Before December comes to an end, most people commonly write down their resolutions for the New Year. And for countless individuals, one of their goals is to "save money". Easier written than done; because in spite of the good intentions, a big majority of these optimistic people fail by the second month of the year and their savings accounts remain stagnant (if not depleted) and their spending fly out of the window.
There must be an effective way to succeed in this most challenging mission. Here are 10 suggestions to help you finally hack it.
- Set a specific savings objective
Hit the ground this New Year running – the better to burn those holiday calories away -- with a specific savings objective for 2017. Make sure the goal you set is quantifiable, attainable, realistic and suitable. Avoid being too optimistic and setting an unrealistic savings objective, which will increase your chances of not achieving your goal.
A sensible objective for saving requires having a definite item to buy or a specific figure you can realistically attain within the year. The whole process will need enough self-control and some sacrifices with regard to spending if you hope to reach your goal. Setting a very high target may only frustrate you in the end.
The next vital step is to get a friend or relative to help you achieve your goal; or, print out your objective and put it in a prominent place to remind yourself constantly – the PC or smartphone wallpaper would be a good place.
- Carefully select a savings account
Be discerning about where you put your savings. Savings accounts offer different features and benefits, whether you talk about fees, interests or minimum balances. It is best to conduct an assessment and select the most suitable account. Also, be mindful of other charges, such as ATM fees and monthly service charges.
Although the interest rate may appear small to you, it can accumulate before you realize it. The thing to remember is that even tiny amounts will come in handy when you have a definite amount to attain. Also visit the websites of banks with online services as some of them offer higher interest rates on savings accounts.
- Avail of an automatic saving scheme
The common assumption is that people lack the self-discipline to put aside a part of their monthly income for a savings account. The only solution is to go automatic by contributing directly to your account each month. Many banks can provide free services to transfer a definite amount of money from your checking account to your savings account monthly.
You may also request your HR department to deposit directly a portion of your paycheck into a savings account each month.
- Set up an emergency fund
Your savings account can also serve as a source of money for a rainy day; but if you can take the challenge on a higher level, you can also set up a fund devoted only for emergency purposes. Unless you get into an emergency situation and you are forced to use your savings account, the primary purpose for a savings account is to cover major purchases, such as advances for a car or a house purchase. Hence, in case you get laid off from your job or need medical attention, your emergency fund will come to your aid without you having to give up your original goal of buying a car or a house.
Ordinarily, an emergency fund should be sufficient to pay for your expenses for a period of four to seven months. Financial advisers suggest beginning with a relatively small goal – say, $1,000 -- and slowly increase your target.
- Check your monthly expenses regularly
You need to begin a thorough monitoring of your monthly expenses. That means writing down your monthly expenses and every purchase to the last cent. This will tell you exactly where your money goes and in which areas you are spending above your budget. Consequently, you can have greater control of your money, allowing you to gain a better perspective of your spending habits so you can make a more suitable budget you can follow.
It might come as a surprise to you, for instance, that you shell out an inordinate amount of money on coffee weekly. Knowing that, you can decide to reduce your coffee intake each week and put whatever you save into your savings account.
- Set your budget
When you have a clear idea of how you spend your money, you can set a realistic budget. While budgeting may appear to be a hit-or-miss process at the start, it will eventually become a more defined and accurate process once you have finally succeeded in cutting away your undisciplined spending habits.
Remember, there is no need to stop spending for entertainment or certain perks; however, your priority is to settle your bills promptly until you achieve your goal for saving. The main purpose for a budget is to compel you to spend within your income limit in order to enhance your savings.
- Shop more wisely
Every time you shop, be more discriminating. Earn more points by applying for loyalty programs at the shops, join a warehouse club and purchase wholesale as much as you can, use discount coupons and shop whenever there are bargains deals or knockdown sales.
Use online shopping to your advantage by canvassing comparative prices on websites and buy according to whichever is the best offer. Buy an item not because an item is merely discounted; the best deal is one that has the greatest advantage for you in terms of quality, price and other features.
- Use apps to your advantage
Practically everything now comes with an app that makes it very convenient to acquire or avail of, whether grabbing a taxi or chatting with pals. Make good use of the technology to help you save more money.
Some apps can help you in the budgeting process, some to help you locate the best buys in your community, as well as some to let you sell your used items. Monetize all the unused appliances and stuff in your home through these apps and make your savings grow.
- Use a flexible spending account (FSA)
Contemplate applying for a flexible spending account in your company. Some employers provide FSAs as a benefits privilege for their employees which allows you to save money on health-care expenses not covered by insurance, as well as deductibles and joint-payments.
When you have joined such a program, decide on what amount to contribute for the year. The amount will be deducted from your paycheck eventually, minus income tax. Under the program, you can take out money from the account to cover for specific allowable medical expenses, which are effectively discounted due to your tax savings. Make sure you avail of the whole amount within the year covered.
- Monitor your progress … and when you achieve your goal, reward yourself!
In order to succeed in the budgeting process, know where you are exactly each week in your finances. Set up a time for a "money date" when you can sit down each Sunday and assess expenses to make sure you are within the set budget. In case you find yourself off the track (whether you overspent or you failed to put away even a cent from your salary), get back on track. You cannot win all battles; but aim to win the war.
Nevertheless, once you achieve your savings goals, strike up a party and reward yourself (without overspending, of course)! Aim for the middle road in your savings strategy; that means you can still shop and spend but, this time, more responsibly.