Everyone is looking for the secret to success — that one plan, idea, tip or piece of advice that will lead them straight to wealth and happiness.
Sorry, I don’t have that. No one does, because success, including financial success, looks different for every individual person.
But, what I do have is inspiration. And not just the figurative kind — but actual tips and advice that can help you improve your financial life.
When you hear about people who are ‘great at saving money,’ what does that really mean? It’s a mindset, routine and lifestyle that’s built around one goal: making the most out of every dollar you make in order to reach financial freedom — the ability to make your own choices in life, when you want to make them, without having to rely on anyone or anything else.
And while everyone’s path to financial independence is different, implementing these habits into your daily life will get you well on your way!
Read more: Step-by-step guide to saving more money
10 secret habits to learn from people who have no problem saving money
1. They have goals
If you want to reach your long-term financial goals, you first have to identify what they are and then have an idea of how much money you’ll need to reach them.
You need to give each of your big goals an estimated price tag, that way you can be sure you’re putting enough money away each month for each specific goal. Making a mental note is not enough. If you don’t have a specific plan, it will take you longer to get out of debt and you will very easily reach the point when you’re ready to make a big purchase and you won’t be financially prepared.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you want to buy a $250,000 house in five years. The cost of a down payment will depend on type of loan you get, but typically you will need between 5% and 20% of the home’s sale price in cash for a down payment. And the higher the down payment, the lower your mortgage rate will be.
If you plan to put 20% down, you’ll need $50,000 in cash. So to reach that goal in five years, you should be saving roughly $850 a month.
Bottom line: figure out exactly what your goals are and price them out — by month or paycheck — to ensure you’re saving enough. Doing it over time makes reaching a number like $50,000 a lot easier than it may sound — and the earlier you start planning, the easier it’ll be.
Bonus tip: There are tons of apps that make it so easy to keep track of your progress toward your goals! Here’s a list of the best ones to consider.
2. They automate their savings
One of the best ways to save more money, and keep your savings on track, is to make it automatic. If you don’t automate your savings, you’re much more likely to reach the end of the month and realize you’ve spent what you had planned to save.
So once you figure out how much you can save each month, set up your paycheck’s direct deposit to automatically send that money into savings. That way the cash is saved before you have a chance to spend it.
If the money sits in your checking account all month, borrowing from yourself and your savings becomes way too easy. Regardless of how disciplined you think you are — even giving yourself that option can very easily throw your goals off track.
3. They know the difference between needs and wants
This can be a tough one for a lot of people, because saving more money often requires change.
But here’s the thing, nothing about your financial life will ever improve or change, unless you decide to make it happen. And this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to turn your life upside down — there are tons of ways to cut costs and save more money without dramatically changing your lifestyle.
With that said, it really depends on your individual routine and lifestyle. If you’re spending more than you make — on things you don’t really need — you’ll never get ahead financially and it’s time to switch things up.
Figure out what’s important to you — both now and in the future — then make sure that your current lifestyle is aligned with your goals and the future life you want to have.
The longer you continue living paycheck-to-paycheck, the more difficult it becomes to break the cycle. So the earlier you learn to spend less than you make, the sooner you’ll be able to have a confident and empowered relationship with money.
And it’s not about the amount of money you make, it’s about adjusting your habits and lifestyle in order to improve your life both now and down the road. So when you do start making more money, you can really benefit from the added income, rather than waking up one day and realizing you have no idea where it all went.
Once you start making small changes to your spending routine, you will quickly realize how big of an impact it can have on every aspect of your life. Each step you take, like paying off a debt or getting closer to a savings goal, will give you even more motivation to keep going, because you’ll be able to see the increasing control you have over your own life and your own money.
Start by going through your monthly expenses and take a good hard look at where all of your money is going. If an expense isn’t aligned with your plan and goals, get rid of it.
4. They live below their means
Living below your means requires you to pick and choose. Maybe you take one less vacation or limit how much you go out to eat. Or maybe you go to dinner with friends, but eat before you go so you aren’t stuck with a big bill when everyone splits the check. You can have a social life without draining your wallet — it just takes some prioritizing.
Decide what’s most important to you and start saving for those things. A few examples may be building an emergency savings fund, paying off debt or buying a house or a car. By making your goals a priority, you give yourself a much better chance of reaching them — and on your own timeline, which is key. Because when it comes time to buy a house and you realize you wasted a lot of money that could have been saved for a down payment, having to put it off won’t be a very pleasurable situation.
Bottom line: If you want to get on the quickest path to reaching your goals, you have to start living below your means — and the best way to do that is to start paying attention to what’s going on with your money so you can keep your priorities in line.
5. They don’t waste money
Most people waste money in some way, shape or form — and very often it’s simply because they either don’t pay attention or just pay for convenience — which can be one and the same.
But when you stop and think about it, you’d never throw money in the garbage — would you? Because that’s exactly what you’re doing every time you spend money when you don’t have to.
This is where setting goals and budgeting come in. Budgeting gets a bad rap, so just to clarify, when I say budgeting, what I really mean is just paying attention to your expenses and making sure that every dollar is given a purpose — a purpose that’s aligned with your goals. Small expenses and small price differences can have a big impact on your wallet over time — which is why ‘budgeting’ is crucial. If you don’t align your spending patterns with your goals, you’ll never reach them.
People who’ve made it a habit to save don’t waste money on things like ATM fees or purchases they could get cheaper somewhere else. If you can’t put the effort into avoiding wasteful spending, don’t plan on reaching your goals or saving more money anytime soon. If you really want to save more, this has to part of your daily routine.
Here’s how to get started: Go through all of your expenses from last month — literally, every single expense — and figure out exactly what you’re paying for recurring bills and obligations — housing (rent or mortgage), utilities, insurance, and other recurring monthly bills such as a cell phone plan, tuition, subscriptions (like Netflix or Amazon Prime).
With all of your expenses in front of you, you’ll get a clear picture of where exactly your money is going. This will allow you to start reducing certain costs — starting with items that can be reduced or eliminated immediately — including things like subscriptions, shopping, groceries and even insurance and cell phone bills.
6. They find deals
There are so many ways to find deals these days, you should really never pay full price for anything.
Sure, it may take a few seconds or minutes to do a quick search for a coupon or better price online, but it’s worth it if it will save you money. That’s a habit that separates good savers from OK savers — always being on the lookout for the best price.
And what’s crazy is that so many people don’t even look — they just pay whatever price they see and move on. But if you really want to save more money over time, you have get out of that routine!
Here’s a good example: a recent report found that many companies track your online activity, and then very often, they’ll show you higher prices in an effort to get you to spend more money on their products. So if you don’t do a quick search on what you’re buying and spending, well, there’s one word for that: sucker.
In addition, getting a good deal isn’t just about everyday spending. Here are some other easy ways you can get better deals and lower prices in your life:
- Shop for cheaper car insurance
- Switch to a cheaper cell phone plan
- Ask for a credit card rate reduction
- Find cheaper prescription prices
- Save on groceries by changing where you shop
Read more: Best OTC dollar store medications
7. They keep track of things
How much did you spend last month? How much did you save? How much do you have saved for each of your goals? Are you on track to reach each one in the desired time frame? Which ones are you behind on?
If you can’t answer these questions, then you aren’t tracking your spending and savings closely enough — which also means you’re probably wasting money and not saving enough.
Tracking your expenses — and your savings — is the best way to get control of your money — for a few reasons.
Making a mental note of your spending is not a reliable way to keep your budget on track, regardless of how good of a memory you have. In fact, it’s probably the worst thing you can do if you’re trying to get a handle on your money — because if you don’t track your spending, it’s difficult to keep yourself accountable.
If you want to stop living paycheck to paycheck, you have to give every dollar a purpose. Tracking how much money is coming in versus how much is going out — and where exactly it’s all going — is the key to making smart financial decisions that have a big impact on your life both now and in the future.
And the good news is that tracking your budget can actually be super easy!
You can do it with a simple program like Excel, but there are also tons of apps and tools that will do it for you and keep track of each part of your budget throughout the entire month. These tools will even update you on your progress — like say, if you go on an unexpected shopping spree and it messes up the entire month’s budget OR if you make progress toward paying down a debt. Here’s a list of apps and strategies to start tracking your savings.
8. They know when to say no
Let’s make one thing very clear: ‘there just isn’t enough room in the monthly budget for savings’ is just an excuse. Plain and simple.
Even when you aren’t making much money, if you don’t have anything left to save each month, you’re living a lifestyle you can’t afford — a lifestyle that will not set you up for long-term financial success
A lot of people put it off, thinking they can always “save later,” but that’s a very dangerous mindset — because later typically comes too late or it never comes.
Saving money is just about being smart – and while it may require some changes, changing a few things about the way you live now can drastically improve the way you live later. And change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because some day, you will want more than what a wasteful spending routine has to offer. Sure, skipping a vacation or a few nights out may suck at the time, but when you think about your long-term goals — are they really worth the money?
Asking yourself one simple question every day can have a huge impact on your money — both now and down the road: Is it worth it?
9. They don’t care what other people think, say or do
Yes, of course you should care about other people — this is just about money.
When you decide to make your financial well-being a priority, you’ll quickly discover that certain relationships and other aspects of life will empower you to reach your goals — and it’s important to hang on to them — because you’ll also discover that there are some things in your life that need to change.
The most important thing to understand about taking control of your money — and ultimately reaching financial independence — is to know that YOU are the only person who can make it happen. Of course there are others who will help you along the way, providing guidance and motivation — and in fact, that support is a key part of the process, because surrounding yourself with people who support you and whose goals are aligned with yours is the best way to keep yourself on track.
Giving yourself the best chance at financial success means living a life that involves the right people, habits and behaviors. It’s about figuring out what really matters to you and your ultimate happiness, because no one can decide that — or accomplish it — except for you.
So stop worrying about the latest and greatest trends and what other people are spending their money on — because if you make your financial success a priority now, you’ll look back and be thankful that you allowed yourself to get ahead and live a better future.
10. They find every freebie possible
Why pay for something when you can get it for free? Keeping that in mind at all times can save you a lot of money over time!
You can start with these tips: