I’ve written about sinking funds before. They’re pools of money that are meant to be filled then emptied, as many times as you want, for as many goals as you have. You prioritize what you want to accomplish then you decide how much money goes into each one. Sinking funds are to be held separately from your emergency fund, your investment account, your retirement account, and your daily chequing account. These funds are where you hold money for your short-term goals:
- annual premium payments & subscriptions;
- holiday spending, birthdays & celebrations;
- tuition and annual fees;
- house down payments;
- vehicle purchases & maintenance;
- furniture purchases;
- annual taxes;
- RRSP & TFSA contributions.
Sinking funds allow you to save first, then spend your money. In case you were unaware, they are highly effective at keeping you out of debt while allowing you to still earn points/cash for using your credit cards. Let’s imagine that you’re planning to take a culinary tour in 2024. Dedicate a sinking fund to that expense and start saving for that trip today. When the time comes to book it, you use your credit card, collect your points, and pay off the credit card bill in full. You can enjoy your trip without wondering how you’re going to pay for it. Sinking funds are simply fantastic!
I have to confess that it took me years to set up all of my sinking funds. The truth is that you can’t save what you don’t earn. Early on in my career, I had a lot more debt and ridding myself of loan payments was top priority. The only sinking fund I could manage to fill was the one for my annual vehicle insurance and annual property taxes.
Monthly Payments Aren’t For Me!
I’ve always hated the idea of someone being able to withdraw money from my bank account every single month. I want to be the one in charge of when money leaves my bank account. The idea of a business accidentally withdrawing a payment twice and then having to fight with that organization to get my money back makes me furious and queasy. As a result, I’ve always chosen annual payments for my insurance premiums and tax payments. My first sinking funds were for those two expenses. Any other goals were funded from my bi-weekly paycheque via automatic transfers.
Once my student loans and vehicle loan were eliminated, I re-directed those payments to other sinking funds. My next big priority was travel! Every two weeks, a chunk of money went into my travel account up to a pre-determined amount. When it was time to book a trip, the money was there. It was awesome!
Did I stop setting aside that chunk of money once it was no longer going to the travel sinking fund? No! Instead, that money was re-directed towards my next highest priority until that pre-determined amount was met. In this way, my sinking funds were funded every year and I had the money set aside to pay for what I wanted.
Homeowners Need Sinking Funds.
Eventually, I moved from my first condo to a house. Woah!!! Anyone who owns a home will agree that it’s a money-pit. There’s always something to be fixed, replaced, maintained, or updated. As soon as I moved into my house, I realized that it was definitely time for a few more sinking funds dedicated to renovations and maintenance. Since being in my house, my sinking funds helped me to do the following:
- renovated the basement and downstairs bathroom,
- pour a new driveway, garage floor and walking paths,
- have trees removed,
- have landscaping work done,
- change my main bathroom,
- install carpet,
- replace windows, eavestroughs & siding,
- pour insulation;
- buy new furniture & electronics;
- install a new water heater & furnace;
- remove a shed;
- install a sprinkler system.
Believe it or not, there are still many other things that I want to do around here. If I hadn’t created my sinking funds when I first moved in, I would be neck deep in debt and stuck on a payment treadmill. Planning out my purchases in advance allowed me to plan out my money too.
It Can Take a Few Years.
For as much as I love my sinking funds, I was never able to fill all of them at the same time. I simply didn’t have enough money. There was no way my paycheque could have paid for everything all at once when I first started. As my income grew, so did the amount that I could allocate to my sinking funds.
Some funds had to be replenished every year, so they went into a dedicated account. Insurance and property taxes come to mind. They need to be paid every 365 days so I group them together in one sinking fund. It has been filled then emptied on a regular basis for the past 30 years. Once that sinking fund is filled, my money goes towards filling my other ones.
Other sinking funds have been for one-time purchases. Trust me – it’s highly doubtful that I will be cutting down the same trees more than once. The monies for one-time purchases goes into an account where the nickname could be changed as needed. “Tree Removal” would become “New Tire Fund” or “BAC Subscription” or whatever else happened to be next on the priority list.
Finally, there are the sinking funds that were put aside due to global events. During the pandemic, I discovered a love of my own backyard. Literally! The summer of 2020 and 2021 were spent in my own yard, tending to my annuals and watering my lawn. International travel fell to the bottom of my priority list. It still kind of blows my mind that it’s been over 3.5 years since I’ve been inside an airport!!!
My point is this. You may have more priorities than money. So what? Use sinking funds to maximize the enjoyment of your money. Ensure that it’s dispersed in ways that will allow you to live your best life. Like I said before, I didn’t start out with enough money to do everything that I wanted. International travel took backseat while I fixed up my house. Fixing up my house took backseat until I was out of debt. Getting out of debt was secondary to stuffing my RRSP as best I could on my entry level salary.
The bottom line is that I had to get a few pay increases under my belt before I could increase the amount of money going to my sinking funds.
If it takes you a few years to set up all of your sinking funds, then so be it. That’s completely normal. Only the privileged can do it all at once. The rest of us have to do more strategizing. The time will pass anyway so you might as well be using your time and your money in ways that get you what you want most.