If saving money were an easy thing to do, many Americans would have much more in the bank than they have today. The sad reality, however, is that 40% of U.S. adults don't have the cash on hand to cover a $400 emergency.
Without near-term savings, however, you risk racking up debt the moment an unplanned bill falls into your lap. And without long-term savings, you might struggle financially during retirement. So it's crucial that you ramp up your savings game sooner rather than later. Here are five tricks that'll help you accomplish that goal.
1. Follow a budget
It's hard to save money when you have no idea how much you spend on different things. That's why you need a budget. Setting one up will help you determine how much you spend on everything from housing to transportation to food to entertainment. And from there, you'll be able to see where there's room to reduce what you spend.
2. Choose one expense to cut back on
It stands to reason that if you were to cut back on every single item you're currently paying for, you'd have a lot more money to stick in the bank. But depriving yourself of all of life's luxuries is no way to live, so rather than do that, choose one expense to reduce or eliminate, and save the money that results. That one expense could be the cable plan you like having but don't always watch, the takeout meals you enjoy but can prepare at home for a fraction of the price, or the gym membership you admittedly only use a handful of times each month. It doesn't matter what expense you target, as long as it frees up a small chunk of cash to put away.
3. Automate your savings
It's difficult to spend money you don't know you have. If you want to do a better job of saving, arrange for a portion of each paycheck you receive to land automatically in either a bank account or a retirement plan, depending on which area you're lacking in. If you allocate, say, $50 a month for savings, that's $50 that won't land in your checking account. It's a start.
4. Pay for things with cash
Credit cards are great for racking up reward points and getting some degree of purchase protection for the items you buy. The down side, however, is that they make it easy to overspend, since you're not handing over physical wads of cash, and they give you the option to not pay them in full when you're unable to do so. A better bet, therefore, is to pay for the items you buy in cash. That way, you'll be more likely to keep your spending in check. And the less you spend, the more you're apt to save.
5. Avoid impulse purchases
Most Americans fall victim to impulse buys, whether they happen in stores or online. Avoiding them, however, will leave you with more money left over to save, so try implementing a 24-hour rule for unplanned purchases. The rule goes like this: The next time you're tempted to buy something out of the ordinary (not groceries or toiletries but rather a new gadget or article of clothing you don't actually need), force yourself to wait 24 hours before going through with that transaction. Chances are, much of the time, you'll come to your senses and realize you can do without whatever that item is. Once that happens, you can put the money you would've spent on it into the bank.
The more savings you have, the more protection you buy yourself -- both now and in the future. Adopt these money-saving tricks, and with any luck, your bank or retirement account will start looking much healthier in no time.