As inflation rages and recession fears leave Americans wondering what’s in store for their finances, saving money is top of mind for many. National Savings Day (October 12) encourages us to reflect on our spending and saving habits and reminds us that small changes can make a big difference.

Whether saving comes naturally to you or it takes a significant effort to save each month, this article offers relevant reminders.

Begin by asking yourself: “How intentional have I been with my money this past year? How can I do better and save more next year?”

Cash management is a process to help you achieve financial independence. It’s also the first and possibly the most crucial step in the financial planning process.

Here are some saving tips to help you develop better saving habits:

Develop a Budget

Budgets do not have to be intimidating or limiting. They help you determine how much you spend, what you’re spending on, and how much is left for other things.

To create one, analyze your last 12 months of spending by reviewing your credit card, debit card, and bank statements. Then, use a spreadsheet or an online budgeting app to record where every dollar went. This analysis will provide you with a cash flow assessment showing your income, non-discretionary expenses (such as your mortgage and electric bill), and discretionary expenses (such as dining out and new shoes).

“People tend to think of budgeting as “Income – Expenses = Savings,” says Leo Chubinishvili, a Wealth Advisor with Access Wealth.They spend their income first, then save if there is anything left. However, it should be “Income – Savings = Expenses.”

You can see how much you need to live by tracking your past activity. Then transfer a percentage of your income to a savings account each month. “Don’t let the cash linger in your checking account, where you will be tempted to spend it,” says Leo. “Pay your non-discretionary expenses and transfer your savings automatically. What’s left becomes your discretionary fund for entertainment.”

Eliminate Debt

Are you carrying a high amount of debt? Before you try to save, start by paying off your debt. The amount of money you are paying in interest can be astronomical. Calculate it, and you’ll see! Once you pay off your debt, you’ll find saving much easier.

Make Saving Automatic

Now that you have a budget created, you should know how much money is available after paying bills. The best way to maintain a formal saving plan is with automatic sweeps from your checking account into a savings or investment account. It’s okay to start small. Even $20 per month can make a difference. You can increase the amount as you earn more or get more comfortable with your plan.

Give Your Money a Purpose

Reconsider your short- and long-term personal and financial goals every year. Do you want to renovate your house, buy a sports car, or take a memorable vacation? Are you saving for a special event, such as a wedding? For every goal, determine how much you need and what your timeline is. Consider opening up different savings accounts to keep the money separate, commit to your purpose, set up automatic sweeps, and watch it grow! Also, make sure you share your goals with your financial planner during the financial planning process so they can provide further support.

Build an Emergency Fund

Not having an emergency fund can be financially catastrophic if something unexpected happens. Sudden unemployment, illness, injury, or a leaky roof can create significant unanticipated expenses. Having a saving account intended explicitly for emergencies can be life-saving. Ultimately, this fund should contain enough money to cover at least six months of non-discretionary expenses (i.e., mortgage, utilities, car loans, and other necessary bills). To fund this account, set up an automatic sweep from your checking account that can slowly and steadily grow it.

Save for Retirement

Start saving for retirement the moment you get your first job. It might seem crazy to think of retirement when you’re 23 years old, but the reality is that things happen later in life that may disrupt your ability to save. You may eventually buy a house or have kids. These milestones might shift your financial priorities for a time, making it harder to save for things like retirement. So save early.

When automating your 401(k) contributions, set it as a percentage of your salary, not a dollar amount. This way, your retirement contributions will automatically increase when you get a raise.

If your employer offers a 401(k) match program, participate! It’s free money! Here’s how it works: let’s say your employer provides up to a 4% match. Your employer will add a matching contribution to your account for every dollar you contribute (up to 4%). So if you only contribute 2%, you lose out on the additional dollars your employer would have given you.

Think Before You Buy

The ease of online shopping has made impulse buying all too common. We add something to our cart the moment we see something we like. Even if you have enough discretionary income to pay the credit card bill, consider if those funds would serve you better in one of your savings or investment accounts. Try the 24-hour rule. Before buying that next great thing, sleep on it for a day.

Save the Extra Money

Any time you receive  a refund check, win a bet, or receive a bonus, consider that money “extra.” If your credit card has a cash-back option, activate it. Every time that extra money comes in, add it to your savings or investment account rather than buying another gadget or sweater you probably don’t need.

A recent survey by Schroders, a U.K.-based investment manager, shows that only 22% of Americans surveyed feel they will have enough money to live comfortably once they retire. Said differently, more than 75% of Americans aren’t saving enough!

The savings tips above are appropriate for every age and stage of life, and saving even a little bit can prove beneficial in times of need. Like anything, consistency is key. Make saving a habit.

Not sure where to start? Speak with your financial planner for help getting started. Remember, small changes can have a significant impact on your financial future.

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