You probably know that instead of just spending everything you make, you should also be saving money for the future. Unfortunately, sometimes that is easier said than done.
If you’re having a hard time getting started saving money, we’ve got some steps to get you on a path to a stable financial future.
5 steps to take to start saving for the future
You might already know that money expert Clark Howard’s mantra is “Save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off.”
While all of those things are tied together, there’s a reason “save more” comes first: In order to put yourself in a good place financially, you have to hang on to more of the money you work so hard to make.
Here’s how to get started in five easy steps:
- Create a budget
- Reduce your expenses
- Set goals for yourself
- Build an emergency fund
- Start investing your savings
1. Create a budget
Just as you wouldn’t get on the road to a destination you’ve never been to before without some kind of map, you can’t really get to a place where you’re saving money without having an idea how to get there. That’s where creating a budget comes in.
A budget allows you to see all of the money that you’re taking in (income) and all of the money that you’re spending (expenses) in one place.
If your expenses exceed your income, you will be in debt — if you’re not already. If your income and expenses are roughly the same each month, you are living paycheck-to-paycheck.
The only way to save money is to make sure that you are making more money than you are spending each month, and a budget is really the only way to ensure that.
If you are in debt, your budget should account for paying down any high-interest debt that you have. It doesn’t usually make financial sense to “save” money when you’re really losing money every month in interest charges.
2. Reduce your expenses
Once you have your budget set up, you can start focusing on the “spend less” part of things by reducing your expenses. Take a look at all of the things you’re spending money on each month and try to identify areas where you could cut costs.
While your largest monthly expense is likely your mortgage or rent, moving is a pretty big (and sometimes expensive) undertaking. So, let’s assume you’re going to stay where you are for a while and focus on things that you have a little more immediate control over.
Those would include things like groceries, home entertainment and your cell phone bill. We have some ideas about how you can spend less on all of those things:
- 22 ways to save money on groceries
- How to cut the cord and never pay for cable TV again
- Best cell phone plans and deals right now
The key to reducing your expenses is to look at all of the options available to you in any given category and select the least expensive one that still makes sense for you.
Of course, at the same time you’re reducing expenses you could also be looking for ways to make a little extra money on the side.
3. Set goals for yourself
Now that you’ve created your budget and hopefully cut your spending to the point that you’re actually spending less money than you’re making, it’s time to set some goals for yourself and create a plan for how you’re going to achieve them.
Your very first goal for yourself when you start saving money is to build an emergency fund for yourself, but we’ll get to that in a second.
Other goals you might set for yourself include:
- Paying off debt
- Saving enough to buy a new car
- Saving enough for a down payment on a house
- Saving for a vacation
- Saving for retirement
Having a concrete goal or goals will help keep you on track with your savings. In fact, the closer you get to reaching your goal the more you may find yourself saving in order to make your dream a reality.
4. Build an emergency fund
As we mentioned above, the first thing you should do with your extra money when you start saving is to build an emergency fund.
Your goal with the emergency fund is to have enough money to cover three to six months worth of expenses saved somewhere like a high-yield savings account.
You want this money to be easily accessible because it’s there in case any unexpected large expenses arise or you suddenly find yourself missing some of your income due to a job loss other reduction in pay.
“Surveys show, no matter how the question is asked, that roughly half of Americans cannot handle a simple financial hiccup in their lives — some part of our car breaks, or something in your home needs repairing or replacing or whatever it is that’s a surprise — you don’t have anything to draw on,” Clark says. “That’s why having savings in an oops fund or emergency fund is so important.”
If you’re not prepared for the unexpected, you might find yourself in a position where you’re forced to borrow money. You’ll then have to pay back that money — plus interest — which means you are likely not going to be able to save.
5. Start investing your savings
Now that you’ve created your budget, paid off your high-interest debt and built an emergency fund for yourself, the fun really begins: You get to start investing your savings for the future.
Getting started with investing can be a little intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. If your employer offers a 401(k) with a match, that’s a great place to start — it’s free money.
Saving money — whether it’s for unexpected expenses, an upcoming big purchase or your retirement years — takes some planning and good decision making on your part. But, it’s probably the most important thing you can do to give yourself peace of mind and a bright future.
The most important thing is to be level-headed about it. Follow the steps above in order and at a pace that’s comfortable for you.