Where should you put your money? Should it go toward retirement or your emergency fund? Cash or stocks? Use our interactive guide to "choose your own adventure" and get a free, personalized saving action plan that will tell you exactly where your money should go.

Managing your money can be stressful. You’ve got to make so many decisions, and the effort can be so overwhelming that you just give up. Where should you put your money? In a 401(k), an IRA, or an emergency fund? How much should you save? Where should you save?

Don’t fret!

If you really never want to think about your financial future again (or at least not for a long while), take a deep breath, walk through this guide, and check your account in 30 years. You should be in great shape.

Step 1: Get ready

Gather the following:

  • Your checking account number and routing number (both are printed on every check in your checkbook)
  • A recent pay stub (or access to your checking account history)
  • Your employee benefits handbook or website, or your HR’s contact email (if you’re not lucky enough to get employee benefits, you can skip this step)

Step 2: Enter your numbers

To help know exactly how much you need to save, fill out the following form. (Don’t worry, none of your information will be saved when you leave this page).

Now that you’ve filled out all your details, go and read the next steps which are relevant to you. Skip the steps that do not apply to your situation.

If your employer matches your retirement plan contributions

If your employer matches your 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan contributions, you have access to free money and an immediate  gain on your investment.

No other investing strategy will ever offer guaranteed, no-risk, instant results like that, and—if at all possible—you should take advantage of it. Plus, you don’t have to pay taxes on that money, which means you won’t feel as much pinch in your take-home pay.

If you don’t have an emergency fund yet, we’re going to hold off on maxing out your employer matching. Instead, we’re going to put half of your savings goal toward the employer match and the other half toward your emergency fund.

Why hold off on maxing out a guaranteed  return on your investment? Without an emergency fund, you might be forced to cash out your retirement account if an unexpected, unavoidable expense comes up.

Cashing out will trigger IRS penalties and, even worse, if you withdraw the money before your plan “vests,” your employer can ask for its matching amounts back and you’ll end up losing even more money. You don’t want to put too much of your money into a 401(k) until you know you’re covered in case of an emergency.

So until your emergency fund is full:

If your employer provides an online portal to manage your benefits, log in right now and opt to contribute of each paycheck to your retirement plan, or per month.

Your employer will then add to your account each month!

(You’ll notice you’re not taking advantage of your employer’s full match offer. To use more of this benefit, increase your savings goal.)

If they don’t let you set your retirement contributions online, write an email to whoever is in charge of benefits and ask to contribute this amount. Even if you have to follow up with them later, you’ve gotten the ball rolling on a guaranteed strategy to increase your money. Nice work!

If you don’t have an Emergency Fund

There’s no way around it: You need an emergency fund. This fund will help you weather any unforeseen financial difficulties without having to use credit cards or fall behind on bills.

We believe a good emergency fund should cover six months of expenses. For you, that means saving an additional.

(We think it’s important to have a robust emergency fund before you start investing. If you don’t, then you might have to sell your holdings at a serious loss if an unexpected expense comes up. A healthy emergency fund guarantees you won’t have to take your money out of the market for years—which is the key to serious growth.)

We suggest you keep your emergency fund in a high-yield savings account. Here are some of our favorites.

Using a high-yield savings account (instead of a checking account) means:

  1. You’ll still be gaining some interest on your savings, which will help keep inflation from eating away at your money.
  2. You’ll be less tempted to spend that money for something that’s not an emergency.

Option 1: Automate your savings

It’s time to fund your new account.

We suggest you set up monthly transfers of from your checking account into your emergency fund.

Why? Your goal is to save of your pre-tax paycheck. You’re already setting aside to take advantage of your employer match. Which leaves , or , to save each month to hit your goal.

Using your checking account number and routing number from your checkbook, set those transfers to occur every month, indefinitely. Do it right now. We’ll wait.

All done? Great work!

That’s all you need to do. In months, your emergency fund will have a balance of . That’s six months of expenses that can help you survive a job loss, a medical emergency, or a major auto repair.

If months sounds like too long to wait, readjust your saving goal in the calculator.

*If you are seeing all zeros it’s because you already have an emergency fund worth six months of expenses.

When you hit your magic number, come back to this page and we’ll help you start investing for the future.

Investing sounds complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.

In this step, you’re going to open an investment account in 10 minutes. Barring a total breakdown of our financial system, this account will help make you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of your life.

Seriously.

We suggest opening an account with one of our partners, Betterment.

Betterment is not the only investment company out there but they are one of the easiest to work with. You can start an account and set up investments for life in just a couple of minutes.

You can also look into another reputable company, Wealthfront. While you do need $500 to invest, Wealthfront gives you ultimate control over what you want to invest in. Choose a pre-made portfolio or handpick your own ETFs, and you can even invest in socially responsible portfolios as well.

(If you want to try another company, browse through our comprehensive list of stock brokers and investment advisors.)

Open a new tab and create an investment account right now.

All set? Great. Now we’ll help you get set up so you never have to think about it again.

Option 2: Utilize investing services

Your goal is to save of your pre-tax paycheck, or per month.

If this seems like too much — like so much that you won’t be able to pay rent or buy food anymore — then select a smaller savings target in the calculator. If it seems like you could afford to save more, choose a larger target.

In your Betterment account (or other investment account), start a monthly transfer from your checking account to your investment account of .

Make sure it’s being automatically invested — you don’t want the money to just sit there.

And that’s it. You’ve hit your goal. If you think you can save more, adjust the slider above and increase your savings rate. If not, don’t worry: You’re doing great.

  • Beginner Low-fee roboadvisor with no minimum investment. Creates fully-automated portfolios based upon your desired allocation. Visit Site
  • Advanced Wealthfront requires a $500 minimum investment and charges a very competitive fee of 0.25% per year on portfolios over $10,000. Visit Site
  • Investing Pros For high net-worth accounts, Personal Capital offers traditional financial advisor services. It has great free online tools that can help you organize your financial life. Visit Site

Finally, never think about it again

This is the most important step. Don’t tinker. Don’t second guess. Just walk away. Forget you even did this.

If your investments grow at a modest 4 percent each year, you’ll end up with:

  • in 10 years
  • in 20 years
  • in 30 years.

That’s the catch: You have to let it grow. You have to let those transfers happen every month. All you have to do to get that much money a few decades from now is to let it be.

Action list

  • If you have a full emergency fund and your employer does not offer to match any contributions, your task is simple: Save for the future yourself in a private investment account. Set up automatic transfers that will fund your account every month. This will help your money grow without having to think about it.

  • If you have a full emergency fund and your employer offers to match your contributions, it’s important that you contribute enough to get the full match available. It’s like a secret raise you don’t have to work hard to get. Your task is simple: Max out your employer match, then sit back and watch your retirement savings grow and grow and grow.

  • If you don’t have an emergency fund, building one is your top priority. Why? Because if an emergency strikes, it could quickly put you into debt, or force you to cash out your investments or retirement savings at a loss. That being said, your employer match is free money and you can’t turn that down. Our recommendation is to put some of your money toward filling your emergency fund, and the rest toward taking advantage of your employer’s retirement match. Once your emergency fund has the equivalent of six months’ expenses, come back and we’ll help you put all your financial energy toward investing for the future.

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