It wasn't long ago that my husband and I thought saving money meant moving $20 or so from our checking to our attached savings account once a month. We had no idea what we were doing. We'd just heard it was good to save, so we did - for about three days. Then we decided we needed that money, so we promptly moved it right back.
We were clueless. Funny thing is, at that time we were home owners and college educated. Guess what? None of that mattered because we were still clueless about saving.
Flash forward several years when we were dealing with an unexpected job loss. We had roughly $1,000 in savings, and the job outlook was bleak. I stayed at home with our three kids. That income loss really made us look at our finances in a whole new light.
I'm happy to report my husband found another job. After a while life did return to normal - a "new normal." That experience really made us see how much more we could and shouldbe saving each month. Now we're constantly working towards a savings goal. In the past 4 years, we've paid off cars and student loans. We've built up a decent emergency fund, and we are currently saving like crazy to pay for a graduate degree in cash.
Is it easy? Not in the slightest. But we've caught the "savings bug" and now we can't stop. We don't want to stop. For many of you, you're simply wondering how to start. For those who have never applied money towards savings, here are 5 specific steps for reaching your savings goals.
1. Analyze your budget and decide on an amount to save
Oh my, did you all hear that? I said the "B" word. BUDGET. I'm not sure why that word has such a negative connotation surrounding it. We should all have a budget. We should all have a clear idea of how much money we have coming in each month, and where it goes when we spend it. If you don't have a budget, create one. There are thousands of free budget worksheets online. As for the amount, I recommend doing one of two things. First, if you review your budget and have excess money each month, I suggest taking half that amount and designating that as your savings amount. If you don't have any excess money, I want you to review each and every expense from the last month. Find any unnecessary charges such as dining out, Redbox, Netflix and clothing. We're talking the "wants" as opposed to the "needs." Add up all these charges and divide it in half. That should be the amount you apply towards savings each month.
2. Start with something SMALL
. Make it realistic. Make it something you can achieve with your savings amount within a one-year period or less. You need to understand what it feels like to accomplish a financial savings goal. If your goal won't be accomplished until 3 years from now, I'm willing to bet you'll fall off the savings wagon way before your goal is realized. If you've decided on saving $40 each month, taking the family on a Disney Cruise might not be the best idea. However, taking the family to Disneyland for a day is more easily attainable.
3. Make sure your goal is both CLEAR and SPECIFIC
: "Save money" is not a goal. Neither is "Have an emergency fund." Write out several financial goals you'd like to achieve and pick one. Have a set dollar amount, and a timeline for your goal. To elaborate on the Disneyland example above, a sample goal would be: Save $500 to take the family on an overnight vacation to Disneyland in 8 months.
4. Make the savings goal VISIBLE
Let's use the Disneyland example, again. In order to make the goal visible, I suggest taping pictures of Disneyland around the house. Tape one somewhere in your car, so when you have the desire to go through the fast food drive thru, you'll second guess that decision. Tape a small picture to your debit card, and at work. Create a chart that shows 12 clear steps toward your goal. Then, get the kids involved as you color in each step as you achieve it. Trust me, when you're just starting out saving, you need these constant visual reminders.
5. Make the savings AUTOMATIC and not easily accessed
: Set up an account that's NOT linked to your checking account and has the ability to create automatic transfers. If you're trying to save $500 in 8 months, that works out to be about $63 per month. If taking $63 out once a month seems too painful, divide that into 2 payments of $32 instead. Schedule it to be withdrawn from your checking account right after you receive a paycheck. The idea is that whenan unexpected financial problem arises, you have to look elsewhere to solve it, and your savings plan isn't affected.
The idea behind these 5 specific steps to saving is that you too will catch the savings bug. It starts small - a 6-month goal here, an 8-month goal there, but it quickly grows until you're crossing off financial goals you never imagined were possible. The feeling of reaching these financial goals is incredible; far more satisfying than any feeling I got after splurging on some retail therapy. Here's to you catching the savings bug.
This article was originally published on FamilyShare.com. Check out these other related articles: (Finding freedom by living within your means), (In my 20s: Why should I save for retirement?) and (The art of saving money: 5 ways to use coupons (without being extreme).