Does saving money sound complicated? The great news is it’s really not. The hardest part is just deciding to “do it.” You’re not alone if you’ve fallen out of the habit and seen your savings dwindle. During the pandemic, savings rates soared as households enjoyed the double boost of stimulus payments enlarging their accounts and fewer expenditures as activities stopped. While today’s savings rates are on the downswing, you can stop the slide.
Here are six guidelines to make saving one of your everyday money habits and put you on the right path for short- and long-term financial wellness.
1. Commit to saving
Starting early has definite advantages because your money has more time to grow…and grow and grow. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of “compound interest,” be prepared to be amazed. In basic terms, it means you are earning interest on top of interest.
Here’s a very simplified hypothetical example: Let’s say you save $1,000, and it earns 5% in the first year. That means you’d then have $1,050. The next year if you again earned 5% interest, you would have $1,102.50 because the interest earns interest. As you can see, you’ve earned more than $100 in those two years without putting in another dollar yourself. Picture that amount increasing year after year, and you’ll see how time is on your side when it comes to saving.
2. Put savings on autopilot
We mentioned that the most challenging part of saving is starting, so keep that momentum once you’ve started. It can be tempting to take a break when you have an unexpected expense or want to go on a shopping spree. That’s where direct online deposit can be your friend with willpower when yours is weak.
By setting automatic transfers from your checking account to your savings account, you’ll never even see that money, which means you’re unlikely to miss it. The goal is to “pay yourself first” rather than just saving what’s left over.
3. Save at least up to your 401(k) match if offered one
Does your employer offer a 401(k) plan? It’s a great vehicle for saving because of its tax advantages – you can make your contributions on a pre-tax basis, which means you’re paying less tax on your income.
Many companies offer another appealing element – an “employer match,” where they match the amount you contribute. Companies configure this benefit in different ways; it might be a straight match or could be a fixed percentage up to a certain amount…say a 50% match up to 10% of your salary.
If your employer offers this setup, contribute at least up to the amount that qualifies for a match, or you are walking away from free money.
4. Build up an emergency fund
One thing we can say about “unexpected” expenses…you can expect that you’ll encounter some, whether it’s paying for a car repair or an insurance deductible. Yet nearly 60% of Americans lack adequate savings to cover an emergency, and one-quarter say they would instead tap their credit card. Unfortunately, unless you pay that bill in full at the end of the month, it will accumulate interest.
Setting aside an emergency fund in an easy-access savings account means you can cover those “surprise” costs without stressing out over more credit card charges. Set aside just $10 a week, and you’ll have accumulated more than $500 in just a year.
5. Find ways to bulk up your savings
Slow and steady wins the race, yet you want to ensure you’re moving forward. One pain-free way to improve your saving rate is to raise it a percentage each year. If you’re taking advantage of your company’s 401(k), ask your plan administrator to automate that increase.
When you score a raise, the dollar amount will automatically go up, but here’s a better idea: If you were living fine before, apply part of that increase to your savings. You will enjoy it far more in retirement than you would by buying more shoes today.
To supercharge your accounts, make significant deposits whenever you receive a windfall, like a bonus or a tax return. Since that money wasn’t part of your budget anyway, you won’t even miss it.
6. Never stop saving
Here’s an alarming figure: two-thirds of Gen Z say they’re unsure they’ll ever have enough money to retire. Why not be the outlier? Once you’ve started saving, commit to sticking to a lifelong savings habit.
Try this fun way: Visualize saving for “Future You.” Research shows that connecting with your future self can help you better adhere to financial goals, so go ahead and start dreaming about what you want those golden years to look like. Do you want to be lounging on a beach, or do you want to be stuck at home because you can’t afford a vacation?
Retirement might be a long way away, but financial planning should start now. As you look to fulfill long- and short-term financial goals, commit to start saving today as a gift you give yourself. To learn about accounts that can help get you there, find out more about Valley savings products today.