We all know we should be saving money. The problem is that it usually isn’t that we don’t make enough money, it’s that we don’t have a system to manage our money.
With the right system in place, saving money is simple and you’ll be surprised just how fast your savings can grow.
In this ultimate guide to make saving money fast and easy, we’re going to look at simple ways to get started, what common mistakes to avoid AND some advanced steps that anyone can master to take their spending and saving habits to the next level!
The sad truth about saving money
Most people have a savings account. A few of them even have something in it. Unfortunately if you’re like the majority of Americans, you have less than $1,000 saved. According to a recent survey by GoBanking, upwards of 57% of Americans had less than $1,000 in their savings account.
The good news is that percentage was down from 69% the year before. But it still illustrates that we have some work to do with saving money.
Thankfully, if you haven’t started saving money yet, our ultimate guide to saving money will get you on the right track.
If you’re already saving, then the guide will help you to take your finances to the next level.
Common mistakes people make when trying to save money
The most common mistakes people make when trying to save money are:
- Not getting started
- Not saving enough each month
- Not taking advantage of employer matches on retirement savings
- Living above their means (and thus limiting the potential for saving money)
Often when getting started, many people freeze in the face of terms like 401k, IRA, Roth, mutual funds, etc. That fear and lack of knowledge can cause what many refer to as analysis paralysis.
I would rather you get started and make some mistakes than not get started at all or wait 10 years to do it.
With the age of the internet, finding information and educating yourself has never been easier. Between YouTube and podcasts, you can learn how to do almost anything quickly and easily.
So take a deep breath, do some research but ultimately get started sooner rather than later.
Simple ways to start saving money (For beginners)
For retirement savings, most experts agree that about 15% of your gross annual income is about right.
If you waited until 45 to start, you may want to up that. Starting at 23? That’s awesome! You can get away with less if you need to.
Not sure where to start at all? Start with your employer and see if they offer a 401(K) retirement plan. Many do and often they will match a certain number of dollars that you put in. So make sure you put in at least what they will match.
If they don’t offer a retirement plan, then you’ll want to open a Roth IRA. You can do that quickly and easily online at places like Fidelity or E-Trade.
A Roth IRA is simply an investment account where you put money in (most often investing in mutual funds which are simply groups of company stocks). You put money in each month and the investment grows over time.
Ready to dive in deeper? Learn more about what’s different between a 401(k) and an IRA.
The key differences between a Roth and a regular IRA
In a word, taxes are the difference.
With a Roth, you add money to it that you have already paid taxes on (ie: it comes after you deposit your paycheck which typically has tax deducted already).
After you add the money, it grows tax-free and you withdraw some or all of it after you reach age 59 1/2. As long as you wait until retirement age to withdraw it, the money you take out is tax-free. This is a great option since it could grow considerably!
With a regular IRA, you add money before you pay taxes (often through a payroll deduction).
Then when you withdraw the money, you pay tax at that time. The primary benefit here is you can reduce your taxable income now and you might be in a lower tax bracket by the time you take your withdrawal.
There’s a lot more to say on retirement savings, so dive in deeper, check out How To Catch Up On Your Retirement Savings.
The limitations of the IRA
There are a few limitations to IRAs you should be aware of.
For starters, you can’t open a Roth if you make over $135,000/year for a single person or $199,000 for a married couple filing jointly. You can, however, open a regular IRA if your income exceeds those limits.
Either way you can only contribute a maximum of $5,500/year to either type. If you’re over 50, however, you can contribute up to $6,500/year. Married couples can each have an account with those limits for each one.
In many cases, to get to 15% of your income going into retirement, you may need multiple accounts (401k, Roth and regular IRA).
Of course, always check with the IRS as those figures can change from year to year.
How to select the right mutual funds
In a company 401(k), the company managing the fund (often someone like Vanguard) will give you a list of mutual funds to choose from. You determine which ones to put a certain percentage of your contribution in each month.
In an IRA, you have the ability to select any mutual fund to invest in.
There is a lot to know about saving money inside of mutual funds. To start with, simply look for funds with a 10 or more year track record where they have earned an average of 10% interest (or higher) over that period.
The stock market fluctuates a lot. If you see a company has averaged over 10% for a decade or more, while nothing is guaranteed, that’s a great predictor of how the fund will continue to perform.
As you gain experience, you can also start to consider things like expenses (different funds charge different fees) and whether you get charged the fees when you buy or when you sell. You can buy and sell funds within your IRA at any time.
Investment diversification and why it matters
Diversification is key.
One of the most common mistakes is just investing in 1 stock or mutual fund. If that one investment goes south, you don’t want all of your retirement savings to go with it. So don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Have your IRA or 401k invested in at least 4 different mutual funds. That way if one stops performing well, you still have the other 3.
Also, while you don’t want to knee-jerk react every time Wall Street takes a plunge, you do want to monitor your funds at least quarterly and make timely and thought out changes as needed.
Want to learn more? Check out these 6 Tips for Long-term Investment Success.
The importance of an emergency fund
Let’s face it. Life happens!
We’ve all been there. Your air conditioner breaks, your car gets hit by and uninsured driver or perhaps a medical expense out of pocket bill is over $1,000.
Without an emergency fund, almost everyone would panic and just reach for a credit card. But if we’re trying to improve saving money and plan for our financial future, adding extra debt is not how we want to go about doing that.
Thus an emergency fund (or lack thereof) can literally make or break your household budget. This is a simple savings account in your bank. It’s not an investment and you need to have easy access when you need it. It should be separated from your regular savings account and only used for true emergencies.
Ideally, you should have not 1 or 2, but 5 bank accounts. Having a separate account for each purpose will help keep you on track with saving money in each individual category.
How much should you put in an emergency fund?
If you don’t have an emergency fund, start one today. Make your initial goal to be $1,000. As you get out of debt and get your financial ducks in a row, build that up to 3-6 months of your monthly expenses.
Note I said expenses and not income. I would also suggest that in a real financial emergency (job loss for example), radically cut expenses down to the essentials.
Why the 3-6 month range? In a word, it depends on job security. In a stable 2 income household where both bread-winners have been employed for 2 or more years, 3 months is fine. If you have 1 income or unstable or inconsistent income, go towards 6 months.
For most 2 person households with 2 or more kids, we’re talking a minimum of $8-10,000. Depending on your income and expenses though, it could be twice that.
Can’t quite figure out how to even save $1,000? Check out these Eight Simple Ways to Save for an Emergency.
Crucial steps to take for holiday spending
Almost everyone spends some kind of money around the November and December holiday season. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, chances are you buy gifts for your boss or do a gift exchange at work or host holiday parties.
Most folks fail to plan throughout the year for this spending. Then they hit November 1st, panic and reach for the credit cards. Thus it’s crucial, if we’re talking about saving money, that we have a plan for holiday spending.
The key to holiday spending success
The key to holiday spending success is to start saving money for the holidays in January. But even if you didn’t start in January, get started now.
Decide (in conjunction with your spouse or partner if you have one) how much you plan to spend. Make sure to include holiday travel and food expenses.
Then assume you’ll want to start spending that beginning in November. Divide that total by the number of months you have to save (11 if you’re starting in January). Transfer that amount of money into a separate savings account each month.
Many banks and credit unions have what’s called a “Christmas Club”. This is a savings account for holiday spending and they typically transfer it back into your checking account November 1st.
As an example, say your family of 4 plans to spend $1,000, divide $1,000 by 11 and we see that you need to transfer $90.90 into your holiday savings account each month starting in January.
How to plan for a better financial future
So we now have some of the basics of saving money in place. That means it’s time to look at our spending and expenses and make sure we’re living within our means.
After all, if expenses are out of line, saving money (at least enough of it), can be very hard, if not impossible.
How much should your mortgage or rent be?
Many experts agree that you should not be paying more than about 25% of your monthly take home pay on your mortgage or rent payment. When we’re talking mortgage, make sure to include taxes and insurance which are sometimes (but not always) included in your total monthly payment.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary in 2017 was around $44,000. Let’s assume that for a 2 person household, both people make about that. Thus for a combined annual salary of $88,000, we’re talking about $5,500 per month take home pay in a 25% tax bracket.
This couple should then not spend more than $1,375/month on rent or mortgage.
What if your rent or mortgage exceeds 25% of your income?
If you find yourself exceeding 25% for your rent or mortgage, it’s time for some tough questions. Ask yourself:
- Is your income likely to increase in the next year?
- If so, how does that impact the percentage of your housing expense?
- If you own your home, do you love it?
- If yes, can you add a side hustle or find other ways to boost your income?
If you are just a little over 25% and you love where you live, I would probably just stay there. Assuming you have a fixed rate mortgage, your income will likely increase faster than property tax and insurance.
If you don’t love your home or your payment greatly exceeds 25%, then it’s time to consider moving down in home. If you don’t, saving money and getting ahead financially can be very difficult.
The proven power of doing a monthly budget
Show me someone financially successful and unless it was all inherited, chances are this person does a monthly budget each and every month.
Many people are unintentional with their money and their spending. They buy what they want in the moment, often on a credit or debit card and then just pay the minimum monthly payments at the end of the month and keep going.
We’ve all been there, but there’s a better way.
While you can use paper or a spreadsheet, you might also want to check out the Best 15 Money Management Apps available so make budgeting and saving money even easier.
How to start your budget
To get started budgeting, sit down with your spouse or partner before the month begins. List your known income for the month at the top and then subtract all the known expenses you have for the month.
Ideally when you get to the bottom, it will be close to zero. That doesn’t mean you are broke. It means you were intentional with your money and had a solid plan for where every dollar went.
It’s totally okay if one of you (for those in a 2 person household) is more the budget nerd. What IS crucial is that you both agree on how your money gets spent.
For both financial success and relationship success, this is what most experts recommend:
- Married couples (or long-term committed couples) should combine bank accounts
- Combine all expenses and income (it’s no longer yours or mine but ours)
- Make all financial decisions together
- Have an agreement about how much 1 person can spend without consulting the other
When we are in sync with our spouse and have a solid plan and system, you’ll not only find great success in saving money but greater success in your relationship too.
Still not sure how to get started? Learn more about the budgeting here.
How to crush the debts
The average household in the US owes almost $16,000 on credit cards according to a recent study by NerdWallet.
Add to that, an average of almost $30,000 in car loans and almost $50,000 in student loans and you can see why many people are in a debt crisis. Notice I didn’t even include mortgage debt in those figures.
If you find your household is among those with upwards of $100,000 in combined debts, not counting the mortgage, you owe it to yourself and your financial future to make a change.
Getting out of debt doesn’t require winning the lottery nor does it require an inheritance from that rich uncle. It just takes you and your spouse or partner being intentional with your decisions and your money.
Most of us weren’t taught good financial practices in school or growing up. But now is the time to learn those practices and put them in place until they stick.
10 years ago, my wife and I were $60,000 in debt. We drove cars that weren’t paid for and our house payment was well over 40% of our take home pay. We had to learn the importance of saving money and getting out of debt the hard way.
If you follow these proven steps in our ultimate guide to make saving money fast and easy, you’ll be far better off than I was.
How we find ourselves in debt
Most of us with debt didn’t get there overnight. Thus we won’t get out of debt overnight either.
The good news is that with a small emergency fund, a reasonable house payment, budgeting and planning for things like holiday expenses we should be well on our way to financial success.
Many of us got into debt by making decisions emotionally. We bought that new car or giant TV because we saw the neighbors with one or felt we deserved it after some drama or turmoil in our life. When we buy things like that incurring debt, the expense doesn’t seem real to us.
That’s especially true when we buy things using deals like “3 years no interest or payments”. This is because cash didn’t actually leave our wallet or bank account (yet).
If we can get to a place where we no longer use debt, the expenses and spending, choices become a lot more real. When that happens, we evaluate and scrutinize purchases much more closely. By doing so, we naturally spend less and saving money gets easier.
The best way to get out of debt (Quickly and easily)
Since getting into debt was emotional, we have to use emotions to our benefit to get out of debt.
By that I mean ignore things like interest rates and balance transfers. Those things are great in theory but we need to feel an emotional win to keep our motivation up.
The easiest way to do that is to do what financial guru Dave Ramsey calls a “debt snowball“.
With that system, we put all our debts (excluding mortgage) in order from smallest to largest. Pay minimum payments on all but the smallest and pay every extra dollar you can towards that smallest one. When the smallest gets paid off, attack the next one on the list in the same way.
By working our way up from smallest to largest and (hopefully) paying off those small ones quickly, we get traction early on. That helps keep us motivated to get to the finish line.
Things like the “stack method” of paying off debt sounds great but only really works if you are super disciplined and committed. If your resolve is rock solid, go for it!
Advanced steps to make money saving a life-long habit
Once you’re out of debt, budgeting, saving 15% for retirement and have solid plans for saving money for things like emergencies, holidays and your next car, it’s take your finances to the next level.
Congratulations! You are winning with money.
Now you’ll want to look at things like:
- Paying off your mortgage early
- Increasing charitable donations
- Adding even more to retirement funds
Why paying off your mortgage early is a great idea
Most of us have 30 year mortgages. The trouble is, not only do most of us move before we live in a house 30 years, we have a tendency to take out home equity loans and lines of credit.
Thus, even if we use those loans for things that bring value (like remodeling your house), it’s still just another debt.
Imagine what life would be like without a house payment!
While we still have to pay property tax and homeowner’s insurance, most of us can easily cut our monthly expenses by hundreds, if not $1,000 or more once we pay off our mortgage.
Think of what you do with an extra $1,000 each and every month. Spend more, give more or invest more (or ideally a combination of all 3).
How to pay off your mortgage early
The average American owes just over $200,000 on their mortgage according to a recent survey by Experian.
Let’s say you still owe that amount and have 20 years left on your 30 year mortgage at 4% interest. Not counting taxes and insurance, you’ll end up paying almost $300,000 if you just make the minimum payment for 20 years.
Imagine what you could do with that extra $100,000!
Let’s say instead of making your normal payment of $1212, you up it each month to $1,500. In that scenario, you’ll knock 5 years off your loan and save almost $26,000 in interest! All that with just an extra $288/month payment. Imagine the savings if you went even higher!
Can’t scrape an extra $288 together? No problem! Any extra amount helps. As you get debt under control or your salary increases, you will be able to increase over time.
Do your own calculations using the Extra Payment Mortgage Calculator.
Well on your way to saving money!
Hopefully this ultimate guide to making saving money fast and easy gave you everything you need to know about how to get started or how to ramp up your savings.
We looked at some simple actionable tips and we broke down the areas where most people get stuck.
Most importantly, you now have a clear path of both where you are now and how to get to where you want to be.
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