The strongest advantage you have when it comes to saving money in your 20s and 30s is time. Saving for retirement through a 401(k) plan is a great way to capitalize on that advantage. Many financial experts caution that retirement isn't the only life event you should save for. An emergency fund, individual retirement plans (IRAs) and investments are other ways to build up your wealth. The amount of money you need to save in addition to a 401(k) mostly depends on your personal ambitions.
Unanticipated expenses can creep up at any time. An emergency fund prevents you from having to ask your parents for money or charging the expenses to your credit card. You'll want the money to be easily accessible at a moment's notice, so it's best to set up an emergency fund as a regular savings account. Set aside at least three to six months of your living expenses as a rule. You can always save more if you feel the need. If your living expenses are $2,500 a month, you'll need a minimum of $7,500.
For a 401(k), you should strive to save up to the amount that your employer will match. Depending on your income and age when you start saving, you may need to open an IRA. As of 2012, you can save up to an additional $5,000 per year. Determine how much money you'll need to live comfortably on once you retire. If you start saving at 25, you won't need to set aside as much as someone who starts at the age of 35.
Down payments and expenses for major purchases, such as a home, a car or appliances, can add up. Once you build up an emergency fund, try to set aside 5 to 10 percent of your take-home pay for future major purchases. If you do this, you'll find that you'll be better prepared for these types of expenses. By having the ability to pay more in cash, you won't be in a situation where you have to exclusively rely on credit.
If you have enough discretionary income, it's a good idea to start saving money in bonds, stocks or certificates of deposit (CDs). These types of investments might help you save for a future expense, such as a vacation or an advanced degree. The amount that you'll need to save will be influenced by how much time you have and the anticipated amount of the expense. Bonnie Shocket Lazarz, a certified financial planner who offered her advice in Denali Alaskan Federal Credit Union's "10 Smart Money Moves for Your 20s," recommends starting small with investments and gradually increasing them over time.
Helen Akers specializes in business and technology topics. She has professional experience in business-to-business sales, technical support, and management. Akers holds a Master of Business Administration with a marketing concentration from Devry University's Keller Graduate School of Management and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles.