A whopping 44% of Americans said "saving money" was one of their New Year's resolutions this year, according to a RetailMeNot survey of more than 1,000 respondents. This is more than the percentage who said they want to exercise, 35%, or lose weight, 30%.
Like many New Year's resolutions, setting a savings goal is far easier than following through.
If you are tight on money, for example, building a savings account might be challenging because bills and rent might eat up a significant part of your paycheck.
Another reason squirreling away cash is hard is because the act of saving is boring, Harold Pollack, co-author of "The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to Be Complicated," told Grow.
If something doesn't make a good story, people are less likely to do it, because of the so-called entertainment bias, which refers to the tendency to focus more on actions that are socially rewarding.
Often, "the right thing to do is so fundamentally uninteresting," Pollack said. "Like making your savings automatic and putting it into a low-cost index fund and never touching it — that is the definition of boring."
Still, saving is important for peace of mind and financial security, says Obioha Okereke, the founder of College Money Habits, who built a net worth of $150,000 in six years. He automatically transfers $1,250 to a savings account the first of each month.
"Make sure you have savings, specifically emergency savings," he says.
Here is how to create a realistic savings goal and stick to it, according to money experts.
Instead of saying, "I want to save $20,000 by the end of the year" and working backwards, create a budget and look at how much money you can realistically allocate toward savings. If your goal is realistic, you're more likely to stick to it.
"When setting savings goals, one of the first things I do is figure out how much money I can save every month after paying for my bills," Okereke says. "Once I determine this, I set a goal of saving that amount, or something very close to it, every month."
If you build a budget and see that after factoring in spending on rent, bills, debt, and food it's realistic to save $100 a month, aiming to save $5,000 after one year is setting yourself up for failure.
"It can be easy to set huge goals, but creating too many, or creating ones that are too lofty, might do more harm than good if they're not realistic," Okereke says.
"To be clear, you should always push yourself to achieve big goals," he adds. "But if they're unattainable, you may turn to criticizing yourself and lose motivation."
Curbing spending can be a painful but necessary part of saving. However, giving up small joys or "delaying gratification" can help you achieve your long-term savings goals quicker, Okereke says.
"What are your vices?" he asks.
He is frequently tempted to dine out and buy clothing, for example. "In an effort to achieve financial goals in the past, I have been forced to cut back on these two things and set a very strict budget to hit my targets as soon as possible," he says.
This doesn't mean he never participated in these activities, he says. He simply made sure to stay within the amount of money he allotted for them.
"When creating your goals and mapping out a path to reach them, it is important to budget for 'fun' in your life as well," he says. "However, it is crucial to understand that every time you overspend, or go outside of your budget, it is extending the amount of time it will take for you to reach your objectives."
Another way to keep yourself motivated when it comes to saving is to make it more exciting, says Bernadette Joy, money coach and founder of Crush Your Money Goals. Joy paid off $300,000 in debt in three years and now has a net worth of $1 million.
"Most people think that saving money isn't fun, so it's hard to stick to it," she says. "I figured out that if you make money fun through monthly challenges, it can take the stress out of saving money."
One challenge Joy suggests to clients who want to save money is called "save the date."
"You save a dollar for each date of the month," she says. "For example, you save $1 on the first day, $2 on the second day, and $30 on the 30th day. If you keep this up even in the shortest month of February, you'll save over $400 in a month."
You could also do an "envelope challenge," where you number envelopes one to 50 and every week of the year you pick one envelope and save the amount listed.
"If you keep this up for the whole year, you'll have $1,275 saved up," she says.
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