Americans, in general, not only aren't good about saving money, but they're also actually fairly indifferent about being financially frugal. According to a 2017 Gallup Poll, just 32% of Americans have a household budget, and only 30% have a long-term financial plan built upon personal savings and investing. That's unfortunate, as the more money you save on a day-to-day basis, the more cash you'll have to invest to accumulate wealth.
Some people already know that. They're the financial savants who use creative and effective methods of saving money. How do they do it? Start with these ten smart savings habits and tips.
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"One of my best strategies for accumulating cash is by creating financial buckets within my budget," says Ogechi Igbokwe, a certified financial educator and founder at OneSavvyDollar.com. "Creating your own financial bucket is simply allocating your money into various expense categories."
To make this money move easy, Igbokwe divided his expenses into three major categories - essentials, non-essentials, and savings and debt. "Since I started doing this, I now have no debt, so I'm able to save more money," he says.
"Because I'm young, the impulse to buy shiny things instead of saving money is strong, to say the least," says Diane Elizabeth, a start-up entrepreneur who is a self-described lifelong saver and budgeter. "I can't tell you how many savings plans I've set for myself, only to blow the proceeds before it ever reaches a meaningful size or hits my goal."
Eventually, a family friend and financial planner told Elizabeth that if she wanted to save money, she should convert it into something that's hard to spend but still holds value--like a retirement account, bonds, stocks or even precious metals like gold. "My dad used to collect silver coins, so I decided that I was going to convert my savings into silver ounces each month," she explains. "If I wanted to spend my savings, I had to literally take my silver and go sell it to someone. That barrier to entry was high enough to keep my savings account safe from impulse buys."
As a general life lesson, don't pay full-price for anything unless you have to, says Elizabeth. "Building this habit partially helps you to avoid overpaying for things, but it also helps to build a more crucial habit of caring about how much things cost," she notes. "Once you start comparison shopping, you begin to realize just how much money you're spending by simply not shopping around. To me, this is the easiest way to save a few extra hundred bucks every month."
"If you're saving for a major purchase like a house or for retirement, you should know how much cash savings do you want to have and when will you have that amount saved," says Dr. Robin Burk, also a lifelong saver and managing director of Analytic Decisions2 in Wallkill, N.Y. Ask yourself key questions about savings and write them down as goals, she adds: "What are you saving for? Why is it important to you? Are you saving to ensure a financial cushion in the event of an illness or job loss? A goal you can picture clearly achieving will help when the temptation to spend arises - as it probably will."
Oddly enough, having money is not the most important factor when determining lasting financial success. Instead, one of the single greatest predictors of financial success is simply living below your means, says Kurt Rossi, a money manager with Independent Wealth Management, in Wall, N.J. "Regardless of how much money you earn, a spending level that consistently exceeds your financial resources will often lead to significant financial distress and debt," he says. "While it's easier said than done, making sure spending levels are lower than income will help savers to avoid debt and build savings for other current and future goals such as retirement planning or education funding."
The very best lifelong savers recognize the importance of avoiding the pitfalls of depreciating assets, Rossi notes. "Splurging on automobiles, boats and other retail purchases that decline in value immediately after leaving the store are generally not good investments," he says. "Instead, emphasize investments in appreciating assets (like 401(k)s, stocks and real estate) that can help propel investors toward their long-term goals." Rossi says that while everyone has to make some depreciating purchases, the goal should be to limit depreciating asset purchases to values that are well below your means, rather than above. "Remember, just because you have the money to buy something doesn't mean you can afford it," he says.
"If you feel like you can't save money, get an empty two-liter soda bottle and put a $5 bill in it every day for two months," says Ilene Davis, a certified financial planner based in Cocoa, Fla.
"This enables you to see that you can afford to save, and you can see the dollars piling up," Davis adds. "Better yet, in two months you'll have enough cash to start a systematic investment plan knowing that you can do it!"
Lifelong savers always have money coming into their household, says Ellie Thompson, founder of Washington, D.C.-based Money Therapy. "These money savers never go without cash and are willing to get odd jobs if there is an employment lull or a layoff," she says. "This includes gathering active and passive income like investing."
Lifelong savers automate their accounts, states Thompson. "This includes, but is not limited to, an automatic sweep from their checking account to their savings or contributions to retirement accounts," she says.
Great savers make the most of job raises, says Nicholas Vail, a financial planner at Integrity Wealth Advisors, in Indianapolis. "When they get a raise, they don't increase their lifestyle by the same amount," Vail says. "Definitely treat yourself and feel free to spend a bit more. However, do so after you increase your retirement plan contributions or increase your monthly savings goal."