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Saving money in the midst of paying bills, buying gas, and shopping for groceries each month can seem like a daunting task. You may look at the remaining balance after these purchases and think the amount is too insignificant to save or that you might need it to cover entertainment or unexpected expenses until the next paycheck. But, what if I told you there was a secret to saving more money each month?

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A 2017 GO Banking Rates Survey estimated that 57% of Americans do not have $1,000 in savings to cover emergency expenses and 39% have no savings at all. A 2018 survey by reported that 20% of Americans do not save any of their annual income. With the fate of Social Security in dire straits combined with the fact that few employers provide pensions anymore, making savings a priority is critical to preparing for your future financial wellness.

So, what’s the big secret?

Pay yourself first.

Paying yourself first means treating your savings goal like a bill that you are required to pay each month. Just as you budget your funds to pay your mortgage payment, you should allocate a certain amount each month to pay toward your savings. Your savings goal might be for emergency savings, a retirement fund, or to purchase a home. The important thing is that you plan in advance for the amount to come out of your checking account rather than hoping you’ll sock away any leftover fund.

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How to Pay Yourself First

First, determine the amount that you are able to save. This requires carefully examining your budget (or creating a budget if you don’t have one) and looking for ways to shave off expenses or plug spending leaks. Though some people view budgets as harsh and restrictive, using them as a guide for your spending and saving can allow you to clearly see where your money is going and make better choices about your spending habits.

Perhaps the amount that you are able to save is not as much as you would like. If you are currently struggling financially, set a small goal to save 1% of your income. Make the commitment to start small and grow your monthly contribution as your expenses or income change.  

Next, choose the savings goals that you are working toward. This may be to have $5,000 in a traditional savings account for unexpected expenses and to save $1 million for retirement. Let’s say that after evaluating your budget, you decide that you will be able to put $150 a month in savings and $200 a month toward retirement. Think of these allocations each month as a bill you are required to pay and add the items in the fixed expenses category of your budget.

Finally, automate your savings to avoid any temptations not to save. Continue thinking of paying yourself first as a bill by setting up an automatic transfer each month into the savings account of your choice. This will keep you from forgetting to move the money before it is spent elsewhere or from being tempted away from saving. Check your accounts regularly to monitor and celebrate the growth of your savings.

How to Pay Yourself More?

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Once you’ve made the commitment to pay yourself first and have automated the process, think about how you can increase the amount you save each month. If you are in the process of paying off debt such as a car loan or credit card balance, plan to move that amount to your savings payment once the debt is paid in full. Or, if you receive a raise at work, increase the percentage that you put away before you have the opportunity to become accustomed to the bump in income.

Paying yourself first may require you to make very intentional decisions that put your financial future before today’s happiness. Share your goal with a family member or friend who you trust to hold you accountable and to support you on your savings journey. Having an accountability partner will help you overcome the temptation to buy that extra pair of shoes that you don’t really need or make that trip through the fast-food drive-through when you have food in the fridge at home.

How will you make paying yourself first a priority? Once you’ve implemented a plan to save, share your tips, techniques, and successes with a friend to help them get on the path to a solid financial future.