• I work as a financial coach, and since the pandemic began I've been getting a lot of similar questions.
  • My clients have been curious about how much to save in their emergency funds, and what to do with money they've saved for houses or other large purchases.
  • They've also been asking about how to start investing, and how to prioritize their savings in a financially uncertain world.
  • SmartAsset's free tool can find a financial planner to help you take control of your money

As a financial coach who speaks and teaches courses on financial literacy, I get a lot of similar questions about money. Most have to do with paying down debt , saving, setting up a budget , and general investing questions .

My goal as a coach is to educate and inspire, and then guide others to a decision that feels right for them and fits with their financial values. Like everything in life, there are tradeoffs to choosing one route over another and there is not a "one-size-fits-all" approach to personal financial decision-making.

There has been a lot of financial instability thus far this year, and now more than ever individuals and couples are looking for financial advice. Below I've compiled some of the most common questions I've been hearing lately and the advice I've been giving.

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Q: Should I be saving only 6 months of expenses?

I recommend having at least six months of savings in an emergency fund , and then beyond that is personal preference. Does six months of savings feel like enough? If not, shoot for nine to 12 months' worth of expenses saved up. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it's that the unexpected can happen at any time and can come with great financial setbacks.

Q: If I have money that I want to use for a down payment for a house or big expense but won't buy in the next couple years, where do you recommend putting that money?

For a house or bigger expense, you could open a high-yield savings account or check out CDs . Interest rates are really low right now, but you can still earn some interest, which is better than nothing!

I don't recommend investing money you will need in three to five years in the event we have another major economic downturn and it takes a few years to rebound. If you have longer than a few years until you buy, however, you could consider investing in a Roth IRA .

You can take $10,000 of your Roth's earnings tax- and penalty-free and apply them to a first-time home buyer purchase, as long as you have had the account open for at least five years.

Q: I am currently working on aggressively paying off all of my debt and plan on building up my emergency fund after that, but am unsure of what to do once I am done with those two steps. I know that I want to start investing more heavily in my retirement, but I don't know what kinds of investments to look for or choose. Do you have any suggestions or advice on the steps I should take to beef up my retirement investments?

Congrats on almost being done paying off your debt! After you've done that and built up your emergency fund to a comfortable point, I would start with investing more in your employer-sponsored retirement plan and then open up your own IRA (ideally a Roth if you're below the income limit cutoff).

You can invest up to $6,000 in an IRA per year and have until Tax Day 2021 to apply contributions towards 2020. Personally, I use Fidelity and invest in low-cost index funds that follow the S&P 500 or the Total Stock Market.

Q: How should I be prioritizing my savings? I am looking to purchase a home in the next 12 months and need to dedicate most of my savings to that, but am wondering how I can also balance maintaining an emergency fund and saving for retirement.

A: I would keep enough money in your savings for an emergency (ideally at least three months) but then slow down on retirement saving until you've reached your home ownership savings goal.

If your company offers a free match on your 401(k) or 403(b), however, definitely still take advantage of that. Or you could continue your investing as normal but find a side hustle or part-time job to put more money towards your future home down payment.

Q: What recommendations do you have for financial discipline (not spending just because you want something)?

A: This is a tough one for almost everyone, but there are a few things you can do: First off, make a rule for yourself that you can't make a purchase until a certain number of hours have passed (such as 24 or 48). Ask yourself if the short-term gratification is worth taking away from your next financial goal. Keep in mindwhy you want to spend less and save more.

You could also try a no-spend challenge in which you challenge yourself to not spend any money, outside of essentials, for a certain amount of time (such as a week). Enlist an accountability partner that you can turn to for encouragement when you feel like blowing your budget or going on a shopping spree.

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