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At a time when inflation remains a problem and odds of a recession are high, many Americans are looking for ways to devote more money to their savings and investments. Two significant ways you can accomplish this are by increasing your income and cutting your spending.
Whether you’re a young adult ready to start up a retirement fund, a 50-something adult ready to pay off your mortgage, or a senior citizen living on a fixed income, these tips can help you build savings, reduce debt, boost income and invest wisely.
1. Pay yourself first
Save part of your monthly income as soon as you get it, rather than setting aside whatever’s left over.
One way to make paying yourself a priority 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, CFP and founder of Women+Wealth Solutions in Carle Place, New York.
2. 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 little-to-no control over, such as a major illness or job loss. An infrequent expense that 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.
A general rule of thumb is to save enough to cover three to six months’ worth of expenses.
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.
Less than half of U.S. households have enough savings to cover a surprise $1,000 expense, according to a recent Bankrate survey, which found that many feel inflation is impacting their ability to save for emergencies. A general rule of thumb is to save enough to cover three to six months’ worth of expenses.
If you have a habit of dipping into your emergency savings when you shouldn’t, move those funds to a separate savings account so they won’t be depleted when you need them.
3. Create a spending plan
A spending plan, also known as a budget, is a list of your monthly income and expenses. It can help you see how much money is being devoted to both necessary and discretionary spending, and you can make changes as you see fit. A budget can be made using an app, a spreadsheet or cash envelopes, says Charlie Bolognino, ChFC, CFP, and founder of Side-by-Side Financial Planning.
Both regular and one-off expenses should be accounted for in your budget, Bolognino says. “Proactively identifying even just a few top one-off expenses through the year — such as property taxes, car registration, tuition, back to school shopping, etc. — and incorporating those can make a big difference in your plan accuracy and confidence.”
4. 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 new-found savings in your pocket, wallet or checking account, where you’ll likely just spend the money on something else. Instead, put the extra money to good use by paying down a debt or transferring it to a savings account where it’ll be out of reach.
“Try to reduce one spending habit that is discretionary and bank the savings or put it toward paying down a debt,” Women+Wealth Solutions’ Rogoszinski says.
Paying off debt can 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.
5. Get creative about making more money
Ways to earn more money include getting a part-time job and selling things you no longer need.
Working longer hours might seem burdensome, but taking on an extra job — even temporarily — in order to meet specific savings goals can be a smart strategy. In fact, U.S. workers with a side hustle earned an average of $996 a month from it, according to a Bankrate survey.
You can start a side hustle by identifying a skill you have and the tools and resources needed to turn it into a money-making business.
Another way to generate cash for savings is selling items you don’t need, such as an extra car, used designer clothing, collectibles, musical instruments or jewelry. Consider a website such as eBay, Craigslist, Poshmark or Facebook Marketplace to connect with potential buyers.
6. Take baby steps toward saving
If you find saving to be a challenge, start by trying to save just $100 or $500 for a specific purchase or expense. Even after you’ve successfully saved up and made that purchase, continue to save that amount (or more) so you can pay for other things you need with cash instead of credit.
If you’re unable to save any money for major purchases and long-term investments, you may be living above your means. Some small budgetary changes can help, or larger ones might be in order, such as finding less expensive housing or means of transportation.
7. Allocate your investment assets
Some investments are relatively tame on the risk-reward scale while others are more volatile.
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, your investing strategy should be based on factors like your time horizon, risk tolerance and personal financial situation.
8. Understand investment costs
Whether you’re talking about stocks and bonds, mutual funds, brokerage accounts or 401(k) retirement plans, virtually all investments involve fees or commissions 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, CFP, financial advisor with CGN Advisors in Inverness, 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.
9. 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.
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,” says Rogoszinski of Women+Wealth Solutions.
Having a long-term investment strategy and a diversified portfolio can help you weather market fluctuations without making decisions based on emotions.
10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Some investors might not be sure where to start when it comes to things like choosing stocks and making sure a portfolio is balanced. Don’t be afraid to seek guidance from a financial advisor. You can choose a traditional financial advisor, who typically charges a fee of about 1 percent of your assets. You can also go with a robo-advisor, which usually charges lower fees and helps build your portfolio based on algorithms.
–Freelance writer Marci Geffner contributed to a previous version of this article.