Saving money isn't always easy, but it’s essential to achieving financial well-being and a secure future. One of the best and easiest ways to save money is to pay yourself first (PYF).
Here's how it works - every time you receive a paycheck, save a percentage of your income before spending money on anything else.
This approach may seem counterintuitive, especially if you feel like you're just getting by now. The trick is to find ways - primarily though budgeting - to live on less income. Then you'll be able to devote a certain percentage of your income to saving.
Like many financial tasks, it's a good idea to set up a system that happens automatically after you've set it up. So in this case, you could have your financial institution automatically deduct a certain amount of money from your checking account each month and put it into a savings account, certificate, or money market account. This way, the money is never in your wallet, so you won’t be tempted to spend it. And since it happens automatically, you never need to remember to transfer it.
Once you’ve established a savings plan, then you can create an investment plan with a portion of your savings. Whether you choose to invest for retirement or a child's college education, the pay yourself first approach makes saving a top priority. In the same way that your bank or credit union can automatically transfer money from checking to savings, you can also set up automatic withdrawals that are applied to your long-term investment account.
Getting Started with Paying Yourself First
If you choose to give this strategy a try, the hardest part may be to find ways you can save - making it possible to pay all of your bills on a "reduced" income. Here are a few ideas for getting started:
- Reduce or eliminate debt. Use the snowball or roll-up strategies to eliminate high interest credit card debt. Once all cards are paid off, allocate the money you've been spending on credit card payments to savings.
- Build an emergency fund. According to one survey, the average American couldn't come up with $500 for an unexpected car repair or $1,000 for a medical bill without resorting to borrowing. An emergency savings fund should include enough money to cover at least three months of essential expenses. That way, when the expected does happen, you can deal with it without turning to debt.
- Take advantage of all "automatic" banking and savings tools, including automatic deposits either through your employer or your bank, automatic bill payment, and automatic transfers to savings. For many individuals, eliminating money-related tasks through automation will make it easier to stick to a plan.
- If applicable, take advantage of your company’s match on retirement savings account. An employer’s match to a retirement account is absolutely free money. Some employers, up to a certain level, will match each employee dollar contributed, doubling your contribution immediately.
- If your employer does not offer a match retirement contributions or you are self-employed, look into opening an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or similar account for business owners instead. Consult an investment advisor if you have questions about these options.
- Commit all or a portion of raises, bonuses, and refunds to savings.
- Find out if you qualify for tax credits. Low and moderate-income workers with children may qualify for an Earned Income Tax Credit that can put thousands of dollars per year in your pocket. IRS Publication 596 explains how to apply or you can contact your local tax payer assistance center for in-person help. Then be sure to save some or all of the refund.
- Simplify your life. Sell unneeded possessions, cash in loose change, and find ways to save on recurring charges (like subscriptions, cable television, and mobile phones). See our Money Saving Ideas topic for dozens of ideas.