourself Mentally
When you’re used to saving for a thing, it can feel weird to a) halt your auto-contributions and b) spend money at all. So first things first, you need to start to make peace with the fact that your savings account is going to go down.
Maybe a little, maybe a lot, maybe all the way to zero – but it is going to go down.
To prepare, one of the most effective things we did was to spread the purchases out as much as we could. There’s not a lot you can do to pre-pay closing costs, but we definitely bought and paid in full for our washer and dryer, and our king sized bed, well ahead of the month we closed on the house.
If you’re also in the home-buying process and want to do something similar, most larger furniture stores (aka anything that isn’t Ikea) will hold your purchases for at least a month and deliver them once you’re into your new place. For vacations, you can do this by prepaying for things like accommodations and tours ahead of the week of vacation.
This way, the money comes out in chunks. They might be big chunks, sure, but they’re not all happening at once which is pretty nice, and a good way to ease into the whole spending-money thing.
#2. Make a Plan for Spending It
No matter what you’re planning to spend your savings on, and how much money you have saved, you will be shocked at how quickly purchases add up. It’s the same way that you can easily overspend on little things like lattes and lunches… but on a potentially massive scale.
Before you start pulling any money out of your savings account, make a list of all of the things or experiences you want to fund with the money. Then add in estimates of how much each one will cost and total them up. That total might be less than you have in savings… but it might be more, too. Like, much more.
This information will help you prioritize in case it adds up to more than your savings account can handle. If you’ve got $5,000 for a vacation, maybe you aren’t staying at the absolute fanciest hotel and eating at amazing restaurants every night, but you can probably swing one of the two. And hey, if you do happen to have money leftover, you can make a plan for it – including whether you want to keep it in savings for the future, or bump up your planned spending amounts.
#3. Keep Track of Spending
During the week, month or months that you’re pulling money out of savings to spend it, it can feel ridiculous. Truly ridiculous.
Because you’re a saver, right? You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t, and savers are used to spending less than they make, which means you probably don’t make a habit of spending this much money all at once – much less raiding your savings to cover it.
Since you’ll be spending much more than normal, even ultra-planned spending can start to feel out of hand due to the sheer volume of the expenses. Vacations where you’re spending 50 euros on dinner every night can feel crazy, even if you budgeted 75 euros a night for noms.
Three trips to Ikea can feel excessive, even though you’ve specifically saved money to give yourself the luxury of brand-new (albeit bargain) furniture.
To help keep tabs on everything and reassure yourself, track your spending the same way you would in a normal month. Not only will it help you figure out how you’re doing against your plan, it’ll have the added benefit of showing you when you really are in danger of going over budget, and flagging when you need to slow down with the fancy meals or the trips to Ikea.
Also yeah, that $500 helicopter ride does seem like a small expense since you just dropped $3000 on a vacation… But it’s still $500.
#4. Make a Plan for “After”
After the excitement and spending has gone down a bit, it’s time to check in with your savings plan for the future. You just achieved a savings goal, after all, and your reward is that gorgeous zero balance on your credit card after funding a house, a trip or another big event.
Talk about having your cake and eating it too. Thanks, savings.
Since saving just proved how awesome it is, your next step is to take a look at your future savings goals and how your monthly money plans line up now that one big goal (or more) has been achieved.
It might be the case that everything stays the same – like if you always save $250 a month for vacation, and take one annually – but if it’s something like a house, you probably don’t still need to save for a down payment or closing costs.
So now it’s time for you to figure out what your next big goals are, and take a look at your current budget. How much can you afford to save for them, and how will you manage it?
And as one final step for bonus points – go and update your automatic savings contributions to reflect your new plans.
#5. Enjoy It – You Earned It
Lastly, no matter how committed you are to savings, when it comes time to spend it on the things you’ve been saving so diligently for, enjoy it.
You earned this, and getting to spend it on something amazing is your reward for all the things you didn’t buy to make this a reality. Whether it was skipping work lunches, or taking the bus, or scaling back your clothing obsession – saving money isn’t easy, and you did it.
So enjoy this fully!