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Pay yourself first
Save part of your monthly income as soon as you get it, rather setting aside whatever's left over.
One way to do this is to set up automatic transfers from your bank account to a savings account or investment account.
"Take a percentage of your paycheck or a random number and have it done automatically. Don't think about it. Don't go back to it. Just have it done," says Ronit Rogoszinski, a wealth adviser at Arch Financial Group in Garden City, New York.
Open a savings account today.
Save for emergencies
An emergency savings account is the foundation of a sound financial plan. But what exactly is an emergency?
A true emergency is something you have no control over and little choice about, such as a major illness or job loss.
An infrequent expense you can anticipate, such as a car repair or traveling to visit family, isn't an emergency but rather a separate category of expense that also should be saved for.
If your household has two incomes, set aside at least three months of required expenses for emergencies. If you're a one-income household, double that to six months.
If you have a habit of dipping into your savings when you shouldn't, move those funds to separate savings accounts so the funds won't be depleted when you need them.
Don't have an emergency fund? Open a savings account and start building one.
Spend less, save more
Saving often starts with spending less. Whether it's a pricey hair salon, daily premium coffee or brand-new clothing at retail prices, most people can find things to trim from their budgets.
When you cut back on spending, don't leave the savings in your pocket, wallet or checking account, where you'll just spend the money on something else. Instead, make a payment that day on a debt or transfer the money to a savings account where it will be out of reach.
Compare savings accounts on Bankrate to find the right one for you.
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Lose a habit, gain some savings
If you buy a Danish every morning on your way to work, dine out five nights a week or indulge other similar habits, resolve to substitute a stay-at-home-and-save habit for one or two of those days.
"Try to reduce one spending habit that is discretionary and bank the savings or put it toward paying down a debt," Rogoszinski says.
Paying off debt can be a great way to free up money that you can redirect to savings or investing. Make a list of your debts and pay off those with the highest interest rates or smallest balances first.
If you're carrying high-interest credit card debt, consider moving it to a balance transfer card.
Get creative making more money
There are two ways to earn more money: get a part-time job and sell something you no longer need.
Working longer hours might seem burdensome. But an extra job with a deadline and a specific short-term savings goal can be a smart strategy.
"Look at it as, 'I am going to work part time until I save enough money to buy a new car in two years.' Then, it doesn't become as onerous as it would if you were thinking, 'I have to work two jobs for the rest of my life,'" says Frank Boucher, owner of Boucher Financial Planning Services in Reston, Virginia.
Selling something you don't need like an extra car, used designer clothing, collectibles, musical instruments or jewelry also can generate cash for savings.
Baby-step your way to saving
If you find saving to be a challenge, start by trying to save just $100 or $500 for a specific purchase or expense. When you've saved and spent that sum, continue to save that amount or more so you can pay for what you need with cash instead of credit.
If you're unable to save any money for major purchases and long-term investments, you're living above your means. That calls for major adjustments, like trading in a new car for basic reliable transportation or moving to more affordable housing.
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Allocate your assets
Some investments are relatively tame on the risk-reward scale while others are wilder.
Generally speaking, younger people should invest more aggressively while older people should be more conservative.
If you're a novice investor, start with a basket of investments, perhaps in a mutual fund or assets you choose yourself. The goal should be to diversify without making your portfolio too complicated or too narrow.
Whether you're a novice or experienced investor, be cautious about investments with a high-flying risk-reward profile.
"There's a direct correlation between return and risk, so if you are being promised pie in the sky, you can be sure there is a lot of risk," Boucher says.
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Understand investment costs
Whether you're talking about stocks and bonds, mutual funds, broker commissions or 401(k) retirement plan management fees, virtually all investments involve costs that investors should understand.
"Sometimes, the employer will subsidize some of the cost of a 401(k), and sometimes (it) will pass it all on to the employees," says Cheryl Krueger, president of Growing Fortunes Financial Partners LLC, a financial planning firm in Schaumburg, Illinois. "Going to (your managers) and letting them know that you noticed is helpful."
If your employer-based retirement plan has exceptionally high costs, you might want to invest just enough to capture your employer's match and make additional investments outside that plan.
Stick to an investment plan
A stock market dip can be a good buying opportunity for steady investors who want to add to their portfolio.
"Intuitively, you want to run away," Boucher says, "but what you should be doing is continuing your strategy of buying a mix of stocks and bonds."
Review your investment strategy once or twice a year, and don't let headlines throw you off track as you allocate your funds.
"The goal should be for it to be an ongoing process, not to be stopped or restarted because of the news of the day," Rogoszinski says.