If saving money were easy, perhaps a larger number of us would have more robust bank accounts. But many Americans are behind savings-wise, and the reason often boils down to a lack of self-discipline.
Why's it so important to save money? To put it simply, without emergency savings, you risk racking up debt the moment an unplanned bill lands in your lap.
And make no mistake about it: No one is immune to emergencies. You might think your car is running just fine, only to have your transmission blow the moment your vehicle's warranty expires, leaving you on the hook for the bill. Or, you might expect to go home to a warm house mid-winter, only to discover that your heating system has stopped working completely. These are just a couple of examples, but the point is that life comes with numerous opportunities to cost us money, and without savings, we risk ruining our finances when we're inevitably forced to deal with them.
Of course, it's not just emergencies you should be saving for. There's retirement to think about as well, even if that milestone won't be upon you for many years. You might assume you'll just sit back and wait to collect Social Security like the lucky seniors who get to do so today, but in reality, those benefits won't be nearly enough to cover the many bills you'll face during your golden years. And the only way to buy yourself a reasonably comfortable lifestyle at that point is to save for it yourself.
So now that that's out of the way, let's talk about how you can do better at saving. You could tell yourself you'll cut back on many of the luxuries you enjoy, but let's face it -- that's a drag. And, it's a decision you're likely to take back once you realize how difficult it is, kind of like those people who say they'll cut out carbs, only to find themselves chin-deep in cookie dough once those midnight cravings set in.
A better bet, therefore, may be to con yourself into saving money, so to speak. Here are a few ways to trick yourself into doing the responsible thing.
1. Automate your savings
It's hard to spend money if you don't know it's there. That's why automating your savings is a great way to ensure that cash is flowing into your emergency fund or retirement plan, even if you don't realize it's happening. Many banks allow you to arrange for a portion of each paycheck to filter directly into a savings account, so that's one avenue you might pursue. If you're OK on near-term savings but need to start building a nest egg, sign up for your company's 401(k). Once you do, a portion of your earnings will get deducted from each paycheck so that it lands right in that plan. If you don't have access to a 401(k) through work, do the same thing with an IRA -- some plans will let you arrange for automatic transfers as well. Either way, the key is to send your money away before you have a chance to blow it.
2. Bank all raises
It's easy to look at a raise as extra money, but in reality, you should regard it as money you're not used to having and therefore don't need. The next time you get a raise, follow the above step and send it somewhere you can't touch it. That way, you won't miss it.
3. Hoard your change
You're more likely to get a takeout tab for $12.83 than you are $13 even. But if you make a point of letting that change accumulate, you might wind up with a nice pile of savings on your hands. These days, there are a number of apps that let you round up your purchases and put them into savings. Or, you can start your own change jar and watch it grow.
4. Implement the 24-hour rule with new purchases
Have you ever wandered into a store for milk and come out 10 minutes later with a $500 TV? Perhaps that's an extreme example, but the fact of the matter is that 84% of Americans regularly fall victim to impulse buys, and in doing so, sabotage their savings efforts. To avoid that fate, hold yourself to a rule wherein any time you feel the urge to buy something unplanned, you must wait a full 24 hours before completing that transaction. Much of the time, you'll probably end up forgetting about the thing you wanted or deciding it's not worth your money. The result? Instant savings.
When it comes to saving money, we tend to be our own worst enemies. Follow these tips, and with any luck, you'll do better on the savings front without bemoaning the luxuries you give up in the process.