The theme for America Saves Week 2013 is more than just a theme; it’s the essence of a sound approach to savings, designed to help individuals take financial action. Set a Goal. Make a Plan. Save Automatically. Knowing what you want to save for, how to achieve it, and then making the savings process automatic will allow you to reach your savings goal.
Set a Goal
You can save more by having a goal in mind. Visualizing what you want to save for gives your savings a purpose. You may be tempted to withdraw from your savings if it has no purpose. But once you have a goal in place, you know that taking money out of your savings is taking away from that ultimate goal. So what are you saving for? An emergency fund, a home, retirement, a car?
Make a Plan
Once you have your goal in place, make a plan for how you are going to save. To start, cut down on your spending and reduce high-cost debt. Next, keep track of what you spend and make a budget. Once you know where your money is going each month, you can cut down on unneeded spending and save the difference.
Don’t forget to keep your savings safe, secure, and growing. Banks, credit unions, and even the government offer a variety of financial products that can help you save.
It can be hard to put aside money for savings. But there is an easy way to save money without ever missing it. Once you know how much you can save, make saving automatic. Many employers allow you to divide your paycheck into different accounts through direct deposit. Take advantage by putting part of your pay into a savings account. If you get paid in cash, take a small amount to the bank to deposit into a savings account each week.
Take the America Saves Pledge (or re-pledge) today to set your savings goal and make a plan to save. You can also follow America Saves on Facebook and Twitter.
Financial advisors will be the first to tell you: if you want to buy a house, get out of debt, save for retirement, or achieve any other financial goal, you have to make a budget.
There are many online tools to help you with budgeting, including mobile apps. But you don’t have to have access to technology to create one. All you need is a pencil and some paper. These tips will help you get started.
Track Your Spending
For your budget to be effective, it´s important to know exactly where you’re spending your money each month.
- Write down all fixed monthly expenses or use your favorite online tools or mobile apps to track where the money goes.
- Make sure to include your cash expenses since they can easily go unreported, especially if you’re using computer software.
- Add seasonal or annual expenses such as car registration, tax preparation fees, vacations, or expenses related to the holiday season.
Track at least two months to get a sense of your average of expenses and avoid high or low months.
Track Your Income
The second part is identifying your monthly income. It is important to be accurate since you will be making financial decisions based on what you make. To make an accurate assessment:
- Write down all net income from each job or income source for one month. This may include regular salary, temporary jobs, unemployment compensation, and public assistance. If the amount varies, average it out to the last 12 months.
- Include income that occurs less frequently like annual bonuses, dividends and interests, tax refunds, etc.
Make a Budget
Once you’ve identified your expenses and income, it’s time to make a budget. Consumer.gov has lots of information on creating a budget, but you can also follow these quick tips:
- Create a document with two columns: one with your monthly income and another with your monthly expenses. FDIC.gov has an example of a budget worksheet (at the end of the page).
- In the expenses section, separate them by fixed and flexible. That way you can prioritize your monthly expenditures.
- If monthly expenses exceed income, then you have to look for ways to reduce expenses or make more money. It’s usually more feasible to reduce flexible expenses such as mobile phones bills, water and electricity.
Stay Flexible but Focused
It is ideal to have a monthly budget where income is greater than expenses, and where the budget includes a monthly savings amount. This can help you balance your family budget. Because things can change month to month, experts recommend that you remain as flexible as possible and adjust when needed.
It’s easy to get into debt. It’s much harder to get out of it.
Fortunately, there are credit counseling agencies that can help you get your finances in order. They can help you figure out a budget and stick to it while managing your debt and avoiding future financial pitfalls.
However, not all credit counseling agencies are the same. Some offer free or low-cost services while others charge high fees or might not be trustworthy. The following tips will help you choose the right credit counseling agency.
Look for Agencies with a Good Reputation
Most reputable credit counseling agencies are nonprofits that offer free or low-cost services. However, the fact that an agency is a nonprofit does not guarantee that it is affordable or that it has a good reputation. Here are some tips for selecting a credit agency you can trust:
- Ask family members and friends if they can recommend an agency. It’s best to pick one that has been around for several years and has a well-established reputation.
- Use credit agencies or credit counseling services referred by credit unions, banks, universities or military bases.
- Choose a credit agency that’s been approved by the Federal Government.
You can also check out state and local consumer agencies to find out if a credit agency has complaints.
Compare Services and Costs
Once you have a list of agencies you can trust, the next step is to take a closer look at the services and costs they offer so that you can choose the one that best serves your needs. Be careful with credit agencies that charge high fees for services that you can get for free somewhere else.
Some of the most common services offered by credit agencies include:
- Professional, person-to-person assistance with managing your money and debt.
- Help putting together a family budget and sticking to it.
- Free workshops and educational material.
Ask Lots of Questions
Before finally choosing a credit agency, it’s worth writing down a list of questions you might have so that you can avoid surprises such as hidden fees or limited services. Here are some questions to help you pick the right credit agency.
- Are there different fees for different services? Some agencies might charge for initial consultations or a monthly fee. Be careful with agencies that pay their employees more depending on the services you sign up for.
- Will you be signing a contract before getting counseling? If so, be sure to read the contract before signing it.
- Does the agency have the right certifications to provide credit counseling? It’s best to use agencies that have been certified by independent organizations.
During Money Smart Week (April 21-28), free classes and activities are available in more than 30 states to help consumers manage their personal finances. You might learn how to apply for a mortgage, prepare for retirement, or teach a young person how to save.
If your state doesn’t offer free classes or activities during Money Smart Week, check out these online resources on personal finance from the Federal Reserve.