One of the most popular New Year's resolutions every year is to save more money. But how exactly do you make it happen? Saving more money is definitely easier said than done. Fortunately, five of our personal-finance experts have some suggestions that can help make your savings dreams become reality.
One great way to save more money is to make your savings plan automatic -- or, as the saying goes, "pay yourself first."
Maybe you're trying to build up an emergency fund in a savings account, or maybe you want to set aside more money to invest. Whatever your savings vehicle of choice, you can make your contributions automatic through virtually any bank or brokerage.
A good way to start is to figure out a realistic amount that you want to save out of each paycheck and then have that amount come out of your bank account as soon as your paycheck is deposited, before you pay all of your bills and other expenses.
And it doesn't need to be a whole lot of money to make a big difference in your savings. Let's say you set aside $50 from every paycheck (biweekly) and invest the money in an S&P index fund that has averaged annual total returns of about 9.4% over the past 20 years. Assuming those returns, your $50 contributions will grow to more than $77,000 in another 20 years if you keep it up. Imagine how much you could save if you contributed even more!
By allowing money to be automatically saved, you can reach your financial goals much faster, and after a few months, you won't even miss the money you're setting aside.
The best way to save more money in 2015 is to take full advantage of tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Start by contributing to your company's 401(k) if one is offered to you. If you don't have access to a 401(k), open an IRA with a discount broker. Self-employed? Open a self-employed 401(k).
There are several reasons why this will help you save more money in 2015, starting with the fact that contributions to 401(k)s and traditional IRAs reduce your current taxable income. Based on recent median household income data, every $1,000 contributed to an IRA will save a typical household about $150 in federal taxes this year.
If the average American were to max out their 401(k) contribution at the limit of $18,000 this year, then they'd owe about $2,700 less in taxes. Maxing out their IRA contribution at $5,500 would save them $825 in taxes this year. Furthermore, if your employer matches part of your 401(k) contributions, you'd be nuts not to take all of that free money.
Lastly, these tax-advantaged retirement accounts accelerate your savings, as your gains in these accounts are tax-free. Over the course of decades, these unbeatable savings vehicles can save you tens of thousands in taxes, so don't pass them up.
The best way to save more money in 2015 is to make more money.
Too much personal-finance advice focuses on lowering your expenses while ignoring the other side of the equation: your income. Most people can only reasonably save 10% to 20% of their income, but if you put your mind to it you can grow your income substantially every year. Then you can save more each year without having to adjust the percentage of your income that you save, which means you won't feel the impact of your increased savings. Further, your savings will compound even faster over time, allowing you to save far more money than you could by simply cutting expenses.
With the resources available online, it has never been easier to start a side business, find a second job, learn the skills you need to reach the next level of your career, or pursue a higher-paying career. Another way to earn more money in 2015 is to ask for a raise. With unemployment low and trending lower, negotiating power is slowly shifting to workers from employers. You can use sites such as Glassdoor to see what people with the same job are earning in your area and then use that knowledge to negotiate a raise or find a new job. Make sure you're paid what you're worth -- and save the difference between what you need and what's left over.
When it comes to saving more, you really have just two choices: Earn more or spend less. Most of us don't have the luxury of being able to demand more pay for the work we do, so the best solution involves taking a close look at the expense side of our finances to see if there are places where unnecessary waste can turn into higher savings.
The first step in identifying new ways to save is to take a hard look at your entire budget to reveal exactly where you spend all your money. Often, when you discover exactly how much you spend on certain items, it'll motivate you to take action to cut back on those costs. For instance, in buying a cellphone, many people focus only on what they pay up front for the phone, ignoring the fact that they also take on hundreds or even thousands of dollars in plan costs during the period of a contract. Switching to cheaper plans will often still meet your needs while cutting those costs dramatically. Similarly, big-ticket items like home or auto insurance premiums can be great avenues to open up savings, especially if you can afford to boost policy deductibles or cancel types of coverage that you no longer need. Overall, you won't always be able to squeeze as much extra savings as you might like from a budget assessment, but it's still a smart way to know where you stand and to strive constantly to keep your expenses low.
One effective way to save more money in 2015 is to quit one bad or expensive habit. Smoking is an oft-cited example, as it costs the average pack-a-day smoker thousands of dollars each year. Another bad habit to break is not paying your credit card bills off in full each month or ignoring growing credit card debt. You'll never have a growing positive balance in your life's financial ledger if you have a growing negative one because of high-interest-rate debt. Each $1,000 in debt that's subject to a 15% interest rate (about the average these days) costs you $150 per year. Many folks owe $10,000 or more, which can costs them thousands each year in interest alone.
Buying lunch most days is another costly habit to consider changing. If you spend, say, $10 on lunch three times a week, that amounts to $1,560 per year. Finally, think about your shopping habits. Many people these days shop as much for entertainment as for necessities. If you regularly hit the mall even when you don't really need anything, you're probably walking out having spent money you didn't need to spend. Do that twice a month, spending $100 each time, and you're looking at $2,400 in unnecessary spending. Change one or two bad financial habits, and you can save a surprising amount in 2015!