Whether you're saving for a second car, a family vacation or a rainy day, big financial goals can feel intimidating. Instead of putting your goals on the back burner, read on. We asked financial experts how you can make a plan to get you where you need to go by this time next year.
Small steps = big results
If you're living paycheck to paycheck, achieving financial goals of any kind might seem out of the question. But saving a little here and there will bring you closer to your goal. "While some goals may seem unattainable, small steps in saving, especially in the long run, can lead to a whole world of difference," said Zach Pelka, co-founder of Paytronage, a new online marketplace for income-share agreements.
Here's a no-brainer: Drop your pocket change in a jar as you enter the house each day, or save your spare change digitally with a service like Acorns, which Pelka prefers. Acorns rounds up purchases made on your debit or credit cards to the nearest dollar and invests those funds into a managed account.
Try to cut expenses by at least 5%
If you have a firm grasp on how your money comes and goes, you can take steps toward efficient savings practices.
Neil St. Clair, President & COO of Karma Network, a financial media platform, suggests reviewing your bank and credit card statements, and categorizing your expenditures just like a business would. Some financial institutions, like Bank of America and Wells Fargo, offer these tools online for their customers free of charge.
"Set a goal of reducing expenses across any discretionary categories (e.g. restaurant dining) by an achievable figure month over month - say, five percent. Then, take that five percent and put it aside in a rainy day savings account," he said.
Save half of any windfall
Expecting a raise this year? It's easy to get excited about that fatter paycheck and start living high on the hog. Instead, commit to saving half of your raise. Yes, half. "If you find yourself with a $500-a-month raise, it's okay to spend $250, as long as you save the other $250," said Nick Holeman, a certified financial planner at Betterment, an online financial advisory. "The same goes for your bonus." Use this method, and you'll enjoy the fruits of your labor not just now but far into the future.
Don't be afraid to negotiate
It's important to dutifully pay your bills each month, but periodically, you should check in with your service providers to make sure you are on the best plan and getting the best deal. "Your car insurance, home insurance and cable bill are just three of your monthly bills that you can reduce by calling up your service provider and asking for discounts, taking off features or increasing your insurance deductibles," said Jamila Souffrant, certified financial educator at Journey to Launch. Souffrant suggests allocating any money you've saved toward your financial goals.
Go old school
Vacations can cost a fortune. According to a recent MagnifyMoney nationwide poll, the average American spent close to $3,000 on their 2017 summer vacation. Rather than sink into debt for your vacation, Leanne Jacobs, author of "Beautiful Money: The 4-Week Total Wealth Makeover," suggests that you go "old-school" like her husband does. Every week, he puts 10-25% of his income in a cardboard artist's tube, which you can find at your local dollar store.
"There is something powerful about physically touching your money and the active process of putting it in a savings tube. I used to laugh at him until he fully funded a Disney trip for five. I am now a believer," she said. Whether you use a tube, a can or stuff the money under your mattress, this is a simple way to sock money away.
Those of us who are carrying credit-card debt month to month owe just over $4,000 on average. Because the interest alone keeps you from reaching your financial goals, moving that debt to a lower interest loan can be a smart move. "When managing your finances, it's important not to add to any potential debt that you may already have," said Andrea Woroch, a consumer-finance expert working with Marcus by Goldman Sachs. "As a way to save on credit-card interest, consumers should explore debt-consolidation options, such as a personal loan."
Make saving work for you
It's exciting to watch your savings account grow, but is that money doing anything for you? "Even if you are saving regularly, you can still be hurting your savings plan if you allow your money to sit idly in your account," said Holeman. If you have not done so already, move your funds into an interest-bearing account at your bank or look into high-yield online savings accounts.
Become BFFs with your expenses
If dealing with money is stressful, you might be tempted to turn your back on it for a while, but Shannah Compton Game, certified financial planner and host of the "Millennial Money" podcast, recommends the opposite approach.
"The key to knocking your savings goals out of the park by 2019 is to become BFFs with your expenses, tracking every single cent that leaves your account," she said. Rather than looking at it as a chore, think of it as a way to empower yourself to find savings in unlikely places every single day. "When you hit another savings milestone, give yourself permission to celebrate with a little reward (within reason) to keep yourself motivated.
Fun & games
Saving does not seem like fun. But in St. Clair's experience, it can be. He and his wife regularly challenge each other to plan a date night in New York City for under $100. "We also look at how much we typically spend on a date night in New York and then put the difference aside in our savings account," he said. "Do this several times a year, and you'll be amazed at how quickly it can compound."
Rise and shine
Making small tweaks to your lifestyle can help you achieve your savings goals. For example, Souffrant suggests waking up a little earlier in the mornings, which allows you to have enough time to prepare breakfast or lunch, which then saves you from having to buy food at work or on the go.
Make saving automatic
You're more likely to reach your savings goals if you automate saving. "It's possible to make saving effortless by setting up auto-deposit so that the money goes directly into your savings or investment funds when you get paid," said Holeman. Talk to HR to learn about what direct deposit services are available to you. If your employer offers matching, make sure you are contributing at a level that guarantees the highest match being offered.
Woroch suggests reviewing your spending each month and looking for ways to cut back by doing things like negotiating bills, comparison shopping, applying coupons and buying used instead of new. "Any time you save money when shopping, dining out, traveling, etc., transfer those savings into a separate account," she said.
So, whether you're intrigued by the 5% plan or like the idea of making savings a game, try saving this year. Life is unpredictable and you want to be ready to take on whatever it sends your way!
MagnifyMoney is a price comparison and financial education website, founded by former bankers who use their knowledge of how the system works to help you save money.