Yet, even money-savvy people can find it difficult to set up a reasonable budget that’s centered around saving money and maximizing their income—one that they can stick with long-term and feel comfortable with. Plus, there are actually a lot of ways you might be losing money, without realizing it, such as forgetting subscriptions, dining at restaurants and ordering in takeout too frequently and excessively shopping, especially when beyond your means.
When you take an in-depth look at your finances, you’re able to figure out if your spending is too high, as well as the areas in which you must cut back to be more financially responsible. In addition to staying on top of your financial state, these are a few money-saving tips that are small but make a big difference to your bank account.
1. Pay All of Your Bills on Time
Be consistent with credit card payments and bank fees, and make sure to pay on time, as late fees hurt your credit score and result in penalties—and those late fees add up rather fast. “Outstanding payments can take a big hit to your credit score and can also lead to late fees with compounding interest charges,” says Ashley Tran, Assistant Branch Leader at Fidelity Investments.
What’s more, you should also do some digging and check your bank fees, which can vary, and you might be getting charged for services you’re not aware of. “Conventional banks may have hidden or surprise charges like withdrawing money from an ATM outside of the bank’s network, late fees or overdraft fees, so look for firms with transparent pricing, which don’t have these types of fees,” says Tran.
Open all mail immediately, deposit cash and checks ASAP, and pay bills when you receive them. Or set a reminder to pay on a certain date, regularly, as you’ll be more likely to stick with your budget, save on interest and avoid late fees, as well as improve your credit score.
2. Evaluate Automated Services and Subscriptions Each Month
It’s easy to forget about those monthly subscriptions and memberships we all sign up for, whether it’s for a streaming service, like Netflix or Hulu, or a meal kit delivery service, for example. “We recommend checking your credit or debit card statements to see where you can make necessary cuts to these non-essential expenses, as a $10 a month fee cut here and another $8 cut over there can really add up,” says Tran.
Evaluate subscriptions and other services monthly and cancel those no longer adding value. Consider whether you really need Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Max, or might be able to live pleasantly with just one streaming service, instead. Eliminating or pausing when under monetary stress or if you find you don’t get the same enjoyment or use anymore, lets you turn those expenses into savings.
3. Create a Budgeting Timeline
Create a budgeting outline and timeline that’s tailored to your bank account, financial state and current lifestyle, as well as your goals.
“At Fidelity, we use a 50/15/5 budgeting guideline to help prioritize spending and savings, where 50 percent of your after-tax income goes towards essential expenses (rent, utilities, groceries, etc.), at least 15 percent of pretax income goes towards retirement and 5 percent goes towards an emergency savings fund,” says Tran. The other 30 percent can go towards leisure costs, such as travel and dining out. You can use this budget calculator to see how savings and spending stack up and go from there.
Or you may use the 50/30/20 rule. “Spend 50 percent of your income on essentials, like housing, groceries, and insurance, with then 30 percent for less essential items like travel, subscription services, etc, and the remaining 20 percent for financial goals, like an emergency fund, debt payments, and saving for retirement,” says Rob Belsky, VP of Finance at Gig Wage.
To find the sweet spot, make a list of all your financial goals, both short-term and long-term. “Categorize them into ‘nice-to-haves’ and ‘must-have’ goals and prioritize your finances accordingly,” says Snigdha Kumar, Personal Finance Expert and Head of Product Operations at Digit.
Take stock of where you are and where you need to get to, tracking how much you spend, where you spend and how much money you’re making to see if you’re being financially responsible.
Budgeting based on dollars, without your goals in mind, is a mistake. “Maybe the goals include going on a vacation, buying a new TV, funding a child’s college education, or saving for retirement and more—either way you want to write them down, and build a budget around those goals,” says Sean Fox, consumer finance expert and president of Freedom Debt Relief in San Mateo, California.
4. Automate Payments But Check Their Status
Automating finances makes avoiding late fees much easier, as scheduled payments and withdrawals do the work for you. “Set up auto-pay for bills and credit card payments and schedule recurring investments to your 401(k) or IRA/brokerage accounts,” says Kumar. You also may want to use an app to help you track goals all in one place, too.
At the same time, while autopaying expenses are helpful, you should still check for glitches and routinely evaluate how often you’re using your subscriptions and other services that are on auto-pay—there might be several you’ve forgotten about and don’t use enough to make the regular payment worthwhile.
“If you aren't checking up on those bills and just trusting that the correct amount is being paid every time, you're making a mistake and you shouldn't leave this up to systems, as they could experience hiccups,” says Consumer Analyst Julie Ramhold with DealNews.com, a shopping comparison site.
“For instance, you may find that one month you’re charged twice, or perhaps a month passes where nothing was withdrawn by mistake, which means you'll then get saddled with late fees,” Ramhold adds. Those extra expenses could be avoided if you just pay closer attention to your bills and scheduled auto payment to ensure that the correct amount is withdrawn each time.
5. Manage and Routinely Evaluate Your Expenses
Look at your monthly expenses and figure out which are necessary and which you can live without, whether permanently or for a brief hiatus, until you’re financially ready to. Start cutting out those little daily pleasures, like your daily overpriced latte (or two), until finances improve.
“It can be hard, but cutting out that one extra cocktail when out or an extra manicure each month can help you feel better about that amazing, but expensive haircut you get every three months—or better yet, it can free up money, which you can then add to your savings account,” says Ramhold.
6. Use a Credit Card Limit to Avoid Overspending
Many financial problems occur due to overspending, so creating a limit on your credit card can help reign in your spending and prevent going overboard. It’s especially easy to overindulge and spend frivolously with a credit card—or with multiple cards, which is common. Credit cards with high limits make it far too easy to purchase items you can't actually afford.
It doesn't take long for credit card debt to build and reach unmanageable levels. Ultimately though, even if you aren't using a credit card, if you're spending more money every month than you're taking in, you're spending beyond your means.
“See how much you spend, where you spend and how much money you’re making and then track where you are in comparison to your savings goal,” says Kumar. This should include scheduling check-ins to see progress and adjust against your goals as you go. Apps are helpful for tracking, but you can also do so manually with just a pen and paper or on an Excel spreadsheet, if you would prefer.
“Those overspending may be dining out more than they should, getting artisan coffee multiple times a week, purchasing expensive groceries when cheaper alternatives will do, or even opting to spend money on unnecessary things when those funds should be put towards things like paying bills or paying down debt,” Ramhold explains.
7. Create a Grocery Store Shopping Budget
If you don't have a grocery budget, you may be spending more than you should. “Without a grocery budget, it becomes far too easy to shop for things that sound good at the moment, but may not make sense financially,” says Ramhold.
Without a grocery budget in place, you might make hasty purchases of items you don't need, but just want, especially unhealthy foods and drinks that seem oh so tempting at the store, such as soda or a candy bar. If you're having financial troubles, these aren't the kinds of items to be splurging on.
8. Schedule Direct Deposits into a Savings Account
“When you set up your direct deposit, ensure that you have the majority of your funds put into your main account, but also set up a specific amount to be put into a separate savings account,” says Ramhold.
With it all automated, you won't have to consciously decide to put money away each pay period, and so you won't be as tempted to spend it right away. Instead, that money can go directly into your savings, and before you know it, the account will grow and be of substantial value.
9. Keep Those Deposits Small and Consistent
Smaller payments are more sustainable and less daunting than lofty deposits are into a savings account. “When you're starting to save money, you may not want to put aside a large amount,” says Ramhold. Yet, it's good to put away something rather than nothing and start saving at an early age and in smaller doses.
And increase the amount you can deposit with time. “If you're paid twice a month and can only afford to put away $5 each time, that's something; however, as your finances get under better control and you're able to deposit more into savings, you should increase the amount, accordingly,” explains Ramhold.
That doesn't mean jumping from $5 to $20, unless you’re able and choose to. Instead, increase in small increments, going from $5 to $7, or to whatever amount you know you’re able to handle. Deposit on a regular basis, as every little bit adds up.
10. Have Your Employer Deposit Partially into Savings
You can create several accounts and have your salary split between two, for example, where a portion of your paycheck goes into savings. “See if your employer can direct a portion of your paycheck directly to a savings account at your bank or credit union,” suggests Fox. Saving before you have the money in hand makes it one step harder to get the money out and spend it.
11. Save at Least 10 Percent of Your Income
A good rule of thumb: set aside 10 percent, at minimum, of your income to add your savings account. “A good beginning goal is to save 10 percent of net income, but more if possible, and less if need be, from every check received,” says Fox, for a minimum value or standard.
“Part should be devoted to an emergency fund, which should gradually increase in value to cover six to nine months of basic living expenses, however, most people find that even a few hundred dollars will go a long way toward the inevitable, unexpected expense,” Fox adds.
12. Start Investing Early
“‘A dime saved now becomes a dollar tomorrow,’” says Wage. Set aside a portion of your income for investing purposes. “Money that sits in an account is losing value each year due to inflation so if you want to stay on track with your savings goals then you should set aside a portion to invest,” explains Wage.
Meet with a financial advisor or seek advice through online research or app use to learn best practices for investing and how to put your money to good use and create a profit.
13. Review Credit Reports Yearly
Each of the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, are required to provide a credit report and you can access them yearly for free online. “After reviewing, correct any errors found by following the directions on each agency’s website,” says Fox.
Learn to use a credit card responsibly. “Today, an established credit history can impact everything from getting a future loan (such as a mortgage) to renting an apartment or even getting a job, and a credit card can go a long way in helping develop that credit history,” says Fox. “When evaluating credit cards, most people need one credit card to manage personal business and build credit profiles (debit cards do not help build a credit history),” Fox explains. Multiple credit cards are not necessary, though.
Go online and check one of many personal finance sites that offer comparative information about credit cards to evaluate the perks of each, and for one without an annual fee. Once you have a credit card, charge only what you can pay off in full and on time every month—never more.
14. Cash Out to Build a Piggy Bank or Use the Envelope System
It may sound old-school, but it works for many people. “Basically, you take your paycheck, cash it and allocate it into envelopes that tie back to expenses in your budget, as that way, you know you only have a certain amount of money to spend on groceries, gas, etc., during the paycheck period,” says Fox. One of those envelopes should be for savings, where cash goes right into a savings account.
Another method is to transfer money between checking and savings accounts. “Set the amount and keep it consistent, to revisit at least annually, and whenever you receive a salary increase or bonus,” says Fox.
15. Use Some of the Best Apps to Save Money
Fidelity Spire: this free mobile app is great for those who are just beginning to save. Its intuitive design helps young users plan, save and invest easily for short- and long-term goals.
Digit: this all-in-one money app saves a little bit of money every day, so you don’t have to stress about it and can let it build on its own, for long-term rewards. Digit budgets for bills based on your personalized saving and investing goals.
Mint: the app lets you manage spending easily by keeping track of the subscriptions you have, where they are all in one place. “Plus, the app has the ability to provide insights, like if your spending in a certain category has gone up and by how much, how you're doing on custom goals, what your credit score looks like, and more,” says Ramhold. It’s a good app to continue using long-term, meaning it’s not reserved for just beginners.
Chime: this app offers more of a bank-like experience than a budgeting app. “For instance, you can still view your transactions and see how much you spend and where it goes to, as well as any deposits that are made to the spending account,” says Ramhold. It also offers overdraft protection up to $200, the ability to build credit, and all without overdraft, minimum balance, or monthly fees. You also set transaction alerts and daily balance updates to rein in spending and put more money towards savings.
Honey: the app searches the web for promo codes, which you can apply at checkout. S, before you click confirm on a purchase, let Honey see if there’s an existing discount that can be provided first.
Ibotta: use this app to gain cash back on your purchases and increase savings. Upload your store receipts to Ibotta, where you can then receive cashback on certain purchases, everywhere from your fruits and vegetables at the grocery store to body lotions at the drugstore.
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