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Advice

Double check your retirement contributions before saving for anything else, says this financial planner

Anora Gaudiano, CFP, a senior advisor associate at Wealthspire, shares her advice about saving for the future.

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Editor's Note: APYs listed in this article are up-to-date as of the time of publication. They may fluctuate (up or down) as the Fed rate changes. CNBC will update as changes are made public.

Saving money has arguably gotten easier with the rise of technology and the many savings account options designed with consumers in mind. It's never been easier to link multiple accounts, access your money online and automate transfers between checking, savings and investment accounts each month.

But what's not so simple is deciding how much to save and for what. Especially in our current economic recession, many Americans struggle to make ends meet, let alone think about the future.

Buying a home is a common savings goal, but with the high cost of college tuition, you might also want to get a jump-start on saving for your child's future education. And with every goal comes with trade-offs that individual consumers have to weigh for themselves.

"There isn't a set formula," says Anora Gaudiano, CFP, a senior advisor associate at Wealthspire. "You can live your whole life in a rental space and be fine with that, and in fact a lot of people do."

But no matter how you prioritize your savings goals, Gaudiano recommends you should watch out for one common mistake: "Most people, especially women, will kind of forget about their own future and focus on needs here and now. Then, you've lost the benefit of time."

To avoid falling into this trap, here's Gaudiano's advice on how to save for future goals — without skimping on your retirement.

Focus on your retirement first and foremost

If you're in your 20s and 30s, you won't be able to tap into your retirement savings for a few decades, but you should still consider it your first priority — even while saving for other things like your child's college or buying a home, Gaudiano tells CNBC Select.

"Your kids will grow up and have their own lives, and they may or may not support you in your old age. So you need to make sure you are taken care of."

Before you start saving for a down payment or your child's college tuition fund, make sure you can afford to make regular contributions into a 401(k) or an IRA, either a traditional account (pretax) or a Roth (post-tax). Experts say you should aim to have a year's salary put aside by age 30 and three times your annual salary saved by age 40.

You don't need to own your home, argues Gaudiano, but you will need money to live on when you retire. And while it would be ideal to help your kids go to college, they will have the option to borrow student loans. In your retirement, you'll have less ability to bring in a paycheck. 

Saving for a house vs. college tuition

When choosing between whether to buy a house or pay for your kid's education, there are a few factors to consider.

First, consider what you're hoping to get out of each. If your reason for buying property is so that your kids can inherit it one day, Gaudiano suggests that a college degree may be a more worthwhile investment: "If you were choosing between giving your kids the gift of a house or the gift of a college education, I would say give them the gift of a college education."

Having an education improves one's employment opportunities and adds to their earning potential more than owning a house will. Having the skills and knowledge to build their own career is a priceless investment that will help your child trust their own abilities to make a living.

"As a parent, you want to make sure your kid is self-sufficient," says Gaudiano. For this reason, you can argue a college degree is money well spent.

If you decide that owning a home is important to you, look at the real estate market in your area and decide whether a house is a good investment. Depending on how soon you want to sell it, a home's resale value can either be the most important factor or not very important at all. If you have a tight budget, consider whether there are ways to make home buying affordable, like if you have the DIY skills to purchase a fixer-upper.

"If you have resources, financially it makes more sense if you own it," says Gaudiano. "You pay less, you have an asset, you can pass it down to your heirs, and they can save money, too. So that aspect of homeownership is great. But it's not of absolute need as long as you have shelter."

How to boost your savings

Even if you don't have a lot of extra cash after you cover your bills, putting a little bit aside each month helps you build the savings muscle. You can increase your contributions over time as you start earning more.

Plus, getting an early start puts time on your side: "Use the power of compound interest." says Gaudiano. "Sit down and think about what kind of future you want for your child, then start saving."

Compound interest means you earn interest on interest and let your savings build over years and decades. Investment accounts, such as a 401(k), a Roth IRA, ETFs and other brokerage accounts, earn compound interest.

But when you're not ready to invest quite yet, a high-yield savings account is a good place to stash your money. You can earn a higher average interest rate (APY) than traditional accounts, which hover around 0.05%

Learn more: This 3-question checklist will help you determine when you're ready to invest your money

Setting up a weekly $20 direct deposit from your checking account into a high-yield savings with an APY of about 1% would help you save $1,000 in about a year. Double that to $40 per week (the price of dinner and drinks at a restaurant), and you could save $2,000 per year.

To get started, look for high-yield savings account that come with zero monthly fees and no minimum deposits or balance requirements.

The Varo Savings Account offers .81% APY regardless of your account balance, with the option to earn up to 2.80% APY if you meet certain monthly requirements. If you sign up for a Varo checking account, account holders can also receive an ATM card for easy withdrawals from their checking or savings.

Varo Savings Account

Varo Savings Account
Information about the Varo Savings Account has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the bank prior to publication. Bank Account Services are provided by The Bancorp Bank, Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    0.81% (with option to earn up to 2.80% if meet requirements)

  • Minimum balance

    None

  • Monthly fee

    None

  • Maximum transactions

    Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle

  • Excessive transactions fee

    None

  • Overdraft fees

    None up to $50; anything greater, Varo would decline the transaction

  • Offer checking account?

    Yes

  • Offer ATM card?

    Yes, if have a Varo checking account

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • High APY and option to earn even higher
  • No minimum balance
  • No monthly fees
  • Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle
  • No penalty for overdrafts up to $50 (anything greater, Varo declines the transaction)
  • Option to add a checking account
  • ATM access if you have a checking account
  • Offers 2 programs to help automate your savings

Cons

  • Overdrafts over $50 will cause transactions to be declined
  • Cash deposits are only available through third-party services, which may charge a fee

Another option, the Vio Bank High Yield Online Savings Account, offers one of the highest APY rates for high-yield savings accounts currently, but requires a minimum $100 deposit to open an account. This is still lower than what some of the other high APY savings accounts require, and there is no monthly fee if you opt to go paperless.

Vio Bank High Yield Online Savings Account

Vio Bank High Yield Online Savings Account
Information about the Vio Bank High Yield Online Savings Account has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the bank prior to publication. Vio Bank is a division of MidFirst Bank, Member FDIC.
  • Annual Percentage Yield (APY)

    0.83%

  • Minimum balance

    $100 to open

  • Monthly fee

    None, if you opt for paperless statements (otherwise, $5 per month)

  • Maximum transactions

    Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle

  • Excessive transactions fee

    $10 per transaction

  • Overdraft fees

    N/A

  • Offer checking account?

    No

  • Offer ATM card?

    No

See our methodology, terms apply.

Pros

  • Strong APY
  • No monthly fees, if you opt for paperless billing
  • Up to 6 free withdrawals or transfers per statement cycle
  • Easy-to-use mobile banking app

Cons

  • $100 minimum balance to open account
  • $5 monthly maintenance fee, if you don't opt for paperless billing
  • $10 fee per transaction if you make more than 6 in a statement cycle
  • No option to add a checking account
  • No ATM access

Learn more: Here are the pros and cons of keeping your money in a high-yield savings account

Information about the Varo Savings Account and Vio Bank High Yield Online Savings Account has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the bank prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.