I’m pointing out a recent article featuring advice from Walter Updegrave, a senior editor of Money Magazine. Recently, he was asked to quantify the percentage of income that any individual should save in order for this particular action to be considered “financially responsible.” Normally, the advice I’ve seen suggests a rate somewhere between 10% and 20% of income, so I was expecting Updegrave’s advice to head in that direction.
Rather than providing a hard percentage, Updegrave took a more nuanced approach.
Well, as much as I’d like to be able to tell you to save 10%, 15% or whatever and you’ll be fine, it’s impossible for me to do that without knowing a whole lot more about you. The percentage of income that’s appropriate for you will depend on your income, age, the amount of money you’ve already saved, your employment prospects and, most important, how much you’re willing to forego immediate gratification for current and future financial security.
It is good to see writers admitting that personal finance advice is not one-size-fits-all rather than going for the knowledge-nugget. Knowledge-nuggets are like those chicken nuggets at that fast-food restaurant with the yellow double arch-shaped letter. They’re tasty, but not very healthy, and you get sick of them after about 25.
Every individual is surrounded by a unique situation, and that should be reflected in personal finance advice.
Tips on the other hand can be general enough to apply to a large swath of individuals. Updegrave answers the reader’s question as best as possible without knowing anything about the individual, but then leads into a few savings tips that are applicable to just about everyone: Start building an emergency fund (and here are 50 tips for building one), be serious about investing for retirement, and find additional ways to save such as automating your savings.
If nothing else, saving 10% of your income is a good start if you’re not saving anything, and saving 20% of your income is a good next step if you’re saving 10%.
3 steps to financial security: Save, save, save, Walter Updegrave, Money Magazine, April 30, 2009
Updated August 19, 2016 and originally published May 1, 2009.