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10 (Relatively) Pain-Free Ways to Save More Money

My niece was starting her first real job (along with her first apartment lease and car payment!) and wondering how to stay on track financially. My friends had entered their prime earning years and were making 5X what they made in their early working years but felt “stuck” financially as their expenses seemed to grow at the same rate as their income, leaving them with very little accumulated wealth, despite their high incomes. My favorite clients realized that they needed to act now to improve their financial future but weren’t sure where to start.

Retirement experts recommend that you save about 15% of your income each year for retirement. Unfortunately, these experts don’t tell you HOW to save, which leaves many people scraping together their own financial strategies from Wikipedia, Tik Tok videos, podcasts, and personal or family values.

In my role of helping people align their money with their values, save more, and set achievable goals, I’ve heard it all and followed more financial “influencers” than I care to admit. Here are some time-tested strategies that can make a meaningful difference, are relatively painless (no rules about coffee or avocado toast here!), and have served our generation and those before us.

1. Save your “extra” paychecks: If you get paid every other week, you’ve noticed that most months you get two paychecks a month, but twice a year, you receive an “extra” paycheck. Plan to spend only the twice-monthly regular paychecks and SAVE the two extra paychecks per year. Not only is this approach wise from a budgeting standpoint, but it also allows you to save about 7.7% of your income per year- well on your way to that home purchase, a special vacation, or successful retirement.

2. Save your bonus: If you receive a bonus or incentive pay, plan to save at least 50% of that amount. Planning to cover all expenses on your regular paycheck means that you’ll be able to treat yourself to something special with half of your bonus and save the other half for a rainy day or towards a long-term goal.

3. Automate your savings: For most employees, the easiest way to automate your savings is to participate in your workplace retirement plan (401k or 403b). Many of my clients report that saving 5%-10% of their paycheck is hardly noticeable once they get started. And with the power of compounding, these deferrals will grow into a sizeable nest egg. If you don’t have access to a workplace retirement plan, set up your own regular savings into either an IRA, Roth IRA, or brokerage account. These can be set up to automatically save and invest your contributions.

4. Save 50% of each raise you receive: Being disciplined about saving half of each raise helps you grow your savings and reduce the lifestyle creep that can happen during early- and mid-career income growth.

5. Pay yourself first: Entrepreneurs and business owners must balance running their daily operations, reinvesting in their business growth, and paying themselves. I recommend taking the approach of paying yourself first. Set up a target income for yourself and, as soon as you can, pay yourself (and don’t forget to plan for tax payments!). Developing this discipline keeps your business cash flow and revenue positive, which is crucial for success, especially in the early years.

6. Save your tax refund: If you receive a tax refund, plan to move the entire amount out of your checking account and into savings. Whether you build up your emergency reserve, fund your retirement savings, or save in a sinking fund or investing account, put the money that you receive toward your long-term goals instead of the short-term gratification of a major purchase (which probably won’t make you happy anyways).

7. Plan a no-spend weekend: One of the easiest ways to get a jump-start on savings is to plan a spending holiday. Dedicate a weekend to doing fun, free activities, eating the food you already have (I know you have a bag of edamame in your freezer!), and enjoying the company of friends and family. Not only will this practice allow you to save some money that you otherwise would have spent, but you can also use this practice to build consciousness into your spending habits and consider whether your usual spending aligns with your identity and purpose.

8. Use a cash-back credit card: While airline and hotel points can be tempting, a better option for many people is to choose a cash-back credit card and to save that cash. My favorite cards are the Fidelity credit card, which offers 2% cash-back (I personally use this card and redeem the cash directly into my daughters’ 529 college savings accounts, but the cash can also be directed to a brokerage account, IRA, or charitable giving account). Another great cash back card is the Amazon Prime credit card, which offers 5% cash back on purchases at Amazon or Whole Foods for Prime members.

9. Pay your future self: One of the most powerful strategies for wealth building is to save more now. As humans, we are horrible predictors of our future selves. Counting on that future version of you to be more motivated to save money is not a reliable strategy. Instead, do a favor for your future self and save now. If you invest your savings, the investments will have more time to grow, more opportunity to compound, and, importantly, you’ll be less reliant on changing your habits in the future. Take my word for it, your future self will thank you.

10. Focus on your values: Each of my clients has two or three phrases that they use to identify and remember their core financial values. Think about what these may be for you. To get started, consider things like security, independence, confidence, flexibility, family time, travel, community, giving back, and leaving a legacy. What matters most to you? What motivates you? Once you’ve identified a few of these values, carry them with you. Add them to your wallet, make (secure versions of) them your passwords, and revisit them regularly. Remembering what your financial purpose is will help you align your spending, saving, and investments with your values.

Clarity Financial Design is a financial planning firm that helps people dream big, plan carefully, and stay focused on their financial purpose. By using our unique Designing Your Financial Future framework, we help clients save more, plan flexibly, and gain financial confidence. Want to learn more? Set up a no-pressure meet and greet call with Melissa today.


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