When the time comes that you are finally a little ahead of the bills and want to make the best use of your financial “leftovers,” how do you proceed?
Saving with a concrete plan in mind will avoid the haphazard trickle of savings that too many people rely on to enhance their investment earnings. A specific objective is preferable to random savings.
Turning things topsy-turvy for awhile may help. In other words, take the savings off the top and pay bills with what’s left, forcing yourself to avoid frivolous or unplanned spending. Obviously, you do this based on long experience of what your fixed costs are likely to be. If left unchecked, our perceived “needs” expand to take up the whole paycheck. Immediate gratification is a disease that grows over time. Curb yourself.
The very best definition of “savings,” in this scenario, is “living below your means.” The urge to spend becomes a habit if you don’t control it. Adopt a lifestyle that allows you to save, rather than saving what’s left when your over-the-top lifestyle is dictating the spending. When you get a raise at work, automatically raise the amount you save, rather than putting the whole increase into lifestyle escalation.
Make it harder to spend. Tuck the credit cards into the back of a drawer for a while and operate on a cash-only basis for awhile. Paying cash makes the expenditure immediate, instead of looking forward to a bill that may seem a long way off.
With tax-filing season in full bloom, plan ahead how to spend your refund, if any. Use the windfall to supercharge your savings. The average return, according to the IRS, is $2,895. Half of that, or at least a good share, would go a long way toward reaching a goal of having three to six months’ of savings as a healthy cushion when things go wrong financially. Having this amount stashed in a savings account or money-market fund, before you start toward other investment goals, is a wise move.
The alternative in a financial emergency is to tap into retirement accounts that may impose a penalty on withdrawals.
Once the basics are set, the next savings strategy is to invest in such things as stocks and bond mutual funds or ETFs. Sticking to low-fee investments such as index funds and ETFs reduced your investment costs, opening the way to higher returns. Over decades that is akin to saving an extra percentage or more of salary each year.
But all of these tracks to greater savings have to begin with a viable plan and then sticking to it, monitoring along the way to stay on track. It’s the only way to assure financial security now and when you are retired.