From building an emergency fund to saving for large expenses to building wealth, having a monthly savings plan can significantly improve your financial security. And while starting to save can feel overwhelming, there are big and small steps you can take to help you end every month with more money in your savings account that you had at the start.
Set Reasonable Savings Goals
The first step in reaching your savings goals is to set attainable and realistic goals. You may want to start with small goals like:
- Save $50 a month
- Save ten percent of your income
- Commit to saving $500 by the end of the year
Setting a smaller initial goal will make you more likely to succeed and keep you from being overwhelmed. Once you have been able to meet those goals for several months, you'll feel more motivated and capable of increasing how much you save.
Don't jump from trying to save $50 a month to $500. Instead, increase your goals incrementally to avoid becoming overwhelmed or discouraged.
Save in Specific Categories
Once you have a solid budget in place, work on reducing spending in specific categories. Whatever money you are able to save by cutting expenses, you can add to your savings.
It can help to focus on one or two areas each month to look for ways that can easily reduce the amount that you spend each month, such as:
- Utilities: Reduce your heat or electric bills by checking for drafts, turning off fans and lights, unplugging appliances, and raising or lowering the thermostat a few degrees.
- Entertainment: Try borrowing books and movies from the library instead of buying them, or cutting down on the number of streaming services you subscribe to.
- Commuting: Try to use public transit, bike, or walk to work instead of paying for gas and parking.
By switching to a new category each month, you develop new spending habits across a broad range of behaviors. You also make it less likely that you'll start to feel frustrated or deprived by making the same sacrifices every month.
Set Specific Goals
If you are goal-oriented, it can help to have a specific purpose for the money that you are saving. This is different from setting a goal to save a set amount, such as $200.00 each month.
You may have savings for:
- A vacation
- Travel to see family
- A down payment on a house
- Early retirement
- Education expenses
Knowing what you are saving for can help you measure progress and stay motivated. It can also make it easier to give up something you want today, such as new clothing or eating out, if you know what you will be able to have in the future instead.
Find a Financial Planner
If you are having trouble identifying where and how to save, or even what types of saving you need, consult a financial planner. These professional advisors can:
- Identify strengths and weaknesses in your financial health
- Help you come up with a plan for money management
- Tell you what types of savings you need to achieve your goals
- Assist with long-term planning, such as retirement or investing
When choosing a financial planner, look for someone you feel comfortable asking questions and whose answers you can understand. If you are just starting to take control of your finances, look for a fee-only financial planner, rather than one who earns a commission from your investing.
Start to Build Wealth
Once you have emergency savings and have begun saving for retirement, don't stop setting aside money every month. Instead, start making a plan to use those monthly savings to build wealth. The best way to do this is to begin investing.
Many mutual funds and brokerages have a minimum initial investment, usually anywhere from $1000-$10,000. You can save that initial amount more quickly by keeping it in a high-yield savings account, which will earn interest as you save. You can also use that time to start learning about investing.
If you are already working with a financial planner, they can help you make an investing plan and identify ways to start building wealth and improving your financial security.
Building up your savings doesn't happen overnight, but creating a plan to start saving can. By starting with consistent, small steps, you can build the habit of saving, create a financial cushion, and replace the stress of living paycheck-to-paycheck with the confidence of knowing that you have control of your money.