by Brittany Lyte, Wise Bread
The spending and saving habits of your past don't define your future — your current ones do. And this America Saves Week is a great time to start with a clean slate. Hitting the reset button won't cure all your financial woes, but when it comes to adopting good saving habits it's truly half the battle. The other half, of course, is drafting a well-planned road map for success. Luckily, we've got a primer to get you started. Read on for our guide to adopting seven money-saving habits that stick.
1. Set a Goal
How much money would you like to save? And for what?
When you pinpoint a clear savings goal — be it a new car, a down payment on mortgage, or a backyard swimming pool — it becomes a whole lot easier to conjure up the self-restraint required to achieve it. It needn't be a big ticket item, either. Simply having a goal to visualize, like a college savings account for your children or a fund for spontaneous weekend escapes, will help keep you focused, motivated, and disciplined.
2. Map Out a Timeline
Once you've figured out what you're saving for and how much money you'll need, it's time to figure out how long it will take to reach your goal. If you want to save $4,000 for a trip to France, for example, figure out how much money you're willing and reasonably able to part with each paycheck and then calculate how many paychecks it will take you to get there. This savings plan is the roadmap that will help steer you to the day when you've finally saved enough money to book those airline tickets.
3. Set Benchmarks
The act of consciously putting away a set amount of money on a set schedule will help build the muscle memory you need to turn saving money into a habit. And since this is the key to adopting a new behavior that will serve you long after you've reached this particular savings goal, it's important to stay on track. Break down your timeline into weekly, monthly, and quarterly savings targets and be sure to verify that you're meeting them every time.
When you take a large goal and compartmentalize it into a series of smaller ones, it becomes a whole lot easier to accomplish.
4. Start Small
If you're struggling to make ends meet and the idea of feeding your family, filling up the gas tank, and paying the bills while also contributing to your savings account seems impossibly daunting, remember that no amount you invest in your savings is insignificant. Even $1 a day makes a difference. The key is identifying the largest amount of money you can commit to stowing away on a regular basis without thwarting your ability to make good on all your other financial obligations. Don't shortchange yourself, but beware of setting a goal that's overzealous. The process of meeting your goal should be a challenge, but it shouldn't be impossible.
5. Reward Yourself
Reward yourself when you reach major savings milestones to help keep up the momentum. For example, after a month of successfully meeting your weekly savings benchmark, treat yourself to a meal at your favorite restaurant or grant yourself the license to splurge (a little!) on your next shopping trip. Remember, your reward needn't require you to spend any money, and it certainly shouldn't bump you off track. A relaxing home pedicure, a guilt-free movie marathon, or a sunset stroll through the park does the trick just as well as anything you can buy.
6. Don't Let Yourself Slip
Likewise, it's important to implement consequences in the event that you fall short on one of your savings benchmarks. If you come up 20% shy of your quarterly benchmark, hold yourself accountable. Spend a night in that you otherwise would have spent out on the town. Calculate how much money you saved by forgoing an evening of food and entertainment and funnel that amount straight into your savings account. Then break out your savings timetable and devise a new plan to help get yourself back on track.
7. Snuff Out Your Bad Habits
If you're still struggling to stick to your plan, see if you can identify any wasteful spending habits so you can nix them. Keeping track of every outgoing dollar over a two-week period can reveal unhealthy spending habits you never knew you had. Online budget planners offer easy tools to score and analyze your every dollar, but old-fashioned pen and paper works just fine.
What will you do during America Saves Week to kick off your new savings habit?
Brittany Lyte is a columnist for Wise Bread (+WiseBread) — top personal finance blog and winner of PC Magazine’s Top 100 Website Award.