Saving money means embracing smart strategies and putting them into action. It may be a challenge to put money aside for the future rather than spend it today, but it’s well worth the effort.
Helping Americans boost their savings efforts is the goal of America Saves Week, which occurs Feb. 24 to 29. The annual campaign is a six-day call-to-action that has garnered the support of over 1,700 participating organizations — including government agencies, financial institutions, schools and nonprofits — that are committed to encouraging their communities to better their financial standing.
The organizers of America Saves Week are focusing on six saving strategies throughout the week. You don’t only have to use these strategies during America Saves Week, though; we encourage you to apply these approaches to saving money any time.
1. Save Automatically
Saving money probably isn’t the first thing you think about when you get your paycheck. Or the second. Or maybe even the third.
But when you automate your savings, you don’t even have to think about it.
Pay yourself first by designating a percentage of your paycheck to go straight to a savings account via direct deposit before you spend your money on bills and shopping. Or you could set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account.
Once you make the initial arrangements, you don’t have to put extra effort into saving money. Just sit back and watch your savings grow.
2. Save with a Plan
You may have heard this saying before: If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.
Let’s not give ourselves the chance to fail when it comes to saving money.
Include saving as a line item in your budget — which is essentially your plan for your money. If you’re not budgeting already, here’s our simple guide for how to budget.
How much you decide to save is up to you. For some guidance, the 50/30/20 budget method advises using 20% of your take-home pay for financial goals like saving, investing and debt reduction.
But if you can’t save anywhere near 20% of your budget, don’t stress. Every little bit counts.
“I encourage clients to save a little amount of money every single paycheck, even when their situation is tight,” said Dwain Phelps, founder and CEO of Phelps Financial Group. “This discipline over time will create the ideal financial environment that most individuals want to live in.”
3. Save for the Unexpected
No one likes to think about bad things happening, but it’s important to prepare for unfortunate events.
“Not being prepared for unexpected expenses could cause havoc to financial goals,” Phelps said.
Having an emergency fund provides a safety net so that you can handle a crisis, like taking your dog to the pet hospital or being laid off from work.
I encourage clients to save a little amount of money every single paycheck… This discipline over time will create the ideal financial environment that most individuals want to live in.
Experts recommend having three to six months’ worth of living expenses in your emergency fund. If that seems like an intimidating amount to save, start with a smaller goal — like saving $1,000 for emergencies — and slowly work your way up.
4. Save to Retire
Despite how far off it may be, your savings priorities should include long-term goals like retirement.
A common recommendation is to save at least 15% of your income, but that number may vary depending on what age you start saving for retirement and what you want your retirement to look like.
“For many people, particularly those in their 20s and 30s, retirement is so far away that it is an intangible concept,” said Jeff Klauenberg, a certified financial planner and owner of Klauenberg Retirement Solutions. “Picture yourself retired today. Look at people you know who are retired. Whose retirement do you want yours to be more like, and whose do you want to avoid?”
Meeting with a financial professional can help you determine a retirement savings plan that best fits your individual situation. At the very least, you should take full advantage of meeting your employer’s 401(k) match, if offered. If your job doesn’t offer a 401(k) plan, open an individual retirement account — like a traditional IRA or Roth IRA — and start saving.
5. Save by Reducing Debt
Sometimes it’s hard to put money aside because so much is going to pay down debt. But you can think of saving and debt reduction as financial goals that go hand in hand.
The sooner you pay off your credit card balance or loans, the sooner you’ll free up money that can go toward saving. That doesn’t mean you have to wipe out all your debt before contributing to your savings goals. You can work on both concurrently.
6. Save as a Family
Saving money becomes easier when everyone in the household is on board. If you commit to saving but your spouse and kids just spend-spend-spend, your efforts can be completely derailed.
Start with open communication about your plans to save money. Hold a monthly family budget meeting to talk about ongoing savings goals. Collectively brainstorm ways you can cut costs — like conserving electricity and water to lower your utility bills or reducing the number of times you get take-out in a month.
If you’ve got children, make an effort to teach your kids about money — especially when it comes to saving. Financially literate kids become financially literate adults who can pass knowledge and wealth down to the generations to come.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.