It’s never too early or too late to get started on making changes. And when it comes to your finances, today is the best day to start. Here are 15 things you can start doing right now to save more money and develop better money habits today.
Set One Major Savings Goal
It’s easier to save when you have an end goal in mind. Whether you want to save money for a car, vacation or down payment on a house, figure out what your priority is and how much you will need to save. To achieve this goal, start small. For example, if you want to save $12,000 for a down payment, break that down to $1,000 per month. Not only will this keep you accountable, but it will also help you achieve a bigger goal over time that you might otherwise have been reluctant to tackle.
“Break that goal into smaller more manageable goals, and actually put them in a calendar to set deadlines,” said Ryan Inman, a fee-only financial planner for physicians at Physician Wealth Services.
Create a Budget at the First of Each Month
Creating a budget to stay on top of your finances can be the key to developing better money habits. Club Thrifty co-founder Holly Johnson said she and her husband create a zero-sum budget at the beginning of each month to plan where every dollar that comes in will go.
“We talk over our planned spending, our bills and any ‘extras’ we need to account for during the coming month,” said Johnson. “We have done this every month for years now, and I credit a lot of success to these monthly meetings and the accountability they bring to our lives.”
Make sure to budget for savings every month, not just expenses.
Shop With a Cash-Back or Rewards Credit Card
No matter what you’re buying, you can get some of that money back if you make purchases with a credit card that offers you cash-back rewards. Some cards offer more valuable rewards in certain categories such as dining and gas, so choose a card that rewards you for the things you’re already spending money on.
One card that might be a good option for you is the PenFed Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card. With no annual fee to worry about, it offers 2% cash back for PenFed Honors Advantage Members and 1.5% cash back for all others on all your card purchases. And as an added bonus, it offers a $100 statement credit when you spend $1,500 in the first 90 days — a pretty nice deal if you normally spend that much anyway.
Keep a Daily Spending Journal for a Month
Changing habits requires increasing your awareness of bad money habits you need to break. One way to do this is to keep a daily journal of all of your spending — cash, debit and credit transactions — to see where your money is going, said Belinda Rosenblum, president of financial coaching company Own Your Money.
“For most people, I encourage them to do this for a month to get a more complete picture,” she said. At least, though, try tracking your spending for a week. You’ll likely realize how informative it is and keep going the rest of the month, she said. Then you can pinpoint where your money trickles away — areas where you’re spending too much — and create a plan to plug those leaks. Once you pinpoint how much spending you can eliminate, consider redirecting those funds to savings.
Take Advantage of Online Coupons and Promo Codes
If you’re big on online shopping, be sure to check for coupons and discount codes before paying full-price for any of your purchases. Chances are you can find a way to pay less than the sticker price for many items on your shopping list, and you can put that money saved towards other goals.
Devote Time Daily to Getting Organized
It’s hard to stay on top of your finances if you’re not organized. Rosenblum recommends getting in the habit of spending 15 to 30 minutes daily going through piles of mail, cluttered drawers or catch-all baskets. Sort bills that need to be paid, check account balances online and file receipts or other important documents.
“This is key to peace of mind and focus,” she said.
Plus, if you don’t regularly check your account balances, you could settle into an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, which can be detrimental when it comes to reaching savings goals.
Save Your Bonus and Other Windfalls
“It is tempting to treat your year-end bonus or other unusual income as play money,” said Carla Dearing, founder of online financial planning service Sum180. “Don’t do it. Instead commit to a new habit: Sock away these lump sum amounts immediately, then leave them alone.”
You should do the same with any other financial windfalls such as tax refunds, gifts or even a credit card sign-up bonus. If you add this money to your retirement savings account, you can reach your savings goal even faster.
Nickname Your Bank Accounts
A great way to motivate yourself to save is to name your savings accounts based on how the money will be used — such as an emergency fund, vacation fund or home down payment — and to set up automatic transfers from each paycheck.
“By naming our savings accounts and funding them automatically every paycheck, we are not only assigning our money a ‘job’ but also associating emotions around each account,” said Inman. “The more personal you can make it, the less likely you are to overspend in the short term.”
Save 10% of Each Paycheck for Retirement
One of the better money habits you should adopt is saving for retirement, Dearing said, who recommends saving 10% of your income for retirement.
For example, to save for retirement with a $50,000 salary, you should set aside $5,000 annually or about $417 each month to reach the 10% mark. Have that amount automatically deducted from your paycheck and deposited into a 401(k) or similar retirement account. That way the money comes out of your paycheck before you can spend it on something else, said Dearing.
Book Travel With Rewards Miles
Flights and hotels can be a major expense, especially during the holidays. Save on your next trip by using rewards miles you’ve racked up to cut down on these costs. If you save up all your travel credit card rewards towards throughout the year, you’ll likely make a big dent in your holiday travel costs, which will open up room in your budget to buy gifts for your loved ones.
Do an Insurance Check-Up
Dearing recommends getting in the habit of doing an annual review of your insurance coverage. This is one of the good habits you can start before the end of the year to ensure your assets are protected from potentially catastrophic losses in the new year.
“Review your home, health and auto insurance policies to make sure you have enough coverage to protect your savings and your family in case of a medical, legal or other emergency,” she said.
You should also shop around for new rates to see if you could potentially save by switching providers.
Lower Your Fixed Expenses
In addition to insurance, there are many other fixed costs you could be saving on if you dedicate some time to comparison shopping. Consider switching to a different cable or cellphone provider or downgrading your plan to save on your monthly bills. Then, apply the difference to your savings goals or towards paying down debt.
And if you can, consider paying those expenses with a credit card that pays you back. By using PenFed’s Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card to pay for your necessary expenses, you could take advantage of the 2% cash back offer for PenFed Honors Advantage Members or the 1.5% cash back offer for all others. By doing this, you’ll be cutting down the cost of all your expenses.
Schedule Monthly Financial Date Nights
To get on the same page financially, couples should talk about money regularly. Dearing recommends scheduling a monthly financial date night with your significant other to share your financial expectations and savings goals.
“Use the meeting time to assign money-related tasks, talk about future financial decisions and review progress toward your long-term goals,” she said. “This regular investment in keeping your joint financial house in order will pay huge dividends for your relationship.”
Supplement Your Income With a Side Gig
If you really want to save more, the easiest way to do that is to make more. Consider getting a seasonal side gig to end the year with some extra money in your pocket. Potential jobs include working as a retail sales associate, as a holiday decorator or as a gift wrapper on the weekends or other hours outside of your 9-to-5. All of these positions are in increased demand during the holiday shopping season.
Spend 15 Minutes Daily Improving Your Money Mindset
You can develop better money habits by devoting 15 to 30 minutes daily to improving your money mindset and management skills, Rosenblum said. You can do this by reading an article or two from a financial website. You can watch the financial news on TV or a money-related YouTube video. Or you could read a personal finance book like “Self-Worth to Net Worth: 12 Keys to Creating Wealth Inside and Out,” co-authored by Rosenblum and Cia Ricco. You might even pick up more valuable savings tips along the way.
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Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.