If saving money were an easy thing to do, perhaps Americans on the whole would be more financially secure. However, the fact of the matter is that 75% of U.S. adults live paycheck to paycheck, and the reason boils down to a glaring lack of savings. If you want to break that cycle, you'll need to train yourself to be more responsible with your money. Here are a few easy ways to get yourself to save.
1. Follow a budget
It's difficult to save money when you have no idea what you spend your paychecks on. If you're eager to start banking some cash, create a budget so you get a sense of where your money goes month after month. To do so, comb through your bank account statements and credit card bills, list your monthly expenses and what you typically spend on each, and see how your total monthly spending compares to your take-home pay. Then, start going through that list and figure out which expenses to slash.
You might choose to tackle one major expense, like downsizing to a smaller home or getting rid of a car with a costly monthly payment. Or, you might trim a series of smaller expenses (think downgrading your cable package and cutting back on store-bought lunches). Either way, having that budget will help you better understand where you have room to cut corners.
2. Automate your savings
It's hard to spend money that never actually hits your checking account. A good way to ensure that you're saving money month after month is to arrange for a portion of each paycheck to go directly into the bank or a retirement plan. If you're low on emergency savings, allocate some money each month to go into a standard savings account until you're caught up. If you have a decent chunk of near-term savings but need to focus on retirement, sign up for your employer's 401(k), or open an IRA that has an automatic funding option. The key is to send that money away before you have a chance to blow it.
3. Bank your raises
It's fairly common to get raises throughout your career, so if you get into the habit of saving them automatically rather than spending them (or making plans to spend them), you'll pad your bank account or retirement plan without much effort. After all, if you never start using that extra money, you won't come to miss it.
4. Avoid impulse buys
Have you ever walked into a store in search of a few basic items, only to come out with a high-tech gadget you never planned on purchasing? It's easy to fall victim to impulse buys when they're staring you right in the face, so much so that 84% of Americans do so on the regular. But if you force yourself to follow what we'll call the 24-hour rule, you'll avoid making needless purchases and improve your savings in the process.
The rule goes like this: The next time you're tempted to buy an item you weren't planning to purchase at that moment, force yourself to wait a full 24 hours before moving forward. If, after a day's time, you still really want that item, or are convinced that you need it, then by all means, move forward. If not, save your money for something more important (like retirement).
5. Eat at home
Food establishments are notorious for charging huge markups on the items they serve. So, you might find that replacing even one restaurant or takeout meal each week could put a huge amount of cash back in your pocket over the course of a year.
Imagine you currently spend $40, on average, each time you eat dinner prepared outside your home, and that you do so three times a week. If you cut out one of those meals and make the equivalent dinner at home, you'll save yourself a good $30 a pop. Over the course of a year, that's $1,560 in savings.
You don't need to be a financial wiz to be a good saver; you just need to make some smart decisions and remove the temptation to spend to the extent that you can. Follow these tips, and with any luck, your bank or retirement account will be far more robust before you know it.