Do you wish there was a magical way to save money?
We do too. Everyone has different methods to save a few bucks here and there - start saving money today with the simple suggestions below.
1. Create a budget
Creating a budget is a great way to track your spending. It won't be long before you realize just how quickly that daily cup of joe adds up! Pull out the ol' trusty pen and paper, or use a spreadsheet to identify and track your monthly expenditures. Start by categorizing your expenses, for example: bills, groceries, savings, and entertainment. Set spending limits for each category and stick to them.
2. Establish SMART financial goals
Ever heard of a SMART goal? They've become quite popular in the 21st century. If you have a middle or high schooler, they may be able to help you out (or you could be faced with the tune of a dramatic sigh)! Although this may not be the type of family bonding that you'd envisioned, teaching your kids to be financially savvy is great both for you and them.
The first step is to set a Specific goal. What does this mean? A specific goal explicitly states what you are trying to achieve from saving money, such as saving $3,000 for your vacation to Florida.
Then, make sure it is Measurable. How will you know you are on track to accomplish your goals? You could track ("measure") your progress by checking your savings account balance monthly.
Next, make sure that your goal is Attainable. Does your goal sound reasonable? Try to set goals that you can actually accomplish.
Your goal must also be Relevant. Does this goal really matter to you? Goals that directly improve your life will be easier to stick with in the long run.
Lastly, is your financial goal Timely? In other words, giving your goal a "deadline" can help you stay on track to see it through.
Here's an example of a SMART financial goal:
Being as specific as possible with your financial goal can help you reach it. Here's another piece of advice - let a family member or close friend know your plan. They could keep you on track by holding you accountable to your goals.
3. Save for your future
Often times we wait until our bills are paid before thinking about saving our hard earned money. The problem with this is that often there is little to no money left over. When it comes to saving money for retirement you'll want to start as early as possible - time is your best friend! If you have a retirement account set up at your job, match your contribution to your employer's which will allow you to maximize your 401(k) contribution. Plus, your employer's contribution is free money - who doesn't love that?
If you live by the saying "Out of sight, out of mind", you can also take the hassle out of saving! If you have direct deposit, you can automate a percentage or set amount of every pay check to be transferred to your savings account. Talk to your HR department to get started ASAP! Building a retirement fund, or even an emergency fund requires dedication and you should contribute to it regularly.
4. Avoid relying on credit cards
For some, credit cards can be lifesavers from time to time. Others use a credit card to start building their credit. Yet, their high interest rates are something that no one gets excited about. If you find yourself using a credit card to help build your credit, try limiting your credit card usage to pay for things like gas or groceries. However, make sure that when using your credit card (for example, when paying for gas), you are sticking to the amount you budgeted for. A good practice is to pay your entire balance off immediately after each use, or on the due date to avoid interest fees.
5. Become a cash advocate
We've all been there - treating ourselves to a little shopping spree at the mall, or online shopping. With a few swipes of a card you may have racked up more than $100 in no time. Wow!
Although carrying cash may be a little "old-school" or a thing of the past, it may help you identify where your money is going. If budgeting is something that you'd like to get serious about, then this payment method could help you prioritize your expenses. After all, you can't spend more than the cash that's in your pocket, so spend wisely!
6. Stick to your shopping list
Grocery shopping is one of the categories that tends to have a frequent impact on the wallet. Avoid impromptu shopping sprees - before heading out the door, make a list of the grocery items you need, and stick to it. It may seem like an unachievable task and the first few times, you may find that this advice is easier said than done, but it will get easier with time! Clever product placement and impulse shopping often leaves us wondering what our trip to the store was for, and even worse, where our money has gone - yikes!
7. Generic brands for the win
More often than not, generic food brands offer very similar quality products as their name brand competitors. For instance, frosted flakes cereal is still sugar-covered corn flakes regardless of the brand you buy! Next time you buy your favorite name brand cereal, consider buying the generic version. "I can't just stop buying my kids favorite cereal!" This is where you could benefit from some creativity. If you're taking your little ones grocery shopping with you, you could explain that it's the same product, but with a different picture on the box. If they are not buying your explanation, you could keep the cereal box in the cart and then switch it out last minute. If switching cereals will not sit well with your family, find other areas of your budget where a less expensive generic brand can be purchased.
8. Make coupons your friend
Coupons! We're not talking about extreme couponing, but if that's what you're into, no problem! There's no shame in using coupons. Coupons can help you stretch your dollars and snag great deals. While stocking up on toothpaste or canned food may not seem so exciting, you could end up saving big money in the long-run. Once again, everything comes down to your budget. After making your grocery list, look for coupons online or in the Sunday coupon inserts for items that are on your list. Be careful - sometimes we can get caught up in the excitement of getting great discounts that we start paying less attention to the items that we are actually buying. Yes, you read that right - couponing can be exciting.
Did the first week or even month of budgeting not go well?
It's ok to cut yourself some slack. Forming a new habit doesn't happen overnight - as a matter of fact it takes much longer. Embrace the walk to greatness and focus on your financial freedom.