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By Katie Levene and Pam Leibfried
You have financial goals but you might not know how to get there. Reaching those goals require a safety net, budget, clear goals and constant evaluation. It’s not always easy but your future self will thank you for your smart money moves. Here are some simple ways to ensure you’re on track.
First, know you aren’t alone if you find saving money difficult. In fact, most Americans don’t have enough savings to pay for a $500 or $1,000 emergency.
We know it can be hard to see a big chunk of change sitting in your savings account and resist the urge to spend it. But, eventually, most people will go through one of life’s little emergencies (like a broken A/C or dead washing machine), or a really big, scary one (like unemployment or major illness). Wouldn’t it be better to be prepared?
One of the easiest ways to build up your rainy-day fund is to “pay yourself first.” No matter how little or large your paycheck, be sure to set aside part of it for your savings. Do this with every paycheck and feel proud of yourself, no matter the amount.
Ideally, you can set aside the funds via direct deposit into a separate emergency savings account, assuming your employer lets you split your paycheck. Alternatively, you can create an automated funds transfer from within your checking or savings account. If your income is less predictable, you can also do it manually each time a new paycheck comes in.
SMART goals are not just for the corporate office. You’ll have a clearer understanding of your financial goals if they are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Timely. Here’s how to structure your financial goals so that they are SMART:
If your goal is to “save for a new car”, it’s hard to see how to accomplish this goal. Instead, your SMART goal would be to “save $25,000 for a new car in three years by setting aside $695 a month.” Now, you know exactly what you need to budget and when you’ll get there.
Budgets may seem boring, but they’re a vital tool for achieving your monthly and long-term financial goals. To stay on track, begin tracking your expenses to see how your bank account looks after each month. From there, set aside money for each area of expense including:
Assigning specific amounts to your budget line items means you won’t end up running short. There are a few ways to structure your budget such as the 50/30/20 budget, the zero-sum budget and more budget options! Pick the one that is easiest for you to implement and maintain.
Need more inspiration? Studies show that people who have a budget are more likely to be able to meet their savings goals than people with no budget.
You have your budget and your smart goals, now you can start being more intentional about your spending. Before making purchases big and small, reflect on how a purchase fits within your goals. Does this purchase align with your goals? Is this an impulse buy or something you’ve been reflecting on?
Pro tip: to ensure you’re adopting intentional spending, walk away from the store or let your items sit in its online shopping cart overnight.
Having insurance protects you and your budget. Whether it’s disability insurance should you become unable to work, GAP insurance should your car get unexpectedly totaled or life insurance for your family should the very worst happen—insurance makes difficult times easier.
Many people go into debt because they aren’t prepared to cover additional, unexpected costs. Don’t be that person. Instead, trust that the premiums are worth it.
Reaching your financial goals is easier if you know where your money is going. If you've set up automated bill payments, it’s beneficial to take a monthly look at your bills to assess your spending. Plus, you can then ensure you’re being charged the correct amounts and that your subscription prices haven’t increased without your knowledge.
It sounds sort of clichéd, but spending less than you earn and setting a realistic budget is an important factor in reaching your financial goals– and it lessens the likelihood that you'll ever go into debt.
If you always spend exactly what you earn, or more than you earn, you'll never get ahead or save enough for an emergency. Living within your means is a major step in becoming more financially stable and secure. If you’re feeling strapped, consider adding a side hustle or two to your income.
If you get into the habit of checking off these items from your financial checklist monthly, you’ll be well prepared to reach your financial goals, whatever they may be. Plus, you’ll feel confidently in control of your finances.
Everything takes practice, so don’t get discouraged if you slip up sometimes. Foreign languages can’t be learned overnight and neither can personal finance management.
Looking for more savings tips? Check out these articles:
Katie Levene is a marketer fascinated with finance. Whether the topic is about the psychology of money, investment strategies or simply how to spend better, Katie enjoys diving in and sharing all the details with family, friends and Money Mentor readers. Money management needs to be simplified and Katie hopes she accomplishes that for our readers. The saying goes, "Knowledge is Power", and she hopes you feel empowered after reading Money Mentor.
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