Imagine owning a car during your lean days as a college student, yet never having to make a car payment.
Even if you're out of college and earning a bit more, chances are you still struggle to make ends meet. Wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to worry about the cost of car repairs, or the rising price of oil changes?
Such financial security may sound like a fantasy, but you can make it a reality -- even if your income is modest -- simply by following a single tip I was lucky enough to hear at a young age.
To this day, it remains one of the best budgeting and planning tips I've ever learned: Make monthly payments to yourself.
The car payment
How does this work? To illustrate, let's look at the car payment.
Most people are in the mindset of making a monthly car payment. It feels "normal" to pay $200 or $300 per month for your car.
To avoid this fate, why not start making a monthly car payment to yourself before you even own your next car?
Open a special savings account earmarked specifically for the purchase of your next car. Start putting $200 or $300 per month into that account.
After five years of making $200 monthly payments, you'll have a nest egg of $12,000 in that account. That's enough money to buy a gently used car purely in cash.
Once you buy that car, continue making car payments to yourself. After all, you'll need to replace your car someday, and you'll appreciate having a fund that can support it.
The repair payment
Start another savings account that's designated specifically for future car and home repairs.
After all, at some unforeseen point in the future, you'll need to replace your car's timing belt, or fix your home's water heater.
Start making a monthly payment toward your repair "bills." Imagine that you're paying a monthly bill, and deposit this bill payment into a savings account earmarked specifically for this purpose.
And don't forget to make payments for the "ultimate" repair -- the care of your own body. A few years ago, I began paying a monthly hospital bill to myself to fund future health care costs.
I'm relatively young and healthy now. But I know that anything might happen in the future.
Where to open these accounts
Online banks like SmartyPig and Capital One 360 -- as well as many brick-and-mortar banks and credit unions -- allow you to open multiple savings accounts. Better yet, many of these financial institutions let you "nickname" each account, so you can see at a glance how much you have saved in each category.
Remember, making bill payments to yourself is far more enjoyable than making monthly payments to someone else.
Paula Pant is a journalist-turned-blogger who helps people shatter limits, ditch the cubicle and live on their own terms. She's traveled to 30 countries, owns six rental property units and hasn't had an employer since 2008. Her blog, Afford Anything, is the gathering point for a tribe that refuses to say "I can't afford it." Follow Paula on Twitter: @AffordAnything.