The short answer is do both. Why you should do both would be the real question. To financially get ahead and feel more secure most people should start investing now for their future.
(Have you starting investing yet or are you paying down debt first? I would love to hear your story.)
I have been coming across this debate off and on for decades and understand the reasons for each side. I use to believe in paying down debt first, but because of my experience with my own debt I have changed my thinking. Let’s start by looking at each side of the argument.
Why pay off debt first?
Every month that you are paying a monthly payment on a loan you are paying extra money called interest. This interest is your charge for getting and paying off the loan slowly. The money you are paying in interest is not helping you pay down a loan.
Let’s say you are paying $80 on a debt. If $40 is just in interest than each month only $40 goes toward paying down your actual debt. This is why it is so important to find good interest rates when looking for loans or credit cards. As you pay down your debt you will be paying less interest each month.
Having debt hang over your head and struggling from pay check to pay check is stressful. The process of trying to get out of the ‘debt trap’ is hard. It takes planning and tightening your belt when it comes to purchases and your lifestyle.
Paying off the debt first feels wonderful. It reduces your stress and it gives you extra cash that you can start investing with. This is a great reason for paying debt first.
Why invest first?
It is always a good idea to have money put aside. You never know when you will need it. This includes short term (savings) and long term (investing) money. Knowing you have a safety net is very comforting and can reduce stress even if you are still paying off debt.
Advise: You should be putting money into an emergency account that you can withdrawal easily. This savings should be big enough to support you and pay your bills for 6 months. Of course it will take a while to reach this amount, though putting a little away each month will help you to eventually reach this goal.
Investing long term is money you invest for the purpose of letting it grow. That means once you invest it, you don’t touch it! The reason long term investments in the market are a good thing is because the stock market averages a 10% growth each year. Some years it will increase 5% and some years it will increase 15%. Either way it has a better growth than an average savings account.
Disclaimer: Know your risk level. Younger investors can usually go for the higher risk stocks because if they lose money they have more time to recover it. So, know your risk level and do not gamble with your money.
Why should you pick one option over the other?
When you decide to only focus on one option and then really work hard to achieve, it will help you get there faster and have better results. You will be able to pay off your debt faster or you will be able to put more money into investing. Either way working hard toward one option will make it easier.
Why tackle both together?
I do understand that trying to do both will mean you will be paying off your debt slower and not investing as much as you could if your debt was paid off. Though it is too easy to not save money. And that is why many will put it off and some will never do it. When you don’t start you miss out on the gains you could have had. (I have this regret.)
In life unexpected bills always seem to come. So, we keep turning to the credit card to get us out of trouble. (At least that is what I have done, especially car repairs.) If you are trying to pay it off and keep adding to it, then the debt will be around a lot longer. Waiting to invest UNTIL your debt is gone may take too long. (Yep!)
Many of us always feel like we don’t have enough money. By putting some money aside each month will help you not feel so strapped. You will see that you do have money to fall back on and that you are also investing for your future.
If you invest into stocks with dividends and reinvest your dividends back into the stock, you will benefit from the compounding effect. Make sure you pick a stable company. There are many out there.
If you wait to invest till everything is calm in your life and there is no debt, then many of you may never start. Give yourself the gift of security and peace of mind by investing in a savings account and an investment account. This will help you know you have a safety net if you need it.
To save money is easier than ever these days
There are several apps out there to help you with your savings and investing.
I have heard many people talking about the Acorn App. It helps you to save in a savings account by putting little bits of money aside. Soon it starts to grow and gives you a safety net.
Stash* is an app (I use this one) that helps you to invest with as little as $5. If you invest $5 into a stock that is worth $20, then it will buy ¼ of the stock for you. You will receive gains and losses based on the % of stock you own.
Remember for investing you are doing it long term so don’t pay too much attention to the market. Unless you are playing out of your risk comfort, which you just shouldn’t do. Stash has a feature that will ask you what risk level you want and it will recommend stock bundles for you. (Always investigate a company before you invest money.)
There are many more companies coming down the pike to help you save and invest. The ones I mentioned were the ones I was more familiar with. Do your own research and pick what feels right for your personality and comfort zone. Make sure to start putting money away as soon as you can
The sooner you make a habit of putting money aside and not spending it on things or having it disappear into your revolving debt the sooner you will start feeling better about your financial health.
Get a savings account with the best interest you can and let the interest compound to help the account grow faster. Get an investment account and reinvest any dividends again to help your account grow faster.
Use time as an ally. The sooner you start the more money you will have saved up. Whether you decide to put $5 in a month or $500, you will get a better feeling the earlier you start.
My recipe for success (Make sure you research and do what is best for you)
1. Make sure to pay all debt payments on time. You do not want to waste money because of late charges.
2. Always make sure to pay over the minimum payment each month. Whether it is 50 cents or $50.
3. Make sure to put some money aside into emergency savings. Make sure this is not touched unless you are in real trouble. (Goal: enough $ to last 6 months)
4. Put money into long term investments.
5. Do this EVERY month. Make it a habit!
These 5 activities should be done at the same time. Do a little squirreling away with your money. As you pay down debt, then put more money into savings and investments. Some people find that if they do this online instead of at a bank, which they can easily get to, they are less likely to dip into their savings. Also, try to make it automatic. Have the bank put money automatically into a savings, so you don’t have to think about it monthly.
This is for your future! This is for your peace of mind! This is to protect you from unseen financial problems and having a future with no money!
These things are very easy to do, though they are also very easy not to do. Do yourself a favor and start making sure you have a safety net now and for the future.
*If you would like to try Stash. If you sign up through this link they give you an extra $5 in stock. https://get.stashinvest.com/dianeimv06
Have you starting investing yet or are you paying down debt first? I would love to hear your story.