If you're unhappy with your savings, you're no doubt in good company. But bemoaning your financial struggles will only get you so far if your goal is to actually shape up and save more. A better bet is to figure out why you tend to have such a difficult time saving money and address those issues specifically. Here are a few reasons why your efforts may be going nowhere -- and what to do about them.
1. You don't follow a budget
Without a budget, you'll have no way to really know where your money goes month after month. And if you're clueless about what your expenses look like, you'll have a hard time reducing them.
That's why you need a budget, and setting one up is easy. Figure out what your ongoing expenses look like, estimate their costs by reviewing bank and credit card statements from the previous year, and then total your monthly spending to see what you're looking at. If that number is effectively the equivalent of what you bring home with your salary, then you'll need to cut back. But once you have your different expenses mapped out, you'll have an easier time knowing what costs to slash.
For example, say you're aiming to save $200 a month. If you see that you're currently spending $200 a month on takeout meals, you can cut out that category without resorting to a more drastic change like downsizing your home. And if you don't want to eliminate takeout meals completely, you can scale back on them to free up $100 a month and get your remaining $100 from other expenses that are easily tweaked.
2. You give in to impulse buys
It's not unusual to walk into a store for milk and eggs, only to come out $100 poorer 20 minutes later. Impulse purchases are difficult to avoid when you shop -- so much so that 42% of Americans fall victim to them regularly, according to a study by The Ascent.
If you make impulse purchases on a regular basis, they're apt to deter your savings efforts, so from now on, take those unplanned buys out of the equation. Make shopping lists before hitting the stores, leave your credit cards at home, and bring only enough cash to cover the items you know you need. Doing so could free up more cash for savings than you'd imagine.
3. You don't benefit from tax-advantaged savings accounts
In some cases, the IRS will actually reward you for saving money by giving you a tax break on that cash -- that is, if you know where to put it. Your chief financial goal should be to build an emergency fund. This fund should be tucked away in a traditional savings account and should amount to enough money to cover at least three months of living costs.
Once you have your emergency fund, though, your next focus should be saving for retirement. And if you contribute money to a traditional IRA or 401(k), you'll have an easier time saving because you'll get a tax break on the cash you sock away.
Imagine you contribute $5,000 this year to a traditional IRA or 401(k). If you fall into the 24% tax bracket, that results in $1,200 of savings because you're not paying taxes on that much income. As such, it pays to participate in a tax-advantaged retirement savings plan, and if you don't have access to a 401(k) through work, look at opening an IRA independently through a bank or financial institution.
Saving money will be much easier if you stick to a budget, avoid impulse buys, and take advantage of the tax breaks you're entitled to. Change your ways on the savings front and you're likely to be more successful in your efforts to build wealth.