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This is the ‘Jay Leno rule’ of saving money — and you don’t have to be rich to make it work for you

News Center 163 August 9, 2022

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Comedian Jay Leno has openly shared that while collecting two salaries — one from his “Tonight Show” hosting gig and one from his 150 annual comedy shows — he never spent any of his NBC salary and instead spent only what he made doing standup. “I’d bank one, and I’d spend one,” the TV star told CNBC in 2016. “I’ve never touched a dime of my ‘Tonight Show’ money. Ever.” 

OK, but Leno’s rich, you might be tempted to say. Still, pros say that this “spend one, save one” philosophy might just be able to work for other families, too. “This idea is a really smart behavioral finance approach to handling income for a two-income family. By living off one income and saving or investing the other income, a two-income family simultaneously automates their investing and keeps lifestyle creep or lifestyle inflation to a minimum without having to fight over how much of each separate income to set aside or spend each month,” says certified financial planner Kaleb Paddock of Ten Talents Financial Planning. 

Indeed, pros say that in addition to saving 10% to 15% of your income for retirement — even in this high-inflation period, families should have somewhere between three and 12 months of savings in an emergency fund, preferably somewhere very accessible that pays interest. Luckily, high-yield savings accounts are paying far more than they used to (you can see the best rates you can get on savings accounts here). 

“With the family living on one partner’s income and then saving the other partner’s income, they should be able to hit major financial goals more quickly. These goals might include saving for a down payment on a house, saving for retirement, saving for a family vacation or even just saving for a rainy-day fund,” says Chanelle Bessette, banking specialist at NerdWallet.

Of course, this is far easier said than done. Many two-income families are struggling to get by even with both partners bringing in money. And even if you can’t save the entire second income, trying to save more of it is a worthy goal, pros say. (You can see the best savings account rate you might get here.)

How might families make the “spend one, save one” rule work? Paddock says couples should create separate checking accounts for the two incomes. “In one checking account, all bill pay and credit cards would be automatically paid from the one income, while the other checking account can have an automated transfer to a brokerage or retirement account on each pay day or once per month to effectively sweep the income over to an investing or savings account. Keeping the accounts separate can help with tracking how much is being invested over time and there’s no confusion of mixing expenses with investing transfers,” says Paddock.

Certified financial planner Don Grant advises reviewing your spending and netting it against your income. “Take the time to clearly define wants and needs. Cover the needs first, and if there’s a surplus those assets can go toward more discretionary spending,” says Grant. From there, he recommends setting up two accounts that are specifically dedicated to each goal. “Some may be short-term, [and] other goals, like retirement, will generally have a much longer time horizon. Develop a plan for how much will be invested into each account and invest it according to your specific needs and risk profile. Monitor the account and make adjustments as you reach your goals,” says Grant.

Because this process assumes that one partner’s salary is enough for a household to live on while the other salary is saved, you might want to adjust the numbers to whatever makes you feel comfortable, like saving 50% of one partner’s salary. “Any progress toward savings is good progress. It’s also a good idea to make sure that both partners have access to all household joint checking and savings accounts and that money decisions are made together,” says Bessette. (You can see the best savings accounts rate you may get here.)

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