Pop quiz: If you had a medical emergency or your car blew a tire, would you have enough money saved up to cover it? If your answer is no, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, almost 28% of American adults have no savings, while only 25% have a so-called rainy-day fund—albeit one that can’t cover three months’ worth of living expenses, according to Bankrate’s most recent Financial Security Index.
With New Year’s resolutions on everyone’s minds, you may be thinking about how you can spend less and save more in the coming year. Here are some easy ways to keep you on a money-saving track all the way to 2021, and beyond.
Have a Goal
You’re much more likely to change your spending habits if you’re saving with something specific in mind. It could be something as large as a two-week vacation or a down payment on a house—in which case, you can also mentally prepare for what will be more of a savings marathon. If your focus is on (relatively) smaller items like a new laptop or winter coat, consider it more of a sprint—and once you achieve it, you should add something else, big or small, to your wish list.
Track Non-Essential Spending
Regardless of how big your target figure is, you need to see where all of your dollars are going before you can figure out how much you’ll be able to put away. To do this, on the first day of next month, look at what you spent the previous month, putting essentials and non-essentials into different buckets. Consider what you could forego and commit to socking that money away. For example, can you skip takeout twice a week and cook at home instead? As for the actual figure you should be saving, 10% to 20% of your income each month is a good benchmark.
Get Rid of High-Interest Debt
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to high-interest debt, which is most commonly associated with credit card bills. Assuming you have a little money squirreled away in an emergency fund, high-interest debt is the first thing you should tackle before meeting long-term savings goals. On the other hand, if you have no emergency fund to speak of, start there before paying off high-interest debt.
Make It Automatic
Every month, schedule a recurring amount of money to be transferred regularly from your checking account to a linked savings account. This tactic relieves you of having to remember to make a deposit and reduces the risk of you spending the money before it’s saved. Even better: If you can, arrange to have part of your paycheck directly deposited into a savings account so that it never hits your checking account at all. And if you have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, make automatic contributions to that as well.
Stick to the 24-Hour Rule
We’d be willing to bet that you buy more things online than at a store—which means you also know how tempting and easy it is to constantly visit your favorite online shop to see the latest inventory. The solution to avoiding impulse buys? Impose a 24-hour limit on hitting the “buy” button after placing items in your cart. Chances are good that by the next day, you’ll decide you don’t need them after all.
Don’t Spend “Found Money”
Whether you’re lucky enough to have grandparents who gift you $100 for your birthday or typically receive an annual tax refund, it’s best to put this money toward your savings goals rather than spending it. After all, it wasn’t there before, so you’ll never miss it. This applies to raises, too. Rather than spending more, put the difference into savings.
Consider Accounts With Tax Benefits
If your goals don’t require needing cash in the next one to three years, look into accounts that offer tax advantages. For longer-term goals like college and retirement, funding IRA accounts will give you tax savings and allow your money to grow over time through investments. (Note that before opening any new accounts, it’s always good to consult with your tax advisor.)
Don’t Go It Alone
Saving money isn’t always easy—if it were, there wouldn’t be so many articles written about it!—but if you know a friend, family member, or co-worker who is also trying to save, pairing up may help motivate you to stick to your plan. You can share progress, commiserate over hurdles, and have someone to lean on for support.