Home Finance Looking to start saving? You’re not alone. Here’s how.
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Looking to start saving? You’re not alone. Here’s how.

By: Kate Mielitz, Ph.D., AFC®, Special Groups Manager at Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education® (AFCPE®)

by uma

In the finance industry, in the media, in conversations with parents (no matter how old you are) you’re probably hearing the same message I am…SAVE…SAVE…SAVE. And, hey, great message, right? But sometimes we throw up mental blocks to saving when starting or re-starting. Why? This habit isn’t in line with our day-to-day lives or seems insurmountable. Sometimes, we simply just don’t know where to start.

The pandemic has taught us that we have LIVES to live. And with restrictions ending, we now want to do all the things with all the people, and… we spend. We spend because we can and because we want to. We spend even when it’s not truly in our best interests.

I hear people say: “I want to create a savings habit like I have a spending habit. I want savings to be fun. I want savings to get me somewhere, to provide a cushion, to save my butt on a rainy day.” But savings (kind of like insurance) is BORING. Spending is SEXY. “Besides, I don’t have any money to save! I pay my bills, I feed my family, I need to take that quick trip out of town, my kids need…my dogs need… I need. Where in the world am I going to find money to save when I sometimes barely squeak by until the end of the month?” Am I hitting all the feels?

Knowing that we ‘have’ to save but finding the motivation (and money) to do so can often seem daunting, I have a few tips to share. 

TLDR: start small, start (and stay) SMART, and find a way. This is for YOUR benefit, no one else’s.

Here are some other tips based on our biggest savings mistakes:

Don’t let your emotions get in the way of your financial success

Sometimes buying in the here and now can help us feel a sense of relief, a sense of freedom. We think that buying things will help us be happy. Sometimes it does! But, when we shop in frustration, sadness, anger, or for revenge the bank balance goes down, the credit card debt goes up, and we just find more and more things we should probably be talking to a live therapist about rather than participating in “retail therapy”. 


Solution: Before spending, transfer the money that you would spend (and be honest with yourself) into your savings account. Wait 24-48 hours and ask yourself: 

  • Are the emotions attached to the spending still the same or have they dissipated? 
  • Has separation from the emotion-inducing event helped bring some logical evaluation into the equation? 
  • If you ‘had’ spent that money 24-48 hours earlier, how would you be feeling now? 
  • In a more drastic example, did your checking account overdraft because of that transfer to savings? 
  • Would you truly have stuck to only that amount if you had gone shopping?

Dream big, but not too big too early.

We often think of savings in large dollar amounts: $1,000 or $5,000. Instead, it is best to start small. Identify ‘why’ you are saving and break the big goal down into bite-sized pieces.

Solution: Create SMART GOALS: 

  • Specific—What specifically do you want to accomplish?
  • Measurable—How are you going to measure your end goal (and your steps)?
  • Action-oriented—What action steps are you going to take to reach your goal?
  • Realistic—Your goal and your steps toward the goal MUST be realistic and fit within your income.
  • Timeframe—In what timeframe must this be accomplished?

Here’s an example: 

  • Specific—I will save $1000 in one year from today.
  • Measurable—This goal is measurable by $1000, timeframe, and specific actions listed below.
  • Action-oriented—I will save $83.33/month in an interest-bearing savings account. 
  • Realistic—If you have $200 left after you’ve accounted for survival needs (food, rent, transportation, etc.), then you can likely afford to do this with some room for a meal out, a date, etc.)
  • Timeframe–$83.33 x 12 = $999.96 (Please note with an INTEREST-BEARING savings account you’ll at least make $.04/year) = $1000.

If you fail, try again. 

Stuff happens. Life is messy, chaotic, and expensive! Something ALWAYS comes up and interrupts our plans. We’ll be going about our business, doing what we’re supposed to be doing (in this case contributing to savings every pay period) and then WHAM! we must use that money elsewhere and/or the money in the emergency savings must be used and we must start all over again. It hurts to see your balance go from $$ to 0. And it’s frustrating and stressful. But you must keep going.

Let’s say that you normally put the $83.33/month in the emergency savings per month and then something happens, and you need $80 of that for something. That doesn’t mean that you give up the whole amount, still contribute the $3.33 to savings. 

One step forward, even if it’s just a dollar it is STILL A DOLLAR forward! And small amounts contributed to savings DO add up! Remember that it may take a longer time, but you can still make progress with smaller amounts until you can make larger contributions.

Don’t compare yourself to others. 

Don’t worry about what your brother, sister, best friend, the guy down the street, your co-worker…don’t worry about what they are doing. What they are doing is THEIR reality. Your reality belongs to YOU. 

If you need to tighten your belt to make you happier, then do so. But please do it for YOU and not because you are comparing yourself to someone else. Keeping up with someone else is not going to bring you happiness, it’s not going to help you see the progress you ARE making. 

Starting, or re-starting, the savings habit can be difficult to do on your own. You are NOT alone! The tips are just a start and there are qualified, nonjudgmental financial professionals out their willing to help you with your unique savings situation. Accredited Financial Counselors (AFC®) are financial professionals trained to meet you wherever you are in your financial life. 

The Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education (AFCPE®), in partnership with Wells Fargo and the Coordinated Assistance Network, also has a free, unbiased financial counseling and coaching sessions that are available at no cost to you. For more information, visit findanafc.org/home/pro-bono/covid19/

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