Make savings contributions automatically
Though every budget scenario is different, Curt Weil, a Certified Financial Planner for the Lasecke Weil Wealth Advisory Group in Palo Alto, California, says a good rule of thumb is to allocate at least 10 percent of your earnings toward savings, using direct deposit to pay yourself first.
Tehan agrees. "If you put that money aside before you even see it, you won't miss it. Direct deposit helps to put your savings on autopilot."
Short-term savings that you may need to access can be held in an interest-bearing savings account, six-month certificate of deposit or money market fund. Long-term savings, meanwhile, should be directed toward a tax-friendly retirement savings tool, such as an individual retirement account, or IRA, or 401(k).
The ultimate goal, of course, is to maximize your 401(k). The maximum is $18,000 for 2015, and $6,000 for the catch-up contribution for workers age 50 and over.
Define spending and priorities
Another 35 percent of your earnings, he says, should be earmarked for housing and utilities. Weil says, however, that homeowners can often up that percentage since principal payments are already a form of forced savings, and the mortgage interest they pay is tax-deductible.
If you're saving for something specific, such as a new car or your child's college education, you may want to set aside another 10 percent of your earnings into an interest-bearing account or a tax-favored 529 college savings plan.
Everything else -- the remaining 45 percent -- is discretionary, for use on food, entertainment, clothing and vacations.
That's where priorities come in. You can't have everything you want, says Martin Siesta, a Certified Financial Planner for Compass Wealth Management in Maplewood, New Jersey, but you can direct your dollars toward things you want the most.
"If consumers start by deciding what's most important to them, then cutting back on some of the things that aren't that important isn't really a sacrifice," he says.
Pay with cash
Once you've determined how much to set aside for saving, spending and investing, it's time to make those numbers stick. The growing popularity of credit cards and debit cards makes it all too easy to overspend.
With the exception of your mortgage and car loan, most consumers should implement a strict policy of paying with cash for groceries, clothes, vacations and nonessential items.
Siesta also recommends relying less on ATMs, especially those that charge a fee. Withdrawing a fixed amount of discretionary money at the beginning of the month, he says, forces you to make better spending choices.
"By spending cash out of an envelope, you begin to get a better feeling for where your money is going and what your priorities really are."