- Pay yourself first. The easiest way to save money rather than spending it is to make sure that that you never get a chance to spend the money in the first place. Arranging for a portion of each paycheck to be deposited directly into a savings account or a retirement account takes the stress and tedium out of the process of deciding how much money to save and how much to keep for yourself each month — basically, you save automatically and the money you keep each month is yours to spend as you please. Over time, depositing even a small portion of each paycheck into your savings can add up (especially when you take interest into account) so start as soon as you can for maximum benefit.
To set up an automatic deposit, talk to the payroll staff at your job (or, if your employer uses one, your third-party payroll service). If you can provide account information for a savings account separate from your basic checking account, you should generally be able to set up a direct deposit scheme with no problems.
If for some reason you can't set up an automatic deposit for each paycheck (like if you support yourself with freelance work or are paid mostly in cash), decide on a specific cash amount to manually deposit into a savings account each month and stick to this goal
- Avoid accumulating new debt. Some debt is essentially unavoidable. For instance, only the very rich have enough money to buy a house in one lump sum payment, yet millions of people are able to buy houses by taking out loans and slowly paying them back. However, in general, when you can avoid going into debt, do so. Paying a sum of money up-front is always cheaper in the long run than paying off an equivalent loan while interest accumulates over time. If taking out a loan is unavoidable, try to make as big of down payment as possible. The more of the cost of the purchase you can cover up front, the quicker you'll pay off your loan and the less you'll spend on interest.
While everyone's financial situation differs, most banks recommend that your debt payments should be about 10% of your pretax income, while anything under 20% is considered healthy. About 36% is seen as an "upper limit" for reasonable amounts of debt.
- set reasonable savings goals. It's a lot easier to save if you know you have something to save for. Set yourself savings goals that are within your reach to motivate yourself to make the tough financial decisions needed to save responsibly. For serious goals like buying a house or retiring, your goals may take years or decades to achieve. In these cases, it's important to monitor your progress on a regular basis. Only by stepping back and taking a look at the big picture can you get a sense for how far you've come and how far you have left to go. Big goals, like retirement, take a very long time to achieve. In the time needed to reach these goals, financial markets are likely to be different than they are today. You may need to spend some time researching the predicted future state of the market before setting your goal. For instance, if you're in your prime earning years, most financial commentators say that you'll need about 60-85% of your currently yearly income to maintain your current lifestyle each year you're retired.
2. Cutting Expenses
- Remove luxuries from your budget. If you're having trouble saving money, it's wise to start here. Many of the expenses that we take for granted are far from essential. Eliminating luxury expenses is a great first step to improve your financial situation because this won't impact your quality of life or your ability to perform your work significantly. While it can be difficult to imagine life without a gas-guzzling car and a cable TV subscription, you may be surprised how easy it is to live without these things once you remove them from your life. Below are a just a few easy ways to reduce your luxury expenses:
Unsubscribe from optional television or internet packages.
Switch to a thriftier service plan for your phone.
Trade in an expensive car for one that is fuel-efficient and cheap to maintain.
Sell any electronic gadgets going unused.
Buy clothing and home furnishings from thrift stores.
- Find cheaper housing. For most people, costs related to housing make up the single biggest expense in their budget. Because of this, saving money housing can free up a substantial amount of your income for other important activities, like saving for retirement. While it's not always easy to change your living situation, you'll want to seriously re-examine your housing situation if you're having a hard time balancing your budget.
If you're renting, you may want to try negotiating with your landlord for a cheaper rent. Since most landlords want to avoid the risk that comes with looking for new tenants, you may be able to get a better deal if you have a good history with your landlord. If need to, you may be able to exchange work (like gardening or maintaining the house) for cheaper rent.
If you are paying a mortgage, talk to your lender about refinancing your loan. You may be able to negotiate for a better deal if you're in good standing. When refinancing, try to keep the repayment schedule as short as possible.
You may also want to consider moving to a cheaper housing market altogether. According to a recent study, the cheapest housing markets in the U.S. are in Detroit, Michigan; Lake County, Palm Bay and Florida.
- Eat for cheap. Many people spend much more on food than is necessary. While it's easy to forget to be thrifty when you're biting into a gourmet meal at your favorite restaurant, food-related expenses can become quite large if allowed to get out of control. In general, buying in bulk is cheaper in the long run than buying small quantities of food — considers getting a membership at a warehouse retailer like Costco if your food expenses are high. Buying individual meals at restaurants is the most expensive option of all, so making an effort to eat in rather than eat out can also save you lots of cash.
Pick cheap, nutritious foods. Rather than buying prepared, processed foods, try checking out the fresh food and produce aisles of your local grocery store. You may be surprised how cheap it is to eat healthy! For instance, brown rice, a filling, nutritious food, can come in large, twenty-pound sacks for less than a dollar per pound.
Take advantage of discounts. Many grocery stores (especially large chains) give out coupons and discounts at the check-out counter. Don't let these go to waste!
If you frequently go out to eat, stop. It's generally much cheaper to cook a meal at home than it is to order an equivalent dish in a restaurant. Regularly cooking your own food also teaches you a valuable skill you can use to entertain friends, satisfy your family, and even attract romantic interests.
Don't be afraid to take advantage of local free food resources if your situation is serious. Food banks, soup kitchens, and shelters can all provide meals for free to those in needs. If you need help, contact your local Department of Social Services for more information.
- Reduce your energy usage. Most people accept the price on their utility bill each month without question. In fact, it's possible to greatly reduce your energy usage (and thus your monthly bill) with just a few simple steps. These tricks are so easy that there's practically no reason to avoid them if you're looking to save money. Best of all, reducing the amount of energy you use also reduces the amount of pollution you indirectly produce, minimizing your impact on the global environment.
Turn off the lights when you're not around. There's no reason to leave the lights on if you're not in the room (or in the house), so flip them off when you leave. Try leaving a sticky note by the door if you're having a hard time remembering.
Avoid using heating and A/C when it's not essential. To stay cool, open your windows or use a small personal fan. To stay warm, wear several layers of clothing, wear a blanket, or use a space heater.
Invest in good insulation. If you can afford to pay for a substantial home improvement project, replacing old, leaky insulation in your walls with high-efficiency modern insulation can save you money in the long run by keeping your house's warm or cool internal air from escaping.
If you can, invest in solar panels. As a serious investment in your own future (as well as the planet's), solar panels are the way to go. Though the up-front cost can be quite high, solar technology becomes cheaper with each passing year.
Spending Money Intelligently
Spend money on absolute essentials first. When it comes to spending money, there are some things that you absolutely, positively cannot do without. These things (namely, food, water, housing, and clothing) are your first priority when it comes to spending your cash. Obviously, if you become homeless or suffer from starvation, it becomes very, very difficult to meet the rest of your financial goals, so you'll want to ensure that you have enough money to cover these bare minimum requirements before devoting money to anything else. However, just because things like food, water, and shelter are important doesn't necessarily mean that you have to splurge on them. For instance, cutting down on the amount that you go out to eat is one easy way to drastically reduce your food expenses. Along the same lines, moving to an area with cheap rent or home prices is a great way to spend less on housing.
Depending on where you live, housing costs can eat up a large chunk of your income. In general, most experts recommend against agreeing to any housing arrangement that will cost more than one-third of your income.
Prepare an Emergency Fund Step 1.
Next, save for an emergency fund. If you don't already have an emergency fund with enough money in it so that you can survive if you suddenly lose your income, begin contributing to one immediately. Having a reasonable amount of money stockpiled in a secure savings account gives you the freedom to comfortably sort out your affairs in the event that you lose your job. After you cover your essentials, you'll want to devote a chunk of your income to building up this savings account until you have enough saved to cover about 3-6 months of living expenses.
Note that living expenses can vary based on the local financial climate. While it's possible to survive on $1,500 for a few months in Detroit or Phoenix, this might not even pay one month's rent for a cheap apartment in New York City. If you live in an expensive area, your emergency fund will naturally need to bigger.
Besides giving you the peace of mind of knowing that you'll be OK in the event of career difficulties, having an emergency fund can also earn you money in the long run. If you lose your job and you don't have an emergency fund, you may be forced to take the very first job you're offered, even if it doesn't pay well. On the other hand, if you can survive without working for a while, you can afford to be much pickier and potentially land a better-paying job.
Save Money Step 1.
Next, pay off your debt. Left unchecked, debt can seriously derail your efforts to save money. If you're only making the minimum payments on your debt, you'll end up paying much more over the life of the loan than if you had paid it off more quickly. Save money in the long-term by devoting a good chunk of your income to debt payment so that you can pay off your debt as quickly as possible. As a general rule, paying off your highest-interest loans first is the most effective use of your money.
Once you've covered your essentials and built up a reasonable-sized emergency fund, you can safely devote almost all of your extra income to paying off your debt. On the other hand, if you don't have an emergency fund, you may have to split your extra income up so that you use a portion to pay off your debt each month while simultaneously diverting some into your emergency fund.
If you have multiple sources of debt that are proving overwhelming, look into consolidating your debts. It may be possible to roll all of your debts into one loan with a lower interest rate. It's important to note, however, that the repayment schedules for these consolidated loans can be longer than those for your initial debt.
You may also want to try negotiating with your lender directly for a lower interest rate. It's not in your lender's best interest to let you go into bankruptcy, so he/she may agree to a lower interest rate in order to allow you to pay off the loan.
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