How do you save money, and what are you saving for? You probably have a list of typical, sound financial goals: owning a home, helping your children get a great education, and saving enough for a comfortable retirement. Then there are the secondary financial needs that also require some planning, like buying a car for your teen or giving your young adult child a wedding to remember. But if your planning for these needs only goes as far as, “I’d like to…” you may be unprepared when the time to pay up arrives. Money is simply a matter of math: if we need $10,000 by this date, we should save XYZ dollars per month or per year until then. It’s not rocket science, but it does require setting priorities and having self-discipline.
The good news is, the sooner you get started with budgeting and saving toward specific goals, the better off you’ll be. By putting real numbers to your objectives and breaking down what each goal will require in terms of yearly or monthly savings, you can chip away at the mountain over time, and let your invested savings do part of the earning for you! Try these simple steps to get started today.
1. Research the cost of things on your wish list.
We realize you don’t know which college will be best for your child when he is four. But, you can make some reasonable estimations based on your own experience, your income level, and other factors. SavingforCollege.com has a wealth of information and tools, including a great savings calculator to help you zero in on how much you should sock away each month to reach the goal you’ve outlined. Kiplinger offers a similar tool for calculating a retirement savings plan. Crunch the numbers so you can get going!
2. Look into the secondary big-ticket expenses well in advance.
There are certain major expenses that, while completely optional, are often high on the list for middle-class families today. If you know your child will need a car when she gets her license, or when she leaves for college, look into what a reasonable option would cost, and start putting a little aside to cover it as necessary. Another biggie that sneaks up on some families is a wedding. If your son or daughter hopes to have a large wedding, take some time now (Even if you haven’t located the bride or groom!) to discuss what weddings really cost, and what portion of that expense you will cover.
3. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.
If you want to make sure nothing gets in the way of meeting your financial goals, put the must-haves at the top of the monthly expenditure hierarchy. For example, each month your bill paying could be in this order: housing (your rent or mortgage), groceries, utilities, insurance, retirement, and college savings…then see what’s left over for dining out, clothing, travel, etc. Pay the things that are most important first and you’ll be forced to live within your means on the non-essentials. If you get these out of order, you’ll undoubtedly over-spend from time to time on the fun things and miss meeting your goals on the truly important things.
4. Clean up the debt that’s in your way.
Get the debt monkey off your back so you can be free to plan for the things that matter most!
Tell us! What is your biggest financial challenge right now?
Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.