Savings is a key component of having a healthy lifestyle. Having savings means not worrying about the “what ifs” — What if the car breaks down? What if I need a new roof on my house?
It also means having money when opportunity appears — whether to take that vacation or invest in a startup idea. Having money waiting in the wings gives you freedom.
#1. Pay Yourself First
If you take away anything from this post, let it be this one. I saw my savings grow exponentially when I started paying myself first. The idea comes from the book The Richest Man in Babylon, a book of financial advice told through parables: take 10% of what you earn for yourself.
This means save 10% of everything you make BEFORE bills, expenditures, and anything else in your budget. If your paycheck is $1,000 you save $100 before anything else. The $100 goes in to savings, and you have $900 to spend on bills, entertainment, etc. If you do nothing else to save, you’ll have tucked away quite a bit in a year. I love this rule and I follow it every time I get paid or make money.
The psychological effect of this is huge. I know what it feels like to get a paycheck and it’s gone. You feel like you’re not getting anywhere, you work for bills. When you pay yourself 10% first, it gives a sense of accomplishment and more importantly — worth.
#2. Keep the Change
No 8,000-year-old Babylonian wisdom here; I came up with this one myself. When I began my financial transformation, I started using a budget to keep track of spending. I would estimate my next paycheck (I was wage plus commission, so no two paychecks were ever the same), determine what bills must be paid during those two weeks, and determine what I could spend. I always gave myself a $100 buffer from each paycheck — this gave me breathing room so I wouldn’t fret about every penny plus if a friend wanted to grab lunch or something small caught my eye, it came out of the $100 buffer.
That way, I wasn’t living like a monk every two weeks.
But I rarely spent the full $100. Sometimes there was a dollar left, sometimes much more. When the next payday came, I would take whatever was left in my checking account and move it into savings. By sweeping up the leftovers, it would eventually build up in my savings account. $10 may not sound like much, but when you put it into savings every two weeks, before long you’ve got $100s in there.
#3. The Waiting Game
A big part of building wealth is knowing yourself. That means knowing your (bad) habits, like for me impulse purchases was something that got me into trouble. It plagued me throughout my 20s, and helped run up big balances on my credit cards. Amazon made it easy to get anything in two days and it was so easy to put things in the cart and hit “buy now.”
I knew my weakness. I knew how I behaved. So I made myself institute a waiting period on Amazon purchases. Any thing I add to my cart I wait three days to buy. What happens in three days? The impulse dies away. I forget about stuff I put in there. When I go back in, a lot of times I’ll delete things or move them to “save for later.” I have literally hundreds and hundreds of items “saved for later” in my Amazon account…but I didn’t buy them. It’s money well not-spent.
It’s an added bonus that sometimes Amazon will lower the price of things in your cart to draw you back to buying! So if there is something you plan to buy, Amazon might put it on sale to get you to pull the trigger.
#4. Think on a Full Stomach
This may sound dumb, but going to the grocery store hungry will cost you a fortune. I noticed a big difference in grocery bills just by going after a meal instead of before. I mean, it makes sense, right? But it’s one of those things you never think about. I certainly didn’t, but I was looking at my own habits to find out where I could cut down on spending, I started to study my grocery shopping.
If you’re hungry when you push the cart down the aisle, EVERYTHING looks good. You’re shoveling extra snacks into the cart. Fantasizing about giant meals you’re going to make — all of which need massive amounts of ingredients. By the time you get to check out, you’ve blown up the budget.
If you’re full, however, you don’t really want to think about food. You just want to get out of there. Get what you need and get out. It’s much easier on your cart – and your wallet.
#5. Separate Your Savings
If you haven’t caught on by now, each of these things has a psychological component. “Save more, spend less” is really just a mind game. You have to know yourself, how you are, and what you can do to beat yourself to the punch.
I recommend separating your savings from all your other money. Make it hurt to draw from it. When I first started saving, my first $1,000 was in cash. Why? Because cash feels real. You have it in your hands instead of seeing a number on a computer screen. You don’t want to part with it. I also kept it in $100s, because I didn’t want to break any of those nice, big bills.
When it was time to move to an actual savings account, I opened up a savings account with the same bank as my checking. It was easy to funnel money back and forth. So easy, in fact, the savings account became an account for several things (like where to put aside my tax withholdings). It got so convoluted I didn’t know what my actual savings were — what was savings and what was meant for taxes? How much of it was set aside for an upcoming big purchase? Money was coming and going, and my savings was getting caught up in it.
I finally got my savings its own account, isolated from everything else. I have a nice, easy number to look at and know “that’s how much I have saved.”
See, it’s all psychology.