Saving money isn’t always easy — as evidenced by the one in three American families who reported having no savings at all to Pew Charitable Trusts earlier this year. (More proof of how difficult socking away hard-earned dollars can be: one in 10 of those families had incomes of more than $100,000 a year.)
But whether you’re planning for retirement, saving for a down payment on a home or simply trying to ensure you have enough money in your bank account to cover emergency car repairs, it pays, quite literally, to think long-term.
To ensure you’re putting away at least some money every month, many financial experts suggest setting up direct deposit into a (preferably high-yield) savings account. You can alternately have the money put into an investment account that you never touch.
“If you don’t actually see that money come into your checking account, you will be much less tempted to spend it,” Christina White, a certified financial planner (CFP) at EBW, LLC in Vienna, Va., said in an email.
But if these automatic withdrawals aren’t cutting it, here are few ways to fool yourself into saving a bigger portion of your check.
1. ‘Raise’ Your Rent
“The best way to fool yourself into saving more is to transfer funds, a set amount on a set date, the same day you pay your mortgage or rent to an account that is not your checking account (an IRA or online savings),” Jorie Johnson, a CFP based in Brielle, N.J., said in an email. “Almost as if your mortgage or rent payment went up.”
2. Automatically Escalate Your 401K Contributions
Many employers now allow you to set up automatic increases to your 401K contributions quarterly, semi-annually or annually at the rate the participant indicates, Daniel Lash, a CFP at VLP Financial Advisors in Vienna, Va., said.
“To save more for retirement I recommend that you contribute 1% more a year to your plan,” he wrote in an email. “A participant rarely notices a 1% increase but if they do this over time they will significantly increase their savings for retirement.”
3. Spare Your Change
“Most of the banks have a roundup feature when using your debit card,” Wade Chessman, president of Chessman Wealth Strategies, said in an email. If you opt in, purchases are generally rounded up to the nearest dollar and that “spare change” is put into an interest-bearing savings or, even, investment account. There are also a few standalone apps that perform a similar service.
4. Save Your Extra Paychecks
People who get paid bi-weekly (as opposed to set days of the month) have a built-in savings opportunity they may not be aware of: “Since there are 52 weeks in a year and only 12 months, two months of every year you get three paychecks,” Kathryn Hauer, CFP and owner of Wilson David Investments Advisors in Aiken, S.C., wrote in an email. “If you set up your finances to count on two paychecks per month, those extra two paychecks each year can go right into savings.”
5. Spring Clean & Reinvest Your Finances
Comb through your checking account and credit card transactions for automatic monthly withdrawals, like subscriptions or membership clubs, Laura Barry, a CFP and director at Bronfman E.L. Rothschild, said. “Slash what you can and add up the savings,” she wrote in an email. “Create a new auto withdraw for the same amount right to your own savings/investment account each month.” Then repeat the process with some of your bigger expenses, like property insurance.
6. Keep Two Checking Accounts
Designate one checking accounts for your monthly bill pay and the other for your discretionary spending, suggested Randy Bruns, Private Wealth Advisor with HighPoint Planning Partners. “In this strategy an individual estimates (conservatively) how much money will be left over each month after paying all the bills and socking away whatever amount is necessary towards future goals,” he wrote in an email.
So if you make $3,000 a month after taxes, your expenses total $2,000 and you want to put $400 dollars into your emergency fund within that timeframe, you could have the remaining $600 automatically deposited into your spending account.
“This has proven to be a simple and easy way for our clients to monitor exactly how much cash is left to spend each month,” Bruns said. “Otherwise it all gets mixed up with the bills and no money gets saved.”
7. Use a Credit Card
Yes, you’re reading that right. If you’re not prone to overspending and you can guarantee you’ll pay any balances off in full, a rewards credit card can serve actually serve as a useful saving tool. For example, “Use a cash-back credit card that gives you 1% or 2% back on all of your purchases,” Melissa Sotudeh, a CFP and wealth advisor with Halpern Financial, Inc., wrote in an email. “This automatically gives you a small discount on everything you buy with the card, which can be allocated toward savings.”
It’s important to reiterate that this strategy only works if you use a credit card responsibly. High credit card balances can hurt your wallet (in interest) and also affect your credit score. You can see where yours currently stands by viewing your two free scores each month on Credit.com.
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