A savings account can be a lifesaver in the event of a layoff or an emergency. But what’s the best way to grow your safety net?
For Ashlee Crusco, of the Regions Next Step Project*, and her husband, it’s tackling their debt while increasing their rainy day fund. “We have been paying off our more immediate debts while still saving money in case we have to move, decide to buy a house, or if an emergency comes up,” she says.
Even if you’re on a tight budget, you can still increase your savings account balance and make sure you’re ready for the unexpected. Andrea Woroch, a nationally recognized consumer finance expert, offers these tips for socking away savings.
Understand your budget
Review your monthly spending to determine your budget baseline, Woroch says. You can see where you’re overspending and determine ways to cut back and increase your savings. “By tracking your finances, you can easily visualize your spending and saving patterns,” she says. “Awareness is key in identifying bad habits and making changes.”
Set up a saving strategy
Once you have a strong grasp of your budget, identify a specific savings goal and set a timeline to accomplish it, Woroch says. The first step in effective goal setting is being realistic about what you can accomplish. Are you saving for a trip or an emergency fund? Think about how much you can save without disrupting other necessary monthly payments or expenses. Set a goal and then come up with concrete steps that will help you reach that target.
You can also consider a savings plan, such as a reverse 52-week ladder, in which you save $52 in week one and save a dollar less each subsequent week. In the last week, you’ll only save $1, but in total, you’ll have saved $1,378 in a single year.
Don’t slash and burn your budget by cutting every discretionary expense from your life. “You’ll quickly find this level of austerity is not sustainable,” Woroch says. “It's a lot easier to commit to a small-level change than a complete life overhaul.” Find one or two spending behaviors you can modify. Once it becomes a new habit, you can implement another small change.
Set up automatic savings transfers at your bank
You can schedule regular transfers from your checking account to your savings account. Woroch suggests treating your savings account like another bill. “The best way to do this is to automate your savings. What’s out of sight is out of mind,” she advises. Your savings deposits don’t have to be much. She suggests putting aside $10 or $20 a week. Over time, those small amounts add up.
Don’t forget loose change
Gather coins from purses, wallets, cars, and other places you drop change, and then deposit the spare change into your savings account. “Every little bit adds up,” says Woroch. “You’d be surprised how much this can help.” Just make sure your bank accepts coin deposits, and find out whether they charge a fee for the service.
Harness technology to achieve your goals
There are dozens of apps and websites available to help you understand your budget, track your spending, and save more money. Some online tools, like My GreenInsights, allow you to link all financial accounts at participating institutions, so you can easily review your spending and savings habits. “You get a list of your transactions from all your accounts in one place,” Ashlee says. “It’s also easy to make a budget, and it sends you little alerts to let you know when you’ve gone over budget”. Ashlee says she also likes the cash-flow calendar because it shows her when money is coming in and when bills are due.
Saving money requires discipline and commitment, but you can encourage yourself by incentivizing your savings goals. “When you successfully reach your three-month savings goal, treat yourself or get together with friends to celebrate,” Woroch says.
Because of their built-up savings account, Ashlee Crusco’s husband, a medical resident, can now confidently apply for a specialty program that might result in an unexpected move. “He’s going to open up an email and find out if we have to move again. So that’s something that we’ve been preparing for,” she says. “And we feel ready because we have our finances in order, and we know that we can do it if we need to. We’ve been more comfortable making these decisions because we do have the savings.”
By starting small and being realistic about your savings plan, you can maximize your savings and be ready for any financial need that may arise.