Saving money is one of the most basic personal finance recommendations you’ll ever get. But it’s not always easy to know where to start. For example, how much should you save for emergencies and what other things should you be saving for?
To be more effective with your savings, it’s important to have specific goals for your money. The following 5 steps can help you establish and prioritize those goals.
1. Write down your goals
Everyone has different savings goals, so it’s important to identify yours. In addition to saving for emergencies, you may have both short-, mid- and long-term savings goals. Here are just a few examples:
- College expenses
- Home or car down payment
- Home remodel
- Other large purchases
Whatever your goals are, write them down. If possible, assign a dollar amount and timeline to each goal. Doing this not only gives your goals legitimacy, but it also gives you a deadline.
2. Put goals in order of importance and urgency
Once you have all your goals on paper, separate them into the following groups:
- Urgent and important
- Important but not urgent
- Less important and not urgent at all
For example, an emergency fund would fall under urgent and important because you never know when you’ll need it. If you’re planning to buy a house this year, a home down payment might also fall in that group.
On the other hand, if you’re 28 years old, retirement might fall under the second group as you’ve got a long way to go before you hit your 60s or 70s.
Lastly, the third group would largely contain other things on your wish list that aren’t necessary to your financial well-being. For example, a boat, a vacation or a new car if your current one is working just fine.
Of course, there’s no hard-and-fast rule for how to determine which goal goes where. The above examples are just that — examples. You determine the priority for each goal depending on your own personal preferences and needs.
3. Get the right accounts
Putting all of your savings into one account is ineffective, especially for long-term goals. While an emergency fund is best kept in a savings account, retirement savings belong in a 401(k), IRA, or other retirement-specific account.
For each goal, determine which accounts would work best for your needs. If you’re not sure, do some research online to see what options are available.
4. Break down your goals into a monthly savings plan
Since you’ve already assigned each goal a dollar amount and a deadline, you can now easily break them down into digestible chunks. For example, say you have the following goals:
- Vacation: $2,400, 12 months
- Emergency fund: $4,800, 24 months
- Down payment: $10,800, 36 months
To reach those goals by their deadlines, you’d need to save the following amounts for each:
- Vacation: $200 per month
- Emergency fund: $200 per month
- Down payment: $300 per month
If you can afford to save $700 per month for these goals, set up an automatic transfer from checking to savings each month to make sure you don’t forget. If you can’t afford it, consider adjusting your goals to fit within your budget.
To supplement your savings plan, consider using an account that offers automatic savings features, like the Chime Visa® Debit Card. Simply use your card for everyday purchases, and Chime will round up each transaction to the nearest dollar, transferring the round-up amount to your Chime Savings account.
5. Keep track of your progress
It’s one thing to set goals, but another to achieve them. In addition to creating and executing your savings plan, it’s critical to periodically assess how you’re doing.
Keeping track of your progress can help you recognize that you are perhaps spreading yourself too thin or maybe you can even save more.
To help you monitor your progress, you can use a money management tool like Mint. When you connect your Chime savings accounts with Mint, you’ll get real-time updates as your accounts grow. Mint also allows you to set and track financial goals, making the whole process easier.
The best time to start saving is now
If you’re not currently saving much money, it can be overwhelming to think about saving for multiple goals. Avoid getting paralyzed by focusing on what you can do now, regardless of how much or little it is.
In the meantime, find ways to trim your budget to make room for more savings. Also, look for ways to earn more money either through your current job or on the side. Over time, you’ll find that it gets easier to set aside money for things that are important to you. And, your future self will thank you for your efforts.