If saving money isn’t your strong suit, don’t worry. Changing your money habits will have its challenges, but with a little effort, you can stop making so many unnecessary purchases and start building a sizable savings.
The first step is to think about your goals and priorities. Why do you want to save money? You might be looking for the security of an emergency fund, hoping to spend less time working, or preparing to buy a new car. Recognizing what’s important will help you get to a place where saving money seems only natural.
Next, examine your financial behaviors to determine what you need to change. Look at old credit card statements and bills, and ask yourself whether those purchases could be eliminated or reduced. In order to have enough money to draw on for your savings account, you need to keep the future in mind. Too many consumers live paycheck to paycheck, not necessarily because they have to but because they are impulse buyers.
If you don’t feel savvy enough to make the proper financial decisions, education is an important step. Read about personal finance, and take the opportunity to talk to people you know about money. Then, once you start prioritizing future needs over present wants, growing your saving account won’t be nearly as difficult.
Whether your savings journey is just starting out or you’re already a saver and want to keep it that way, these 12 tips will help keep you from backsliding into poor money habits.
1. Remember why saving is important to you
Here’s where your savings goals come in. Think about why you want to save money, and take every opportunity to remind yourself. Talk about it out loud. Write it down. Even if your goal is as simple as saving for a single vacation, keep it in the back of your mind as you go shopping or seek out money-saving opportunities in your daily life.
If your goal is to be a great saver in the long term, think about the financial freedom you will be gaining. It can be easy to concentrate on what you have to give up in order to save money, but if you shift your attitude to focus what you’ll get in return, it’s much easier to make the daily decisions needed to get there.
2. Hold yourself accountable
Budgets, spreadsheets, and shopping lists are enough to put the average consumer to sleep, but don’t be afraid to give this strategy a try. People who are already in the habit of jotting down notes or lists will likely be very successful making strict shopping lists and sticking to them. It doesn’t take much time, and it might save you the effort of trying to remember what you actually need when you get to a store.
Once you make a reasonable budget for yourself, don’t stray from it. If anything, check it over once in a while, and find expenses to reduce or eliminate if possible. You can do the same thing with your grocery list before you start your shopping trip.
If you aren’t a list-maker, a more automated approach to budgeting might be helpful. Set up automatic deposits to your savings account and auto-pay for your bills and credit cards. Just make sure you monitor your accounts to ensure you always have sufficient funds for these transactions.
3. When you get a raise, don’t increase your spending
It might seem natural to start spending a little more after a promotion. Maybe you start eyeing a larger apartment or some high-end gadgets. The problem is a more expensive lifestyle could jeopardize your saving behavior. Think of a pay raise as an effortless way to speed up your savings. Keep living modestly, and put any extra income, whether it’s from a raise or an extra freelance gig, straight into your savings account.
Many advisers claim saving 10% to 15% of your income is sufficient no matter what tax bracket you’re in, but some personal finance writers advocate for saving as much as half of your income if you can. A more radical approach to saving could mean an early retirement or at least reaching your savings goal in a fraction of the time you expected.
The key is to be happy with what you already have, enjoy living simply, and look forward to the rewards of a disciplined money-saving mindset.
4. Create a vision board
Do you have trouble believing you can actually save the amount of money you’re hoping to save? It’s easier to reach a financial goal if you can see yourself accomplishing it. One way to do this is to create a financial vision board. This involves cutting out pictures of different financial goals you desire to reach. The pictures could be from your favorite magazines, newspapers, or even photos you’ve printed from the internet. If you can see your goal, you can achieve it.
5. Separate needs from wants
One way many people get out of the money-saving mindset is when they spend a lot of money on wants instead of needs. It can be easy to confuse the two, especially when you really want something. You might become so overwhelmed by your desire to have something that you convince yourself it’s really a need and not a want.
If you want to prevent this from happening, you’ll need to take your time when making a purchase you’re unsure about. If you can’t decide whether something is a need or want, take a few days to think about it. This cooling-off period will provide some clarity and help you truly see whether it’s just an impulse buy or something you really need.
6. Learn why you spend
It will be easier to save when you get to the bottom of why you spend. For example, do you buy a lot of clothes because you want to impress someone? Or are you always spending money on eating out because you haven’t set aside enough time to cook at home? If you’re more focused on impressing others or you haven’t established financial discipline, it’s time to work on getting a handle on these bad habits.
7. Address lingering money problems
If you want to stay in a money-saving mindset, you need to take care of any destructive money issues. Perhaps you’re not used to having a lot of money, so you tend to save money and then find an excuse to spend it. Or maybe you can’t seem to land a job that pays well enough for you to save money in a reasonable amount of time, and you’re chronically underearning. Consider consulting with a financial therapist or joining a financial support group, such as Underearners Anonymous.
8. Ask for help
No matter how tough it gets, stay committed to saving money. If you find it hard to continue saving money, ask a friend or family member to help you stick to your goal. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with getting to your money goal. A “money buddy” can give you the push you need to reach and even exceed your target. This way, if you have a weak moment and you’re tempted to buy something you don’t need, you can call your money buddy to help talk you out of it.
9. Make a game out of saving money
Saving money doesn’t have to be a chore. Make a game out of it, so you can stay motivated. You can even have a few friends join in on the fun. One idea is to try the 52-Week Money Challenge. This is a challenge that requires you to save a certain amount of money each week during the year.
One personal finance expert who encourages this method is Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche. “The challenge works like this: Each week you deposit the number of that week of the year into a savings account. During the first week of the new year, you would deposit $1; the second week, $2; etc. By the end of the year, you will have saved almost $1,400!” Aliche said on her blog.
10. Track your progress
Don’t get too comfortable after reaching a big savings milestone. Once you’ve saved a certain amount of money, it’s easy to fall back into your old habits. Continue to keep an eye on how you are doing with your money goals. One trick is to make a chart of the money goals you have reached. Each time you reach a goal, mark it on your chart, so you can see how far you have come. This will keep you motivated to keep saving money. If creating a chart doesn’t appeal to you, try using a money-saving app, such as Digit or Qapital.
11. Keep educating yourself
Keep learning as much as you can about how to manage your finances. If you want to be a money success, it’s important for you to keep feeding on new financial information every day. Pick up a personal finance book, go to money seminars, and read money blogs. The more you learn about money and how it works, the more you will commit to making savings a priority.
12. Celebrate successes
Keep pushing forward by giving yourself a pat on the back when you reach a goal. Every time you reach a savings milestone (for example, $500), celebrate. Reward yourself by watching an extra episode of your favorite TV show or allowing yourself to enjoy an extra slice of cake. Find ways to celebrate without spending money. You don’t want to celebrate so much that you get yourself right back into debt.
Chloe Della Costa also contributed to this article.