Set a Savings Goal
First things first. You need a goal.
It’s easy to set a goal to simply “save money,” but what does that mean? How will you know if you succeeded? That’s where a SMART goal comes into play.
It takes more work to develop but helps set you up for success.
First, to establish the right goal for you, you’ll want to review your finances, including income, your essential expenses (rent or mortgage payment, utilities, car payment, groceries, gas), and your non-essential expenses (movies, meals at restaurants, shopping).
How much money is typically left at the end of each month?
Determine if there are places where you can cut back on some of your spending (more ideas on that coming soon!) and develop a budget. Leave room in your budget to allow yourself an “allowance” for things like entertainment and eating out, leaving room for putting money into savings.
Once you determine how much you can put into savings, you can better create your SMART goal.
SMART goals are…
- Specific. In other words, “save more” doesn’t cut it. Choose a specific number.
- Measurable. If you can’t measure your goal, it’ll be hard to tell if you’ve accomplished it or not.
- Attainable. Make sure the goal you set is actually doable. If you set a goal too high to actually reach, you’ll lose motivation quickly.
- Relevant. Your goal should be meaningful to you and your life. If it’s not, again, you’ll lose motivation.
- Time-Based. Your goal should have a date by which it should be accomplished.
Below is an example of what a SMART goal might be.
"I want to have $1,000 in my savings account by the end of the year."
It’s specific and gives an actual dollar amount. It’s measurable. It’s attainable, assuming the person went through the work of developing a budget. It’s relevant, as a savings goal is relevant for most individuals who want to have money set aside for unexpected expenses or for known large purchases. And it’s time-based, with a deadline of the end of the year.
Keep in mind, the dollar amount and timeframe you choose will vary based on the budget you created for yourself.
Make sure to write your goal down and check on your progress throughout the year.
Ways to Start Saving
Okay, so your goal is set. Now what? How do you turn your goals into actions?
Set Up Automatic Payments to your Savings Account
One of the best ways to save is one you don’t even have to think about.
Did you know you can set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account?
If you don’t already have a savings account… open one. By keeping your savings separate from your checking account, you’re less likely to mindlessly spend money you intend to save.
Then, sign into your mobile or online banking. Find the option for transfers, and set the dollar amount you want to transfer, which accounts to transfer to and from, and the frequency.
For example, you might set up a transfer from your checking account to your savings account for $50 to happen every month. You can usually even choose which day of the month the transfer will happen.
If you transfer just $50 a month from checking to savings, by the end of the year, that’s $600 in your savings account – without even thinking about it!
Pay Down High Interest Debt
We know, we know, this blog is about saving money.
Consider taking the money you want to pay toward savings and splitting it between paying down the debt and putting the rest in savings.
However, while the amount you pay in interest each month outweighs the interest you earn on a savings account, you’ll still want to focus on putting at least some money into savings.
Part of the purpose of having savings is for unexpected expenses. If you have some money in savings, you can cover more of these unexpected expenses with your savings and therefore will rely less on using credit cards, which ultimately saves you money and helps you pay down that debt faster than if you put additional emergency purchases on it.
Save Unexpected Cash
Did Grandma give you a birthday check? Did your friend finally pay you back for buying them dinner a few months back?
Put it in savings. If it’s money you weren’t counting on for anything else, it’s money you won’t miss. Put it in savings instead of spending it.
Save What You Don't Spend
Did you skip your usual mocha latte while you were running errands and make coffee at home instead? Make a meal at home instead of going out to eat?
You can still treat yourself for not treating yourself by taking the money you would have spent on those excursions and putting it into your savings account.
Make a Grocery List
Before heading to the grocery store, make a list of exactly what you need. And eat a meal or snack before you go so you aren’t shopping hungry.
Shopping without a list and shopping hungry are both surefire ways to end up taking home more than you need with impulse buys.
And while you’re at it – consider buying generic instead of name brands and taking advantage of your grocery store’s rewards programs to save money. Often when you see a sale price, it’s only available to their rewards members.
Are you paying for a subscription (for example, a streaming service) you don’t use?
Go through your checking account transactions and look for recurring payments. Do you still need that service? Ditch them if you can and add the cost of that subscription to the automatic transfer to your savings each month.
Watch for Discounts
Even when we’re saving money, there are ways to still have fun! For activities you would do anyway, look for discounts.
For example, some museums have days with free or discounted admission and movie theaters often offer discounted movie nights during the week. Look for other similar offers at your favorite spots.
And again – take the difference between the usual cost of those trips and put that money into savings!
We know how it goes. You provide your email address to get a discount on your first purchase with a store, and now you get daily emails filled with temptations.
If you’re naturally an impulse buyer, unsubscribe from emails from retailers that currently send you regular emails.
Lower rates can mean lower payments. If you haven’t refinanced your home or auto loan, you may be leaving savings on the table.
If you do refinance, one option is to take the money you save on monthly payments and put it toward savings. You can also consider continuing to pay the same amount you were paying before the refinance, which will allow you to pay down that loan faster.
As with many New Year’s Resolutions, the goal is to set new, healthy goals in the new year. Start your savings resolution out strong by setting a SMART goal and follow through by taking small steps to set more money aside for savings.