Another New Year has arrived, and with that usually comes a new resolution or two. Have you decided to shed those extra pounds this year? Spend more time with the family? Let’s face it, we’ve all made at least one of those common resolutions before, but how successful have we been in the past?
Perhaps one of the most common resolutions people make these days, is to improve their personal finances and get better at saving money. While it’s a great idea in theory, unfortunately many of us lack the follow-through and dedication needed to actually achieve those goals.
That’s why we have come up with a basic road map to help guide you towards your personal saving goals. You can travel down this path, step by step, to achieve at least one of your New Year’s resolutions this year and find your own personal financial freedom.
Let’s start with the basics:
Step 1: Identify
The first and most obvious thing you need to do is figure out why you want to save. What are your ultimate goals when it comes to saving money? In this step you need to identify exactly what it is you are hoping to achieve with this process.
Step 2: Prioritize
The next step you should take is a close look at what your needs are and prioritize if you have to. You might need to fix that leaky faucet before you can dive head first into putting money away for retirement. Once you have considered what your needs are and prioritized them accordingly, you can then proceed to the next step.
Your answers to the first few steps have helped clearly define your goals. Now it’s time to calculate exactly how much you’re going to need to save in order to achieve them. For instance, if you’re planning on buying a home, you’ll need to calculate how much you can afford as a down payment, and then how much you can allocate in your monthly budget for a mortgage payment. Knowing these things will help you identify how much house you can truly afford.
Here are some great tips to maximize your savings regardless of what your ultimate goals are:
There are a myriad of tools available on the web to help you calculate how much you can afford on a monthly basis for your mortgage payment, as well as how much you’ll need for a down payment.
Debt reduction requires a different type of calculation, and there are also many calculators on line to help you with this goal. You’ll want to take into consideration the type of debt you’re trying to pay down, the interest rate and the amount of time it will take to pay it off completely.
Are you repairing a roof? Or remodeling your home? There’s a world of difference between $3,000 and $30,000. Whatever the case, be sure to obtain estimates from reputable general contractors. You don’t want to go through a whole year of saving only to realize you don’t have enough.
There’s nothing more satisfying than watching your retirement fund grow. Why not take the time to calculate exactly what it will take to start saving now so you can enjoy that retirement comfortably later?
Step 4: Plan
It’s time to get out the red pen and start taking a hard look at your monthly expenses. Pull out your bank statements and credit card receipts and look for all of the items that you spend money on each month that are not “necessities”. Start slashing things like your weekly coffee budget and movie nights. It’s the luxury items that need to go first. Remember, they’re called luxuries for a reason. Yes, it’s no fun to do without, but it’s a necessary step when trying to achieve your 2015 money saving goals.
You also need to be very realistic during this step. Understand that unexpected expenses invariably rear their ugly heads. You should plan for those “unexpected” surprises so that they don’t knock you off track, as well as any other expenses you think might come up throughout the year – home repairs, vacations, speeding tickets. It’s not enough to say, “I want to save $100 a month.” You should always try to tack on a little more for the unexpected.
Step 5: Stay Focused.
Having goals and being determined to meet them is critical to this process, but it’s going to take a little more than that to get to where you want to be. If only it were as easy as saying, “This is what I’m going to do.” If it were as simple as that, we’d probably all have a million dollars.
As mentioned above, life throws curve balls. Not only that, but there will be times when you find yourself sliding down the slippery slope of temptation. Your subconscious will say, “Go ahead, buy that $50 bottle of wine. You’ve done so good so far, it’s ok to have that now.”
The trick is to squelch that voice. This is where having finite goals will come in handy. It’s easy to talk yourself out of socking money away if you have no clue what you’re saving for. But if it’s there in black and white, all you will have to is stay focused on that end goal to help you ignore that little voice during times of temptation.
Step 6: Ready, Set, GOAL.
Whether you are new to the idea of setting goals or a seasoned pro, there are many applications on line to help you stay focused and reach your financial goals. From tracking your spending habits to helping you stay on budget each month, there is a program out there for your needs.
Step 7: Reward Yourself.
After all of the sacrifices you have made and the hard work you’ve put in toward reaching your goals, it is important to reward yourself when you reach them. But you don’t have to wait until you have accomplished the entire process to pat yourself on the back.
One of the best things you can do throughout this process is set up smaller, measurable goals to accomplish while on your journey to the ultimate prize. These benchmarks will encourage you to recognize that you are making progress, even if it is slow and steady.
Research shows that when human beings recognize good behavior in the form of treats, they gain self-control. The treat doesn’t have to be something sweet to eat (although who doesn’t love chocolate), it could be that cup of specialty coffee you’ve been craving for days. By setting up smaller, achievable goals throughout this process, you will be reminded of your progress, encouraged to continue, and allow yourself a little treat now and then.
Whatever your 2015 saving goals might be, it’s important to stay on task. It’s equally important not to beat yourself up if you take a step or two backwards. Everyone has their ups and downs. Your goal for 2015 should be to have more ups than downs. And remember, no matter what kind of financial situation you’re facing, we’re always here to help.