Thursday, March 19, 2009

30-Day Economic Stability Challenge: Ways to save

Janine Adams, who was kind enough to write some guest posts during last year's organizing challenge and whose blog is quickly becoming one of my favorites, had a great post last week emotional reasons people don't declutter. As someone who used to be allergic to saving money, I'd say they apply to saving, as well.

Here are the bugaboos Janine lists:
  • I don’t know what I’m going to find in there. What if there’s bad news? Fear
  • I don’t know where to start. Overwhelm
  • Why do I have to be the one who has to do this. Why doesn’t my husband [partner, child, roommate] help me? Resentment
  • I don’t want the process to dredge up old emotions. Avoidance
  • I might need this thing some day. Fear of regret
  • I spent good money on this item, I’d better keep it. Guilt
  • What if the organizing system I set up doesn’t work? Perfectionism
OK so maybe not all apply, but I'd say most do. Fear, overwhelm, avoidance, guilt, fear of regret, perfectionism are all a part of saving problem in my experience. And I don't think I'm alone. Let's face it: we are not a country of savers. In 2005, American savings rates went into the red for the first time since the Great Depression. Cumulative American Consumer debt rose to $904 billion in 2007--an increase of 6 percent over just the year before, according to the Federal Reserve. The savings rate has gone up recently, but it's still at a measly 3.6 percent.

So how do we now buck that trend? How do we start saving?

Katrina offered one idea last week when she suggested we send a third of all our income into an untouchable savings account. But there are a few other ways I want to share, just to give you options and ways to start saving, even if you aren't doing it perfectly.

The 10 percent trick
In this method, you take the first 10 percent of every dollar that comes in and put it automatically into a savings account. You can do this by automating a withdrawal from your checking account to a high-interest online savings account, or you can transfer money every time a check comes in.

Add it to your spending plan
Recently I lamented to a self-employed friend that I have a hard time saving money. What she told me really stuck with me. She said, "I started out putting aside just $5 a month. I know it seems like nothing, but now I have $35,000 in savings." My spending plan includes a line for $20 in savings every month. It's not $5, and it's not 30 percent of my income, but it's something, and that's the whole point.

Do 50/40/10
For the past two years, one of the ways that's helped me save is to look at the money I earn above and beyond my monthly spending plan and divide it this way:
  • 50 percent goes to savings;
  • 40 percent goes to accruals;
  • 10 percent goes to fun.
This has worked incredibly well for me because it really encourages me to earn more than I need to live on. Not only does money go into savings, but I also get to spend some of it right away--and that rewards me for increasing my income in a tangible way.

Designate a check for savings
I'm an impatient type. Saving $20 is the responsible thing to do, but when I've wanted something right away, it's worked better for me to just designate one incoming check toward an accrual category. Over that past year, that's allowed me to take three trips and pay for holiday presents. Of course, this assumes a decent income, but if you're making plenty of money without having much savings to speak of, this is a way to jump-start your new savings habit.

How do you fit savings into your spending plan?

Photo by nieve44/La Luz.

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