It's still early in the year, but if you're like me, you've already failed at a New Year's resolution (or five). I think one of the reasons so many resolutions fail is that they require that you take an action (or not take action) every single day. Saying I won't buy myself coffee every morning is easy. However, if I have to drive or walk by the coffee shop on a daily basis, it's only a matter of time before my willpower gives out and I'm in line for some caffeinated bliss.
That's why I experience more success by using strategies that fall into the category of "set it and forget it." In other words, if I only have to do something once, then I don't have to worry about a daily inner battle that I'm all too likely to lose. A little bit of effort up front can save me quite a bit later. How do you do that? Here's a simple two-step process for effort-free savings.
Step 1: Determine how much you want to save and work backward
How much do you want to be putting aside every month, and why? Once you know that, then all you have to do is to figure out how to keep that money from hitting your checking account where it's likely to be spent.
Let's say I set a goal to save $200 per month. Rather than having my entire paycheck from my job go into my checking account, I can set up my direct deposit to be split between two accounts. Assuming I get paid twice a month, a hundred bucks from every paycheck can go directly into a high-interest savings account. The rest can be deposited into my checking account normally.
Since the money went straight to savings without my having to lift a finger (or get tempted by its presence), I'm forced to budget around the money I can see. Obviously, I can get to my online savings account if I need to access it. However, the pain in the rear of having to figure out how much I need, set up the transfer, and wait for the money to arrive means I'll give frugality my all first.
Step 2: Determine your budget categories and reduce fixed expenses
OK, so Step 1 ensures that you're meeting your emergency fund goals without even trying. However, if you're like most of us, this step will also highlight just how much money you've been spending -- maybe without even noticing!) Now's the time to figure out what bills can be reduced or eliminated to bring your spending in line with your new income.
Some expenses (rent, cell phone, Internet, cable, student loans) are fixed. If the bill is the same every month, that helps with planning. Other expenses (electric or other utilities, groceries, gas) may vary but usually fall within a fairly predictable range. It's often easiest to plan around the higher end of the range.
If I'm trying to reduce my spending without even trying, the easiest thing to do is to reduce or eliminate fixed expenses. This is because then I'll automatically benefit from the lower (or nonexistent) bill without having to keep a price book for the grocery store or ask myself things like "Can I afford this salad dressing?" Strategies for reducing fixed expenses include things like:
- Moving to a cheaper place (or getting a roommate to share expenses).
- Switching to a prepaid or discount cell provider.
- Getting a lower tier of Internet service.
- Cancelling cable.
- Talking to your loan servicer to see if there is another student loan repayment option that could save you money.
OK, so even this plan isn't entirely effort-free. You have to put in a tiny bit of effort up front by adjusting your direct deposit and giving your recurring fixed bills a once-over. However, once that's over with, you can enjoy effort-free savings month after month.
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This article originally appeared on MoneyBlueBook.