With the clamor for consumption in popular culture — the constant call to spend, spend, spend — it’s important to realize that your future may depend entirely on your ability to save, save, save. In order to save, there’s a subtle psychology involved, and that is to rethink your spending habits with a long-term mindset.
Pay in cash
Set a budgeted amount and plan to pay in cash. Try to purposely get what you need without spending all of the money. Put a certain amount in a separate pocket or location that you’ll remember. The purpose of this is to try to make do with the smaller amount. The amount that isn’t spent can be deposited into an emergency fund. See if you can make this a habit in an effort to put money away for a long term goal.
Are you investing?
Take advantage of investment accounts. If you know that your coupons and careful shopping will save about $40 per week, don’t leave the savings in your checking account, waiting to be spent on something else. Instead, set up an automatic transfer into an investment account at a discount broker. Or use it to purchase inflation-protected Government I Bonds through a U.S. Treasury account at TreasuryDirect.gov. (You won’t be allowed to withdraw the money for the first year after deposit).
Do you really need that new car?
Many wise savers won’t buy new cars, as it can take up a big portion of your budget. Make sure you still have enough money to invest and consider buying a year-old car with 10,000 miles or less and active warranty. That amount you saved on the purchase price should be automatically applied to your savings.
Credit cards can be dangerous
If you use your credit cards wisely, they can work to your advantage. You can save by using a rewards credit card to get cash back or miles when you make purchases. But this approach can backfire if you carry a balance or spend more than you meant to, just to get the rewards. Track your spending and only use rewards cards for purchases you needed to make anyway. Also, resolve to pay off your credit cards faster, because paying only the minimum monthly payment means adds years to settling these accounts.
More tips to help you reach your long-term goals
Create a budget. Your monthly spending analysis will track progress to goals. Online budgeting sites can help.
Know what you spend. At the beginning of each month to review what you actually spent the previous month.
Automate financial transactions. This includes setting aside savings and also paying recurring bills.
Get organized. Gather and centralize your key financial records, including online accounts and passwords.
Check your credit card, bank fees and interest charges. (A personal finance app like Mint will automatically break down these types of expenses for you.) New federal laws require more transparency.
Review insurance terms and rates. Do you still need as much life insurance? Is your home insurance providing you more protection than you need? Does the deductible on your auto coverage make sense as the car’s value declines?
Pay annually for insurance and other annual services and you’ll save money on payments.
With home loan rates still at 50-year lows, take a careful look at refinancing your mortgage.
Regardless of which of these suggestions make the most sense for you, one move is mandatory: Take the time to review your financial affairs and come up with a long-term savings plan that helps you focus on the future.
Set a clear and realistic goal
It’s essential that your long-term savings plan have a clear goal to work toward and one that’s realistically achievable. You’ll be amazed at how small amounts saved each day compound into large amounts over time. It will make your savings goal real by converting these small daily actions into an important, life-changing journey. And it will also keep you motivated.
Successful long-term savings is more important than ever, given the extension of expected longevity, the ominous rise of healthcare costs, and the positive power of compounding interest. Researchers repeatedly find that people greatly underestimate their lifetime financial needs, particularly in retirement.
They’ve also learned that successful employee savings programs need to include formal reminders to help us increase our savings. Automatic “opt out” savings and investment programs are proving to be better at boosting participation in company retirement plans over the earlier “opt in” programs that called for voluntary signups.
There’s more to saving than simply spending less money while shopping. Translate smart spending into smart savings. Being equipped with the ideas mentioned can not only help you spend less, but it can help you free up extra money to put away toward saving goals.
Finally, remember that if you’re struggling with a heavy debt load — take advantage of free or low-cost nonprofit counseling services. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling can help you find a counselor. Fee-only financial advisors also can be found through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.