The last few months have reminded many of us that are financial situation is not as healthy as we would like it to be. More than ever, it is important to have a safety net in the form of a savings account. If you are like 78% of Americans, you live paycheck to paycheck, and the uncertainty of the job market now may be making you increasingly anxious.
A savings account can help decrease stress from unexpected events like a job loss, reduction in work hours, illness, or car problems. With prior planning, these situations can be managed as smoothly as possible without turning into a nightmare financial situation of charging thousands of dollars on your credit.
How do you begin to save when you are used to spending your entire paycheck? It depends on your situation. If you have debt like student loans or credit card bills, your first instinct might be to try to pay off those bills as quickly as possible. Eliminating their balances is a great idea of course, but you want to first make sure you have a small nest egg to fall back on in case of an emergency.
Therefore, your first priority before trying to eliminate debt is to build up your emergency savings account. The financial advisor Dave Ramsey suggests people save $1,000 before beginning to pay large amounts towards their debts. Once you save up an initial grand, you can gradually begin to pay off higher amounts on your bills than necessary, reducing your debt balance quicker.
When you are used to spending all of your money, $1,000 can seem daunting. Consider deferring any bills. Many student loan companies allow you to defer loans for a few months with no consequences, and this deferment can help you build up some savings.
A good starter exercise is to try to spend no money at all for one week, with no exceptions. Fill your car with gas on a Saturday to get you through the work week, and bring your lunch to work every single day. Bring snacks to deter any cravings to purchase junk food, and bring coffee from home to make in the office rather than go out for a cup. Prepare every dinner from food you already have stocked in your kitchen (most people have more than enough food on hand without going to the store for a week).
On the following Saturday evening, estimate a total amount of money you saved. Transfer this money into your savings account. You don’t have to be so extreme all the time, but breaking the habit of impulse buying is a key component of controlling your finances. You can incorporate strategies you learned from your purchase-free week into your everyday life.
Tape a reminder note on your debit card for the times when you do make purchases. It seems silly, but you will trick your brain into remembering you’re trying to grow your savings every time you pull out your card to buy something. When you see the note, you will be reminded to decide if you truly need to spend that money.
Consider downloading a free app to help you track your budget and purchases. Apps like AndroMoney, Mint, and Spending Tracker are all popular tools to manage your finances. You can see in real-time how your purchases affect your budget.
With some planning and a commitment towards your financial future, your savings account will grow over time.