How to Save and Invest Like a Boss in 2019


As the end of your Peace Corps service looms large, it’s easy to feel like you’ll have it made in the shade once you land a job and can pay your own rent.

Then student loan invoices start rolling in. You see your parents aging. And you can’t help but notice how many of your friends bought homes and cars while you were swatting at mosquitoes and farm fowl on multi-hour bus rides.

Just getting by each month doesn’t feel so satisfying anymore. You feel so far behind. You need to save and invest! But where to begin?

“I’ll know I’ve made it when…”

Here’s a simple step-by-step guide to building and managing your wealth!


In this article, we’ll walk you through these crucial steps to save and invest your money like a boss:

  1. Switch to a fee-free checking account
  2. Establish a money market savings account
  3. Build your safety net
  4. Pay off (most) debt
  5. Max out your Defined Contribution Plan every year
  6. Max out an Individual Retirement Account every year
  7. Save for big purchases
  8. Establish an Individual Taxable Account

We’ll also give you lots of context on tax regulations, tell you what to avoid, and make recommendations of awesome financial services to help you make all of it happen.

Just so you know: This information in this article has been immensely helpful to our clients, and we would never steer you wrong. That said, Songgaar is not licensed as a fiduciary or financial adviser. You can read more in our disclaimer. 

1. Switch to a fee-free checking account

First thing’s first: stop paying more than you have to. Find a checking account that has no minimum balance requirement, no international fees, and no ATM fees. We did some research on your behalf, and Schwab is a strong choice. You’ll get an investor account when you open the checking account, but it’s not required that you use it. Which is good, because there’s definitely better investment accounts out there (more on that later).

2. Establish a money market savings account.

Pro Tip: If your savings account doesn’t earn about 2.5% interest per year, your money will lose buying power over time due to  inflation .”

Ever hear fun facts about how a loaf of bread used to cost a penny, and a day’s wage was a dollar? It’s hard evidence that money loses values over time, so you need more of it to acquire the same loaf of bread, and you expect more of it for your labor. That’s inflation at work. It’s the rise in cost of goods and services over time. In the USA, it tends to be about 2-3% a year. This is why a lot of companies give annual raises of a few percent; it’s not really a reward, it just maintains the employee at the same buying power as the costs of the things they need rise. In terms of your savings, inflation means that if the dollar amount remains the same, then you’ll be able to buy less and less with it as the years pass.

What to do? To ensure that your dollars maintain their buying power, they need to spawn and produce offspring. Putting your money in an account that earns interest will do just that.

Banks caught on to this a couple decades ago and started offering a small interest rate (aka Annual Percentage Yield or APY) on savings accounts. This made people feel like their money wasn’t losing value, so they were more likely to leave it in the bank instead of putting it into investments. But a whopping 0.25% annual interest in an economy that inflates at 2-3%? SMH….Hard pass. 

Good news: there’s something better out there. Money market accounts offer the same FDIC insurance on your money as traditional banks, and they give you over 2% annual interest. Most money market accounts allow 6 transfers a month, so you can freely move money into your checking as you need it. There’s plenty of good money market accounts out there. Looks for as high an APY as possible, FDIC insurance, no fees, and a $0 minimum balance. Comenity stood out during our research, and one finance-savvy reader has recommended Marcus by Goldman Sachs


Before we move on, let’s be clear about the purpose of your savings account (hint: it’s NOT where you keep your savings.)


  1. Money you expect to spend over the next 1-2 weeks, plus a cushion (let’s say $200) should live in your checking account.
  2. Money you expect to need for the rest of the month should live in your savings account. That’s it. No $10,000 savings account balances, people!!

So what to do with everything else you’ve saved? So glad you asked.


3. Build your safety net


Before you do anything else, make sure you have a backstop for when shit hits the fan. The here is that if you were suddenly unable to work, you’d have enough to continue living your same lifestyle for at least 6 months, and ideally a whole 12 months.  The Safety Net can also be very useful for major unexpected expenses, like if you have a car accident or get really sick. Meg (our transitions coach) knows this awesome woman from their Peace Corps Paraguay days named Paula Perhach. Paula calls her Safety Net the Fuck Off Fund, because sometimes people just suck and it’s worth having a cash stash with which to fund your escape from a sleazy boss or a spouse turned scrub .

How to make it happen:

1. Count up all your expenditures for the past few months and divide it to get a monthly average. Don’t forget rent, gas, utilities, insurance, groceries, Venmo, mortgage payments, subscriptions, loan payments, cash from the ATM, credit card charges, and direct transfers from your bank account.

2. Are there any annual or semi-annual costs that aren’t included in this? (For example, service memberships, car maintenance, insurance premiums, travel). If so, be sure to include an appropriate portion of these in your monthly average.

3. Now multiple that by 6 (or 12 if you’re feeling motivated).

4. Open an account that accrues at bare minimum 2% annual interest. Comenity is our #2 choice for this. It lets you set up and name separate accounts, so you can keep your Safety Net separate from your Savings all in one account. Or if you really want to be on your game, see the Pro Tip box below for our #1 Safety Net recommendation.

Pro Tip: This is the first of several times in this article where we suggest opening an interest-accruing investment account separate from your other accounts. “

The challenge here is that you’ll want multiple investment accounts, and most financial institutions only allot one account per client. That means either keeping track dollar-for-dollar of your balance and interest gains every month (who does that??) or maintaining accounts with several different banks. On top of that, just about all financial institutions only give you one choice in terms of risk. Put your money in a super-safe savings account, and it loses value over time. Put it in high-risk stocks, and it may not be there when you need it. Ugh. There must be a better way. So we did some super rigorous research into what else was out there. 

The verdict: Betterment far-and-away offers the best approach for implementing a lot of what we suggest in this article. Here’s why:

  • It will keep all your accounts in one place
  • Each account stays completely separate. You can name it and set a time horizon and purpose for it. Betterment will help you set up the account in the best way possible to maximize your benefit based on when you want to use the money and for what.
  • Even as each account is separate, Betterment’s algorithm’s will automatically coordinate across your accounts to reduce your taxable earnings using Tax Loss Harvesting and Tax Coordinated Portfolios. This stuff is complex enough that humans can’t really do it effectively in a reasonable amount of time. It’s pretty much the stuff of computer algorithms.
  • Plus, you can move money between accounts whenever you want (an important note on this later), change the purpose and timeline, manually adjust your risk factor and what you invest in, whatever. And Betterment guides you through all of it with clear, helpful information.
  • Betterment adjusts to your style. You can set it and forget it, or you can dig in and learn every facet of managing your own money. Whichever way you choose, Betterment helps you out as much as you want, and not more or less.
  • Betterment ultra-diversifies your investments by spreading your money across loads of mutual funds that in themselves each have loads of stocks. Managing investments in that many stocks yourself would be more than a full time job. It makes your investments robust and less risky. Diversity rules!
  • This is crucial—tons of risk-vs-reward flexibility for each account. Betterment will help you make sure your Safety Net account is going to be available whenever you need it without losing value to inflation across time. They’ll help you make sure your retirement account has enough risk to actually build value across time. And they’ll automatically reduce the risk as the time approaches when you’ll withdraw the money.
  • Peace Corps people are almost all Questioners—we want to understand why things are the way the are. Betterment offers incredibly helpful tools, graphs, and articles to help you easily see what is happening with your money and why. This is pretty cutting-edge in a world where many online investing platforms don’t even show you how much you originally invested vs. how much you’ve gained since then. You’ll actually learn how to manage your money better by using Betterment.
  • The RetireGuide tool is incredible. It will walk you through implementing many of the things we suggest in this article.
  • Customer service is phenomenal. When we called, we got to talk to a real person who seemed to genuinely enjoy answering our basic financial questions in approachable, non-technical terms.
  • The management fees are the best out there. They are only a fraction of more traditional platforms like Fidelity and offer way more features and diversity. There are other algorithm-based services that are free; however, as we dug into the fine print, it became clear that every one of them is limited in important ways that end up making them more expensive. For example, they may only offer investments in their own funds. (Betterment doesn’t have its own funds, and goes with the best performers out there.) Others don’t offer services that will save you big bucks, like Tax Coordinated Portfolios and Tax Loss Harvesting. (Betterment has both.)
  • You can actually sync all your other bank accounts so you can see everything in one place. And if you want, you can automate transfers.
  • The referral program is super stellar. Every time someone signs up via your personal referral link, you’ll both get a generous serving of free account management.

 Betterment got even cooler when they offered to give our readers a freebie. This link  will get you anywhere from a month to a year managed totally free. So open your account, drop some money in there, and try it out! If you hate it, you can transfer your money back out, no loss. Let us know what you think.

Even cooler: Every time someone uses this link to start a Betterment account, Peace Corps Transitions by Songgaar gets a small affiliate commission from Betterment. It doesn’t cost you a cent, so it’s an awesome and totally free way to support our pro-bono services to Peace Corps folks. Thank you!!

And just so you know, we’ve been recommending Betterment for quite a while based entirely on our objective analysis of the services available. We recently reached out to them to ask for a freebie for readers of this article, and they generously offered an affiliate link to boot. Everybody wins. Thanks Betterment!

You should also know: We mentioned above that Comenity is a cool place for both your savings and your Safety Net, and now we’re saying your Safety Net should be in Betterment. What to do?? Here’s the deal:

  1. Comenity is FDIC insured, but you’ll never earn more than the given rate (currently 2.45%). So you’ll really never beat inflation.
  2. Betterment invests your Safety Net in bonds and a few stable stocks. That means it’s not FDIC insured, but you will pretty much always meet or exceed inflation.

The verdict: Be real. If you tend to have extra cash from your income that you could use for unexpected events, let your Safety Net go out and earn some money for you through Betterment. If you tend to be pretty tight and may well use that Safety Net, put it in Comenity for super safe keeping. Or you could get super creative and divide it between the two.

OK, back to that Safety Net:

5. Only put Safety Net moolah in this account. Keeping it separate from the rest of your money is crucial to keeping track of exactly how much is in it.

6. Put money in this account as fast as you can until you hit the 6- or 12-month estimate you calculated in #3.

7. Don’t touch it. If that fat stack is threatening to burn a hole in your pocket, write up a list of instances in which you have permission to tap into your fund, and stick to it. The “nice to have / need to have” litmus test might also be super helpful to you. New car? Nice to have. Cast on your broken leg? Need to have. Vacation? Nice to have. Quitting your job because HR didn’t take your harassment complaint seriously, and now you’re stuck working with the sleaze bag? Need to have.

8. If you do use part of your Safety Net, fill it back up before you put money on anything else.

9. Whenever there’s a big change in your life, like a move or a big purchase, recalculate your monthly expense average and beef up your Safety Net if needed.


4. Pay off (most) debt


Debt is NOT a bad thing. It lets us make smart investments that earn a ton of money in the long run, like getting an education or starting a business. But poorly managed debt is outrageously expensive. And we are trying to be affluent here! So once you’ve gotten your Safety Net up to par, it’s time to turn your attention to dealing with debt.

1. Compile a list of all the debt you have. This includes student loans, car loans, credit card balances that you’re carrying from month to month, mortgages, and other bank loans.

2. For each one, figure out the annual percentage rate (APR) and write it next to the loan.

3. Put them in order from highest APR to lowest. Most likely, credit card debt will be at the top, followed by car and bank loans, student loans, and mortgages.

4. Read the fine print and make note of any that have pre-payment penalties (credit cards never do). If any of them do, figure out the cost of paying the penalty vs. the cost of paying interest on the loan for the full loan term.

5. Start paying off the one at the top of the list first. Don’t be tempted to pay off the smallest loans to get it out of the way. Knock out the highest APR first, always.

6. For pre-payment penalty loans: If you determine that it’s cheaper to pay interest than pay the pre-payment penalty, keep paying the maximum amount you can each month on that loan without incurring a penalty. It’s important to know the difference between the minimum amount due (many loans will only bill you for the premium each month) and the maximum you can pay without being penalized. Put any remaining money you have that month toward the next loan on the list. And never again sign for a loan with a pre-payment penalty.

7. Once you get down to the end of the list, take note of any loans that have 0-2% interest. Set up automatic minimum monthly payments on these.

Pro Tip: The most conservative investments, and even some money market accounts, earn over 2% a year. So if your debt APR is lower than 2%, it actually pays to just make minimum monthly payments. Put the rest of the money you could be using to pay off the loan into investments. That way your money will grow even faster than your debt!”

This is a great example of how debt, when managed properly, be a really smart investment that helps you make money. The key here is actually INVESTING the money. If you spend it instead, all the benefit of not paying your loan is gone. As you get more comfortable with how much interest your other investments are accruing, you might choose to hold onto loans that have interest rates as high as 7%. But for now, 2% is a safe place to start. Read on for how to invest!

5. Max out your work-sponsored Defined Contribution Plan every year


Once you’ve established your Safety Net and paid off your debt, it’s time to start putting your spare income to work. Most employers offer a Defined Benefits Plan and/or a Defined Contribution Plan.

Pro Tip: Defined Benefits Plans are pension systems. You’re required to participate, and you’re guaranteed a given amount upon retirement.

That amount is usually determined by your years of service, salary, and/or position. Employers that offers DBPs, such as government entities, often pay less. Nevertheless, having a DBP is well worth the trade-off: pensions are super sweet deals because they don’t rely on the health of the stock market. So you know exactly what you’re going to get. Like all things, DBPs are not without problems, but that’s for another article. If you get a choice in your DBP, go for lowest-fee index funds. Vanguard funds, and in particular the Vanguard 500, are great choices. 

A Defined Contribution Plan is a voluntary program that gives you the opportunity to invest part of your salary into the stock market. You get to choose how the investments are made, and you’re not guaranteed anything; your gains will depend entirely on stock performances. We are going to focus on DCPs here, because you actually get to make decisions about yours.

You may encounter DCPs under 4 different labels. The name varies depending on the type of organization you work for, but they are functionally the same.

  • 401(k): private companies
  • Thrift Savings Plan: US government
  • 403(b) and 457(b): non-profits, including charities, schools, and state and local government

All four types of DCPs are worth investing as much as you can in. The money you put into them will be protected from some taxes, so you’ll lose less money to taxes across your lifetime. In fact, the benefit is significant enough that the government actually limits how much money you can put in these accounts. So put in as much as you can each calendar year.

Here’s what to do about your DCP:

1. Double check that the investment plan is one of the four listed above, and not simply an opportunity to purchase stock in your own company. Having all your eggs in one basket is a red flag in the investment world.

2. Decide whether to make pre-tax or post-tax (roth) contributions. Basically this boils down to whether you’ll have a higher taxable income (=owe more taxes) now or in retirement.

Pro Tip: To fully appreciate the balancing act happening here, it is important to understand how  tax brackets  work.

 Bear with us here. American tax code is designed to be colossally difficult to grasp.

A lot of people think their income level determines their tax rate, and the entire income is taxed at that same rate. FALSE!

In fact:

  • the first $10k or so you earn will be taxed at 10%
  • the next $20k or so at 12%
  • the next $40k-ish at 22%
  • and so on…

(The exact cut-off amounts and rates vary year to year, but here is the table for 2019.)

That means if you have…

  • $10,000 of taxable earnings this year…
  • and $60,000 next year…
  • you’d pay $1000 in taxes this year…
  • and $13,200 next year…
  • for a total of $14,200 of taxes on $70,000 of earnings.

Now let’s compare that with a scenario in which you have…

  • $35,000 of taxable earnings this year…
  • and $35,000 next year.
  • You’ll owe $4,200 in taxes this year…
  • and $4,200 next year…
  • for a total of $8,400 in taxes on the SAME $70,000 of earnings.

Take home lesson: evenly distributing your taxable earnings across tax years means paying less taxes in the long run.

Things that decrease your taxable earnings:

  • Low total income
  • No investment income or other income sources
  • Deductions for dependents
  • Deduction for a mortgage
  • Other deductions, such as for medical expenses and student tuition
  • Living in a low-tax state
  • Federal law (a moving target)


So about those pre-tax and post-tax (aka Roth) contributions to your DCP. If you choose pre-tax contributions, then your employer will make the contribution out of your income BEFORE your income is taxed. That means your taxable income decreases. When you withdraw the gains on your investment in retirement, they will be taxed.

If you choose post-tax contributions, your employer will make the contribution out of your income AFTER it’s taxed. So your taxable income doesn’t change. When you withdraw the gains on your investment in retirement, you won’t owe any more taxes on them.

In the spirit of evenly distributing your taxable earnings, if your taxable income is likely higher now than it will be in retirement, then pre-tax is the way to go. If your taxable income will likely be higher in retirement than it is now, then post-tax (roth) contributions are probably the way to go.

What if there’s probably not much difference between your taxable earnings now and in retirement? Go with post-tax. Why?

  • There’s a gradual upward trend in tax rates across time.
  • Also, your investment will hopefully grow across time, meaning you’d withdraw more than what you put in.

Retirement accounts generally require you to withdraw gradually, which evenly distributes your earnings (remember why that’s important?). That means these are pretty minute factors that don’t become important until all other things are equal.

If you’re still wavering over pre- or post- tax, cover your bases by splitting your contribution between the two. If your employer doesn’t offer this up front, simply go to HR part way through the year and ask to change your election (you can do this at any time, and there’s no fee or penalty).

Whew. Now that we’ve figured out that pre- vs post- tax beast, let’s get back to managing your DCP.


3. Find out if the company matches your contributions, and if so, how much.

4. Opt into the investment plan (talk to HR) and select your investments. Here’s some hints to help you pick:

    • Look for mutual funds—they are extremely diverse and thus relatively stable
    • Look for funds with longstanding companies like Vanguard. The Vanguard 500 is one of the best performing in history.
    • Look for funds labelled as lower-than-average risk and higher-than-average returns (you might have to Google the fund name).
    • Look at the historical performance compared to the overall stock market chart. If the fund stays close or slightly above the stock market, and doesn’t drop as severely as the stock market, it’s probably a great option.
    • Spread your contribution out over lots of different funds. Diversity is strength.

5. Contribute as much as you can. Do this even if you’re already contributing to a DBP. At the very least put in the maximum amount your company will match, because it’s free money. Aim for the legal maximum of $18,500/year.

6. If your organization offers both a 403(b) and a 457(b), split your contributions between the two, and aim to maximize both.

Pro Tip: Non-profit employers have the option of offering both 403(b) and 457(b) DCPs. If both are available, you can put $18,500/year into EACH account.

This makes a well-paid position within a non-profit organization (including state and education jobs) very competitive with high-salary private sector jobs. While your paycheck may appear smaller, you’re also getting a stellar opportunity to pay less taxes. So you can end up with a very similar amount of cash in hand. And many of these same organizations also offer a DBP to boot. Ask about the availability of 403(b), 457(b), and DBP accounts when you’re deciding between two jobs.

6. When you leave the organization, roll your DCP into your Betterment  account rather than into your next organization’s investment plan. You’ll pay far lower fees, and it’ll be way easier to manage your money effectively. It will show up in your Betterment account as a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA (more on that below). And don’t worry, they’ll keep track of whether you’ve already paid taxes on it or not.

6. Max out an IRA every year

So you’ve got a Safety Net, you’ve paid your debt off, and you’re maxing out your Defined Contribution Plan (or your company doesn’t have one). Well done! Now it’s time for IRAs.

Investment retirement accounts (IRAs) are like personal investment accounts for retirement. There’s more limitations on them than company-sponsored investment plans, but they still give you tax advantages and a great way to save. They exist because not every employer offers a DCP. Nevertheless, even people who have a DCP can use them. The legal annual contribution limit is $6,000 (or $7,000 if you’re age 50 or older).

The same pre- and post- tax concepts that apply to company investments plans also apply to IRAs. Pre-tax lowers your taxable income now and increases your taxable income in retirement. Post-tax gets taxed now, and decreases your taxable income in retirement.

In the IRA world, pre-tax is referred to as Traditional, and post-tax is called Roth.

The tax break on Traditional IRAs works a little bit differently than for company-sponsored retirement plans, but the effect is more or less the same. Instead of the investment being made before your income is taxed, you get to claim your Traditional IRA contributions as a tax deduction. So your earnings get taxed, come to you, go to a Traditional IRA, and then come back to you in the form of a tax return.

You are eligible for a Traditional IRA tax deduction if:

  • If you don’t have a DCP at work.
  • You have a DCP at work, and you earn less than $74,000 annually.


If you don’t qualify for a Traditional IRA tax deduction, then there’s zero reasons to have a Traditional IRA account. Instead, go for a Roth IRA. Just like a post-tax DCP, it won’t reduce your taxable income now, and the money will be tax-free when you withdraw it in retirement.

  1. Decide whether a Traditional or Roth account is right for you. As with company-sponsored programs, you can also choose to split the maximum legal amount between a Traditional and a Roth account.
  2. Open an IRA account. Once again,  Betterment is the best place to do this. Start a new account and choose “Retirement”. They’ll guide you through the rest.
  3. Put as much as you can in this account each year. Aim for the legal maximum. 

Pro Tip:You can contribute toward last year’s legal IRA limit all the way through April 15.

So from January 1- April 15 of each year, you can be super strategic about evening out your taxable earnings by choosing which tax year your Traditional IRA contribution will count toward. For Roth it won’t matter. No surprise here: Betterment  makes sorting this out a breeze.

7. Save for big purchases

Maxed out your annual IRA contribution and still have dough left over? Hot damn! It’s time to reward yourself with the fun stuff: saving up for your next big purchase!

  1. Start a Big Purchase account in Betterment. If it’s for Education, pick that option. One of our clients uses the Big Purchase account to save money to care for his parents in their golden years. In this case, a retirement plan would not be appropriate, since it’s not for YOUR retirement. (Most retirement plans restrict access to the funds until the account holder is of retirement age.)
  2. Decide how much you need and by when.
  3. Divide by the amount of time between now and then, and set up automatic recurring transfers from your checking account.
  4. Watch your nest egg grow!

8. Start a Individual Taxable Investment Account

If you don’t have a Big Purchase in mind, or you have some extra cash you want to put to work, then it’s time for our personal favorite: general investing!

Taxable investments technically aren’t as cool as company-sponsored or IRA investments because they aren’t protected from taxes as much. Taxes are taken out of your income before it’s handed to you, you invest it, and then when you withdraw it, any gains are also taxed. That said, you can access the money at any time without penalty, until retirement accounts. And it sure is fun to see your money spontaneously multiplying from one day to the next.

One really smart thing to do at this point is to start moving your wealth out of US Dollars. This is a great way to bring even more diversity into your wealth-building, and is a good cushion for times of recession. Real estate is the top choice for most; it’s a relatively stable and reliably growing market. It used to be that purchasing property was the only way to get into real estate. That comes with it’s own set of issues: saving for years, going into debt, keeping up with mortgage payments, and, of course, having your success hinging on just one or a handful of properties. Our favorite generation (Millenials, of course!) solved this issue with the rise of easily accessible online shared equity platforms.

Here again, we did plenty of research on the reputation, fees, and diversity of all the providers out there, and Fundrise comes out on top for us.

Other options for moving out of US Dollars are cryptocurrencies and foreign currencies, such as the Euro. Unlike many other countries, there are virtually no reasonable services available in the USA for holding foreign currency. Revolut is aiming to come to the USA soon, and will change all of that. Robinhood offers free purchasing of some cryptocurrencies.

If you want to stay in the stock market for now, Betterment far and away offers the best service for taxable investment accounts in that regard. Open a General Investing account. If you’ve input all your info into the RetireGuide, Betterment will set up the risk level for you. Research shows that there’s very little or no gain across the long term between medium- and high-risk investments, so we suggest sticking with medium.

In both cases, you’ll have the option to reinvest dividends. Choose this if you want all the gains from the account to stay in the account. If you choose not to reinvest dividends, you’ll get a little bit of income from it every month. This could be a good thing if you’re needing some extra passive income, but definitely not a good thing if you are already earning enough; it will increase your taxable income unnecessarily.

Congrats! You’re poised to build wealth.

If you’ve established your Safety Net and paid off your debt, you have a strong financial future ahead of you. If you’re maxing out your DCP, you’ll be ready for retirement in no time. Getting through all these steps every year? You’re well on your way to an early retirement! Turns out learning how to save and invest wasn’t so hard after all.


A few things NOT to do

1. Don’t use Smart Saver.

Betterment isn’t perfect; the one service we don’t see much value in is their Smart Saver account. It offers about 2% interest on your savings every year. However, this amount is not guaranteed, since the 2% interest comes from stock and bond investments, and, like all investment accounts, your money is not guaranteed by the FDIC. This isn’t such a big issue for long-term investing like the accounts described in the previous steps above. But it’s not a great place for money you expect to need this month. Money market accounts like Comenity guarantee the percentage interest, and they are FDIC insured. It’s a clear win in the savings account category.

2. Don’t withdrawal from DCP and IRA accounts.

You’ll get hit with some pretty harsh fees (there are some exceptions that reduce the loss, but it’s still a very last-resort option). This means that, while you should put as much as you can into retirement accounts, put it in knowing that you won’t use it again until you’re about 60 years of age.

3. Don’t fiddle with your taxable investment accounts more than necessary.

Every time you adjust the risk level or make a withdrawal, stocks get sold. Every time stocks are sold, you’ll owe taxes on any gains they made. Gains from stocks that you’ve owned for less than 6 months get extra heavily taxed. If you do need to make a change, rest assured knowing that Betterment’s complex algorithms go a long way to reducing taxes owed through some cool reallocation functions that leverage that 6-month rule.

4. Don’t get TOO crazy with individual stock/ currency purchases.

By owning portions of dozens of mutual funds which each have dozens of stocks in them, you probably already own a little bit of most companies on the stock market. That said, the more you get into finances, the more likely it is that you’ll eventually want to invest in more in a particular company. Some people eventually decide to diversify into cryptocurrencies. In this case, we suggest:

  1. Limiting yourself: don’t stop investing in your other accounts, and set an amount in advance
  2. Use an app that offers free trades, like Robinhood or M1
  3. Stick with stocks/currencies that are stable and have a long growth outlook

5. Don’t hesitate to reach out.

Got more questions on how to save and invest? Every Peace Corps affiliate gets a free coaching session. No spam, promise. We just love helping Peace Corps folks.