Earn that big weekend getaway even while paying off monthly bills, student loans, and other financial obligations. By adjusting the way you save—and think about saving—small changes can quickly accrue.
Here are five strategies that can help you optimize your bank account, save on a schedule, and get closer to hitting your goal.
1. Save incrementally toward a goal you can visualize
Say you want to buy a new smartphone and it costs $1,200. Steve Repak, a certified financial planner, financial literacy speaker, and author of Dollars & Uncommon Sense: Basic Training for Your Money, suggests, “Instead of saying, ‘I’m going to charge it,’ it’s a lot more manageable to break that price down and set $100 aside every month. We [often] look at the end result without saying, ‘Let’s take this a little bit at a time,’” he says.
Keith Klein, a certified financial planner and owner of Turning Pointe Wealth Management in Phoenix, advocates thinking strategically about savings. “Nowadays you can go online and create a bank account with a custom name,” he says. Labeling a targeted savings account with a specific goal is like putting a picture of a new bike or car—or whatever your goal is—on a piggy bank. Every time you see it, you’ll know what the money is for, and it’ll be that much harder to justify taking any out.
2. Pay yourself first
Whether saving for retirement, a laptop, or a car, there’s one simple concept that can streamline and speed things along: Pay yourself first. This means when you get your paycheck, you automatically move a certain percentage to a savings account and then use the rest for necessities and wants. Revisit the percentage every six months to make sure it’s the right amount.
3. Save for emergencies
Yeah, we know. Not the most exciting goal. But according to a 2020 Truist National Financial Confidence Poll, 58% of Americans have less than $1,000 saved for emergencies.1
Saving can be difficult, especially when income is tight, but the popular 50/30/20 budget rule can be a good guideline: Spend 50% on needs, 30% on wants, and save 20%.
It can be beneficial to save three months of living expenses in an emergency-only account. If that’s not possible given your current situation, saving at least $1,000 is a great way to get started.
Living without an emergency fund has a hidden cost, too: the toll it can take on your mental well-being. Putting a plan in place and saving on a schedule—even a little each month—can bring peace of mind.
4. Make small sacrifices
Often, people try to follow an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to savings goals. “Extremes never work,” Repak says. “With any type of big goal, a lot of times we’re defeated.”
Rather than telling yourself you can never order takeout again, Repak recommends reasonable cuts to small items in your budget. For example, say, “‘I’m going to start packing my lunch,’” he says. “It’s about giving up little things.” This could be reducing from two streaming services to one, or biking instead of filling your tank.
Klein says his clients find success by cutting corners in surprising ways, whether it’s using apps to help them collect coupons or cutting down on unneeded recurring expenses. Renegotiating (or eliminating) charges for premium cable and high-speed internet is another way to trim monthly costs, Klein says.
Little changes in behavior can be rewarding
5. Know that change is possible
Repak sees a lot of his clients who are encouraged by the first steps they take toward saving. “After [my clients have] accomplished their first big goal, they see that the little changes in their behavior can be rewarding. Instead of looking for immediate gratification, they get the delayed gratification,” he says.
Always be on the lookout for new saving strategies, Klein says, and you’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish. “The first reaction I hear when I try to get my clients to save more of their income—say 20%, instead of 10 or 15%—[is that] most will tell me they can’t,” Klein says. “But after six to nine months that starts to change. And then at our annual review, they tell me they’re excited to save even more.”
Ever heard the adage, “Slow and steady wins the race”? Saving on a schedule doesn’t mean you have to make huge life changes. By making small adjustments to your financial life, you’ll likely be able to achieve your goals faster and live a better life—one day at a time.