Task 1: Determine how much you can save each month.
Savers are, in general, happier people. They feel more secure because they not only have enough money to bail themselves out of a jam, but they are also doing something positive for their future. Financial advisers, unfortunately, often draw a random line in the sand and advocate saving 10 percent of whatever it is you make. Problem is, it's much too difficult for most people to start there, particularly if they're saving for the very first time. If the bar is set too high, set it lower. Try 3 percent. If that's easy enough, try 5 percent.
- If you haven't already, track your spending and saving. Write down everything you spend money on for a solid month, using this spending tracker.
What if, as you find all this money, you suddenly feel flush, and instead of saving, you find yourself spending? The key to conquering the urge to splurge is to keep your money out of your hot little hands. Give your bank the power and permission to move some money every month or every payday out of your checking account, where you're likely to spend it, and into savings, where—from now on—you're going to tell yourself it's hands off.
Task 3: Establish direct deposit.
Most employers will automatically deposit your paycheck into the bank account of your choosing. You can even split it between checking and savings! All you need to do is fill out a simple form and you'll avoid long bank lines and paperwork. The bonus: Your money will show up in your account faster than if you had waited for the check to clear.
Task 4: Automate your bill payment.
Just as you can elect to have money funneled into your savings automatically, you can elect to have bills paid automatically by your bank. This system means less check writing, less stamp buying, spending less time schlepping to the bank and—most importantly—fewer late payments that can sabotage your credit score. It makes the most sense to automate the bills that will be for the same amount every month so that you don't come up short: mortgage or rent, student loans (you'll get a deduction on the interest rates by electing auto bill pay), health club, insurance and so forth.
Task 5: Give your savings a bonus.
Every time a little extra money comes your way, earmark all or at least part of it for savings. This is one of the best ways you can give yourself a financial boost.
Where is this extra money going to come from? Here are a few ideas:
- Tax refunds: Deposit refund checks straight into savings. It's found money. Or, better yet, check with your payroll department to see if those refunds are coming because you're withholding more than you need to. If you are, withhold less and put the extra cash from each paycheck into savings so some of that money is earning interest all year.
- Your bonus: You may have been counting on some of your bonus to cover expenses, but be sure to sock a generous percentage of it away into your savings.
- Paid-off credit cards or other loans: Your car is paid off? Fantastic. The $359 (or whatever) you were paying to the car lender should go straight into your savings. A few transactions like this and your savings balance will soar!
- Your next raise: You've already been living on the money you're making now. Pretend you didn't even get a raise, and automatically bank the difference in your savings account.