If your savings account is looking slim, or non-existent, you’re certainly not alone. It’s been reported that roughly 50% of people have less than three month’s worth of emergency savings, and a recent GOBankingRates survey found that a staggering 40% of women have less than $100 in their savings accounts.
While the ability to save money sometimes depends on factors outside of your control, we spoke to several experts who offered a playbook on how people with healthy savings accounts make it happen.
Set a Monthly Budget and Stick to It
While budgeting may sound like the obvious answer, it’s because it works, according to David Frederick, director of client success and advice at First Bank. According to Frederick, an effective budget is your best tracking tool for how much an individual or household brings in, how much it spends, and how much it can save.
“Spending is the variable people can control most easily,” he said.
Use Advanced Savings Tools
If the only tool you use to save is a savings account, you may be missing out on earning potential, Frederick warned.
“While it is fine to sock money away into a savings account, there are often better accounts for long-term savings purposes. Individuals concerned about retirement should be saving into a 401(k) or an IRA. Individuals concerned about healthcare costs should explore saving into a health savings account (HSA). Individuals saving for children’s education should consider opening a 529 Savings Account.”
Avoid and Mitigate Debt
One of the most effective ways to increase savings is to decrease debt, Frederick suggested. Though some debt is hard to avoid, from mortgages to student loans, he urged people to pay down these debts as quickly and purposefully as possible.
“Moreover, harmful debts like credit card balances and payday loans should be avoided whenever possible,” Frederick said.
Reduce Lifestyle Inflation
As we make more money, we have the tendency to spend more money, a concept called “lifestyle inflation,” said Jeff Mains, CEO of Champion Leadership Group LLC, which helps entrepreneurs scale their businesses. This eats into any money we could put towards savings.
Thus, you should make it your goal to live below your means, said Amanda Howerton, certified financial planner with RKCapital.com.
“The folks with the healthiest savings accounts are most often those that truly live below their means,” she said. She acknowledged, “That is so much easier said than done in the age of social media and targeted marketing such that those ‘wish list’ items you casually peruse online are popping up in ads daily.” However, doing so will make the difference between many thousands of dollars over time.
The best way to ensure that money gets into your savings account is to automate deposits, according to Brad Biren, Esq, LL.M., a tax law expert known as “DrTaxRefund.”
“Calculate what a reasonable amount for allocating to savings would be and automatically have that amount transferred into savings. That prevents forgetting and deciding not to do it.”
Set Savings Deadlines
Additionally, Biren said, “There is a certain magic that occurs when you challenge a person to achieve a goal.” In other words, savings goals are more likely to get you to your dollar amount more quickly.
“Assuming the goal is achievable, but a slight stretch, it will likely become a new habit, so long as the discomfort of the race to save is not too high. For example, in the stretch or tightening of belts, the savers realized they could live happily on less, don’t stop them — keep it up.”
He recommends incremental savings goals over larger ones for more regular success, and an opportunity to celebrate achievement.
Organize Short-term and Long-term Financial Goals
People with a healthy savings account use it for specific reasons, such as financing a mortgage, car loan, or retirement plan. Having goals that are tailored to different financial purposes tends to be more effective.
Most likely, they’ll do this using the bucket saving strategy, where a certain amount of money is set aside in pursuit of a certain goal.
Goals provide a concrete reason to save, said consumer finance expert Tanya Peterson, vice president of brand with Freedom Financial Network, a digital personal finance company. “When you’re working toward things that are important to you, whether it’s saving, exercising, breaking a bad habit or other, you radically up the chances of it happening.”
Look for Small Ways To Save
Smart savers generally look for small ways to save, Petersen sad. “These small ways work to develop a habit of smart spending, and maintaining that focus on your goals. It could be making coffee at home instead of buying expensive lattes, or hanging clothes to dry instead of using the dryer. Small things will add up, and apply to larger expenses, too.”
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