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When it comes to saving money, many of us have fallen short of expectations.

Many people can’t cover the cost of an unexpected expense and too many folks are outliving their retirement savings. A fifth of Americans have more credit card debt than emergency savings.

Now’s your chance to turn things around and make saving money a top priority. Here are 10 ways to boost your savings and transform your financial life.

1. Start saving now

Though the economy is doing well, most Americans haven’t gotten a raise in a while. No wonder many of us are having a hard time saving money.

But saving something is better than failing to save anything. “The sooner you develop the habit of saving, the better off you’ll be,” says Mary McDougall, a wealth management adviser with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and a Certified Financial Planner.

Start small and save often. If you can’t set aside $1,000 this month, try saving $20 per week.

“If you wait until the end of the month and try to save what is left over, nothing will be left over. And even when there is, there is no consistency to it,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst. “So flip that around and establish the habit of saving first.”

2. Clearly define your goals

Some people aren’t motivated to save money. That’s why setting specific, realistic goals is important. Once you know why you’re setting aside part of your paycheck, deciding to save rather than spend your extra money should be easier.

America Saves, a campaign under the Consumer Federation of America, encourages people to take a pledge and meet a savings goal, like putting away money for a vacation or a new home. Saving money in order to grow an emergency fund is the top savings goal, says America Saves’ national director George Barany, who helped launch the program.

3. Put your savings in the right place

Make sure you’re putting your savings in the right account. If your savings account pays less than 1 percent, you’re missing out on the opportunity to earn more interest and reach your savings goals faster.

The best savings accounts pay around 2 percent APY. Many of the top savings accounts require a low minimum deposit and don’t charge any monthly maintenance fees.

Consider opening a CD if you’re putting money away for a short-term goal and you don’t mind tying up your funds for a year. And take advantage of the power of compound interest. Look for an account that indicates that interest compounds daily rather than monthly. That way, you’re earning the highest amount of interest.

You can compare rates on savings accounts and CDs on Bankrate to find the right account for you.

4. Think like a saver

The key to saving money is having the right mindset. Unfortunately, the messages we receive often drive us to spend more and live beyond our means. “We’ve been brainwashed to think like spenders and not really value that old-fashioned habit of saving and thrift,” Barany says.

Thinking like a saver is all about making smart purchases and being more conscious of how you’re using your money, Barany says. People who think like savers, he says, take the following steps:

  • Comparison shop.
  • Make lists.
  • Avoid impulse buying.
  • Avoid charging too many items to credit cards.
  • Avoid payday lending traps.

5. Automate your savings

One of the easiest ways to meet your short- and long-term goals is to make saving money something that happens automatically.

Set up direct deposit so that a portion of every paycheck automatically goes into a savings account for your emergency savings, McBride says. If you haven’t signed up for your 401(k) or another employer-sponsored retirement plan, change that so that you’re making contributions and saving for retirement every time you get paid.

Don’t have a retirement plan at work? Open a traditional or Roth IRA. Look for a firm that lets you make automatic contributions, like Wealthfront or Fidelity.

6. Track your spending 

It’s critical to know where your money is going after each pay day, particularly if you’re trying to develop better financial habits.

“I don’t know anybody who really likes to track their expenses, but it is such an important undertaking to help you understand what you could potentially save or what changes you need to make in your spending,” Barany says.

Keeping track of what’s going in and out of your bank account is easier than ever, thanks to the countless number of financial apps that have been created. Develop a spending plan and come up with a method that will help you keep tabs on how you’re using your hard-earned money. A simple change, like making your own coffee instead of buying it could lead to other cost-cutting measures, like bringing your lunch to work or taking public transportation instead of driving.

“One step potentially could influence other actions,” Barany says.

7. Use excess cash wisely

Just got a raise or a bonus? Don’t spend it all in one place. While it’s nice to have extra money in the bank, you don’t want to go overboard and overspend.

If you have more money at your disposal, put it to good use. “Make a list of what your priorities are and attack the list and do the highest priority things first,” McDougall says.

Use the extra money in the bank to make additional loan payments. That way, you can potentially bump up your credit score and qualify for better interest rates (which will save you more money in the long run). Or increase your retirement plan contribution percentage.

Bottom line: Use a cash windfall responsibly. And if you wish you had more money to save, start freelancing or find a side job.

8. Find an accountability partner

Some of us have no problem saving money on our own. Others may need someone to help them reign in their spending.

Choose a family member or friend who can help you stick to your spending plan. This should be someone who can check in with you regularly and keep you from making decisions that would cause you to spend money unnecessarily. You could even come up with a game and compete with the person holding you accountable to see who can save the most first.

People who take America Saves’ pledge automatically gain an accountability partner.

“We communicate with them both through text messaging and emails specifically around that savings goal to keep people motivated,” Barany says.

9. Assess your progress

Make time to check in with yourself (or your accountability partner) to see how well you’re sticking to your spending plan. If you can, try to do this at least once a week or every couple of weeks.

Identify missteps and come up with solutions. If you’re making progress toward achieving your goals, reward yourself. That will drive you to keep moving forward and making good financial choices.

10. Just say no

‘No’ is a powerful word. If you’re tempted to spend more money than you should, walk away. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life or going out with friends and family. But turning down invitations every once in a while and limiting the number of days you go to brunch could eventually pay off.

If you’re a parent, telling your children ‘no’ may also be necessary in situations that could jeopardize your own financial future. Putting your own long-term financial needs first instead of paying most of your kid’s college costs, for example, is something worth considering.

“Your retirement is most important to you whether or not you pay for your children’s education is secondary,” McDougall says. “And here’s why: You can borrow or the child can borrow to go to college. You cannot borrow to retire.”