Saving money is inarguably important, but it's all too easy for it to fall to the wayside while you're focused on paying bills and other spending. Maybe you'd like to start saving more consistently, or perhaps you'd just like to simplify how you go about putting money aside. It's easy to create a savings plan and then automate it so it becomes one less item you need to check off your to-do list. Before you know it, you'll have built and grown your nest egg, so your future self can reap the long-term rewards of saving.
Establish your objectives
Step one: Figure out why you're saving and how much you want to save. Answering these questions can make it easier to come up with a plan. Maybe you're saving up for your kid's college education, or an upcoming vacation, or even your own retirement.
With your specific savings goal in mind, determine how much you plan to stash away and when you'd like to hit that amount. As you're planning, don't forget to take into account any high-interest debt, if you have it. You might want to put any extra savings toward paying down your debt rather than bolstering your bank account or investments.
Open a designated savings account
While you might be tempted to just dump everything into your existing checking account, it's smart to set up a separate savings account. This makes it easier to keep track of your progress, as well as take advantage of any savings tracking features offered through mobile apps like Mint and Personal Capital.
Before creating a savings account, it helps to do some research. Check what fees are charged and what annual percentage rate (APY) is offered. Compared to brick-and-mortar banks, online banks tend to offer more competitive interest rates and charge fewer fees (or sometimes no fees at all).
Still, it's worth weighing your personal priorities when choosing a savings account. "While online banks offer the highest APYs and next to nothing in fees, if you still crave human interaction and the convenience of cash deposits, you may want to stick with a physical bank location," according to the credit bureau Experian.
Set up recurring transfers
After you establish your savings account, you'll want to set up recurring transfers from your checking account into your new savings account. This is key to automating the savings process. You might plan to transfer $100 once a month, for instance. You can select the date on which the transfer happens, and it's often helpful to choose a date shortly after you get paid. This will help prevent you from spending the money you'd intended to go into savings since the funds will get moved over to savings right away.
Check to see if your bank gives you the option to automatically transfer small amounts to your savings account. For example, for each purchase you make using your debit card, your bank might round up to the nearest dollar and automatically deposit the difference into your savings account. Even though the amounts transferred are small, they can add up over time — especially if you're doing this on top of your monthly transfers.
Even if you have a lofty future savings goal, it helps to make your more immediate savings goals feel attainable. You want saving to feel like a habit that you can easily maintain, not a burden for which you have to make deep sacrifices. Not sure how much to start saving each month? Consider starting out lower and then upping the amount you save each month as you get more comfortable. This will allow you to slowly incorporate saving into your budget.
A popular rule of thumb recommended by experts is to put 20 percent of your paycheck toward savings and paying off debt. However, Nerdwallet acknowledges that "it isn't the right fit for everyone. Some people can save above that rate, while others merely struggle to make ends meet." In other words, what's important is simply saving what you can.
Use technology to track your progress
Even if your savings is automated, you don't want to just set it and forget it. It's important to keep track, which is easy to do thanks to the plethora of apps designed just for this purpose.
Budgeting apps can allow you to view all of your accounts in one dashboard, so you can easily assess your balances and assets. Some also let you categorize your spending. This can make it easier to see where you're spending and identify potential areas to cut back. You can also ensure that your income exceeds your expenses — which is key to saving money.
Not sure which budgeting app to use? According to Forbes, "[t]he best budgeting app is the one that best suits your personal finances." When researching potential options, take note of whether the app charges a fee and what features are offered to help you meet your goals. Also look into the app's security and customer service.
Once you've stocked your emergency fund or met your savings goal, you'll want to start planning for the longer term. For this, consider investing. According to Investopedia, "[h]olding cash and bank savings accounts are considered safe strategies, but investing your money allows it to grow in value over time with the benefit of compounding and long-term growth."
It's easy to set up an investing account, with many brokerage firms now nixing trading commissions and account fees and offering easy-to-use mobile apps. Just like you did with your savings account, you can even set up monthly recurring transfers to your investment account, so that can keep growing as well.
Becca Stanek has worked as an editor and writer in the personal finance space since 2017. She has previously served as the managing editor for investing and savings content at LendingTree, an editor at SmartAsset and a staff writer for The Week. This article is in part based on information first published on The Week's sister site, Kiplinger.com