Tucking money into a savings account isn’t the most exciting thing you can do with some spare cash, but it is important. That’s because in life, things can go wrong—expensive things, often at inconvenient times. Having some money in reserve can do wonders for reducing stress and staying solvent. After all, without money in an emergency fund, the only option when an unexpected expense comes up is to go into debt. Here are some ideas for building savings.
Make it a priority. If we wait until we’re done spending to see if any money is left over to save, chances are good that there won’t be any. Setting up a budget—or as I prefer, a cash flow plan—where generosity comes first, saving comes second, investing comes third, and spending comes fourth, is a simple and very effective framework for living generously, saving and investing adequately, and living within our means.
If you haven’t set up a cash flow plan for your household, you’ll find a form and a quick start guide here.
Keep savings separate. Mingled money leaks. I don’t know where it goes, but keeping money that you intend for savings in a checking account is a sure way to end up spending that money. So, open a separate savings account and set up an automatic monthly transfer of a certain amount of money from checking to savings. Even small amounts, such as $25 per month, can end up making a big difference.
Spend smart. If it seems like you can’t afford to save, take a closer look at each spending category. Within everyone is an opportunity to spend more effectively, thereby freeing up money for savings. This isn’t about obsessive frugality. It’s about spending smart. Start with discretionary categories like entertainment, vacations, and clothing.
With entertainment, challenge yourself to discover all of the many free things to do near where you live. There may be hiking or biking trails, parks for picnicking or playing ball, and maybe even some free concerts. At home, there are board games to play. And instead of going out to eat, get together with friends for a potluck dinner. Pick a theme like Spanish night or German night and have everyone bring a dish associated with that country.
For vacations, choose a destination you can drive to instead of flying, camp instead of staying at a hotel, and explore what you could do for free in the area.
When it comes to clothing, it’s amazing what you can find in thrift stores and garage sales—often hardly worn, brand-name items that cost a lot when they were new but can be yours for a song.
To a great degree, freeing up money for saving by reorienting how much you spend on entertainment, vacations, clothing, and other discretionary categories will be all about your attitude. Look at your money-saving moves as an adventure and keep your goal in mind—building a reserve so you can handle life’s many unexpected expenses without taking on debt. It’s an important key to living with peace of mind and the satisfaction of having a financial life that works well.
Matt Bell is the author of Trusted: Preparing Your Kids for a Lifetime of God-Honoring Money Management. He speaks at churches and conferences throughout the country and writes the MattAboutMoney blog.
This article should not be considered legal, tax, or financial advice. You may wish to consult a tax or financial advisor about your individual financial situation.