Saving money is on everyone’s to-do list, but your personal savings account should reflect your own goals. Just as people have differing habits and hobbies, so do they have different savings priorities — you might be saving for a new mountain bike, while your coworker’s saving for a kitchen renovation.
But while the specifics of your savings might be particular to you, certain strategies can be applied to anyone (with a little personalization, of course). Expand your toolkit with the methods listed below, and your growing balance will help you stay motivated to keep building your funds.
1. Put yourself first by paying yourself first.
You’d be hard pressed to find a personal finance expert who doesn’t tout the time-honored advice to “pay yourself first”. It simply means that you should treat savings account deposits like any other bill — the first one you pay — due date and all.
To make this easier, you can automate the deposit either through direct deposit or transfers from your checking account. If you already have direct deposit set up with your employer, see if they will also allow you to direct deposit a percentage of your paycheck into your savings account. In most instances, you can designate a fixed amount or percentage of your paycheck for your savings.
You can also set up recurring transfers from your checking to your savings account at whatever frequency you’re comfortable with. You just need to know how much you want to transfer, how often, and from/to which account. Setting up recurring transfers takes one more thing off your plate, and it helps you make sure you always pay yourself first.
2. Turn your paid off debt into savings.
As you pay off debt, continue budgeting as if the debt were still in effect, but place the payment amount in savings. For example, if you pay off your car, put the amount of the car payment in savings each month. You could even consider this pre-payment for your next vehicle. When the time comes to replace your current ride, that savings account potentially would have enough for a substantial down payment, if not pay for the vehicle completely. And that saves you even more money in interest you don’t have to pay down the line.
Once you move money into a savings account, try to leave that money alone, so your balance can grow. If you find yourself withdrawing funds on a regular basis to make ends meet, it might be time to revise your budget, so you can let your savings be. Seeing those regular deposits add up can motivate you to save even more.
3. Track your spending … in detail!
You can’t really figure out where to save until you know where your money goes. That’s why it helps to track your spending. Experts suggest keeping a spending journal. In addition, look at your checking and credit card accounts to see where your money has gone over the last couple pay periods. Review these at least monthly.
And you don’t have to do this all by hand — use technology to your advantage. There are plenty of apps out there that can help you keep a detailed log of your spending, whether through your bank accounts or credit cards. Other apps will analyze your spending and help you find extra cash to either save or invest.
Whether you put your spending down on paper, use a spreadsheet, rely on a mobile app, or have your partner track it for you, getting a clear picture of your own cash flow is a good jumping off point for formulating effective saving strategies.
4. Create a spending roadmap.
Maybe you think of “budgeting” as a curse word. Shake that distasteful perception by realizing that a budget is just a roadmap — a tool to help you get where you’re going and stay on track. Just like your spend tracking, you can make your budget as simple or complex as you like.
First, list all of your fixed expenses, such as bills and loan payments. Then, list all of your variable expenses, such as groceries, clothing, and entertainment. Include an amount for long and short-term savings goals. Stick to your budget as if your financial life depends on it (it does). You’ll probably need to adjust your budget periodically to make sure your goals, expenses, and income are in balance.
Don’t forget to get creative! Saving money doesn’t have to mean giving up great food, shopping trips, or vacations. By staying focused on saving, you might discover a new passion for cooking, or find a great new website for clothes, or discover an off-the-beaten-path spot to take the family over the holidays. However you approach saving money, staying positive and creative helps make the experience enjoyable.
5. Visualize your goals.
Once you know how much you can afford to save, it might be smart to visualize your goals and track your progress toward each one separately. Besides being practical, visualizing your goals can actually help motivate you to save — it’s a lot easier (and more inspiring) to work towards a concrete image than a vague idea (think: cross-country roadtrip versus general vacation). And if you can split your funds up within your savings account based on your visualized goals, you’ll really be able to get a clear picture of your savings — without losing that compounding interest.
Once you check off these five tips, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a successful saver with plenty of tools in your belt.
Start visualizing your goals with buckets in our Online Savings Account.