Savings are at the core of any healthy ﬁnancial strategy, and developing sustainable saving habits is key to ensuring they become a normal, almost subconscious part of daily life. Having robust savings doesn’t just provide you with peace of mind. It also provides you with the ﬂexibility necessary to create ﬁnancial goals (both in the short term, like planning for an upcoming holiday, and in the long term, like retirement) and feel in charge of your ﬁnances, your choices, and your options.
One of the main reasons why people ﬁnd it hard to save is that saving tends to be approached like dieting: The mentality is one of deprivation. Just like it can feel like you’re depriving yourself of that cookie when you’re dieting, it can feel like you’re depriving yourself of something you want to purchase when you’re saving, like a dinner or a movie or another iced coﬀee at your favorite coﬀee shop. And just like diets, that’s when saving becomes unsustainable.
Feeling like you’re depriving yourself something only creates an all-or-nothing mentality that blows up in your face when you eventually slip and have a cookie or buy yourself a $20-takeaway dinner because you’ve had an awful day and can’t stand the idea of eating another sensible broccoli and brown rice bowl you’ve meal-prepped four days ago. And then the whole cycle of deprivation starts all over again, with a big dose of self-loathing thrown in for good measure.
So how do you combat this cycle? The ﬁrst approach is to change the story you’re telling yourself about your attempts to save. Instead of saving is an act of deprivation, an act of saying “no,” think of it as an act of saying “yes”—to something bigger and better down the road. This is why ﬁnancial advisors will often speak of “paying yourself” when they talk about saving.
By saving, you’re saying “yes” to more options for yourself—like a down payment for a house, a comfortable retirement, your future children’s college funds, or a wedding. Instead of feeling like you’re limiting your options, think about how you’re actually doing the opposite: You’re giving future you more options.
With that general attitude in mind, here are some more tips to help you develop a savings plan that will actually work for you, no guilt necessary.
Take stock of your current ﬁnancial status
This will probably be the scariest step, but it’s also the most important one. Before you can implement a regular savings plan, you’ll need to know where you stand, ﬁnancially. That means looking through your bank statements and credit card statements as well as your savings (if any) and your debt to determine how much money you have coming in every month, and how much you have coming out.
How much debt are you in? What kind of debt is it? Do you have any mysterious monthly subscriptions tied to your credit or debit card that you should probably cancel?
Start paying oﬀ high-interest debt
Not all debt is created equal: Some debt, like mortgages or even student loan payments, are forms of debt that ideally lead to wealth or a positive outcome down the line, like a higher degree or homeownership. Other debt, like credit card debt or car loans, tend to come with very high-interest rates that can very quickly snowball out of control.
If you have a lot of high-interest debt (or even just a little), it’s a good idea to maybe start working on paying that oﬀ. That means that a part of the money you’re saving should go toward paying oﬀ this debt. Got a bonus at work or some extra Christmas money from your grandmother this year? It’s tempting to “treat yourself,” but in the end, you’ll be treating yourself much more if you take care of that debt.
Consider the 50/30/20 rule when trying to build a budget
One of the most popular methods for structuring a budget is the 50/30/20 rule. Basically, 50% of your income every month should be spent on non-negotiable necessities like rent, utilities, mortgages, and so forth. 30% of your income goes to your variable expenses such as dinners out, drinks with friends, holidays, etc—basically all of your “fun” costs.
The remaining 20% should be for ensuring your ﬁnancial health: that means paying oﬀ high-interest debt, adding to your savings, and investing for the future.
Of course, this “rule” isn’t really a rule at all—it’s more of a guideline. It all depends on what your non-negotiable expenses are, how much you can aﬀord to put away every month, and how much you’re able to invest. But no matter the amount, there’s no better time to start than right now.
Make use of recurring automated withdrawals
One of the easiest ways to ensure that saving becomes a natural part of your life is to take the “set-it-and-forget-it” approach. Trying to put away $1,000 in one go seems pretty intimidating. But if you choose a certain amount you won’t miss every month—it can be anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on your income—and set up a monthly automated withdrawal from your checking account into a savings account—preferably at a completely separate bank— then you’ll probably soon realize you don’t miss that money, because in a certain way you’ve never had it, to begin with. It now belongs to future you.
Save smarter by investing a portion of your money
Saving accounts are an important part of any savings plan, especially if you can open an account at an online-only bank that usually has higher-than-usual interest rates. But for sustainable, long-term savings, you shouldn’t just be relying on your savings account.
Investing part of your income, even if it’s just a small percentage, will help you take advantage of compounding and help your money grow beyond the rate of inﬂation in the long term.
While investing may sound intimidating (and expensive), it’s easier than ever nowadays with the help of Robo-advisors. Robo-advisors are online investment accounts that are managed by an algorithm and usually invest your money in low- cost ETFs (exchange-traded funds), which are basically bundles of diﬀerent stocks, bonds, and other assets. Because there is no human managing these portfolios, the annual fees for these kinds of Robo-advisors tend to be quite low.
And similar to a savings account, you can just set up automated withdrawals from your checking account to ensure that your money is always growing—as painlessly as possible. Creating a saving plan doesn’t necessarily require huge, scary lifestyle changes and years of deprivation.
Starting small, budgeting your monthly expenses, and automatically setting aside money for “future you” will help you as you start your journey toward a healthier ﬁnancial future.