Saving is hard. According to the Federal Reserve  , nearly 40% of Americans don’t have more than $400 in their savings to cover an emergency. Even on a limited budget, there are broad steps you can take to better understand where you spend your money and how to increase your savings.
Here are five steps to get you started:
- Track your expenses
- Create a budget
- Reduce spending
- Set savings goals
- Make savings automatic
1. Track Your Expenses
The first step to start saving more money is to figure out how much you spend. Get started by tracking all of your expenses, beginning with the basics: food (groceries, and dining out/in), shelter (rent or mortgage), clothing and utilities (including cell phone bills), and any car payments, gas, childcare and education costs, etc.
Enter your data into a spreadsheet or money management tool, and then organize the numbers by categories. Use your credit card and bank statements to make sure you're accurate.
2. Create a Budget
Now that you're clear on your expenses, it's time to create a budget. Part of your budget will contain fixed-cost items such as rent or utilities, these are your needs, and those tend to be fairly stable month-to-month. You'll also have everyday needs that might not be as critical, such as a payment plan for a new cell phone, but are still payments you'll need to make. The area where you'll likely be able to cut spending and increase savings will be with your wants or discretionary spending.
There are numerous budget models you can explore to help you better understand how much you should spend in each budget category.
3. Reduce Spending
Now comes the hard part: what to cut. To reduce spending, identify non-essentials that you can afford to cut, such as entertainment and dining out. You can also look for ways to save on your fixed monthly expenses. A few ideas:
- Cancel subscriptions and memberships you don't use—especially if they renew automatically
- Eat out less or seek out less expensive alternatives
- Reduce the morning (or afternoon) coffee shop visit
- Look for free or low-cost events to reduce entertainment spending
4. Set Savings Goals
Make a list of all the financial goals you want to accomplish in the short -and long -term. Short-term goals should take no longer than a year to achieve. Long-term goals, such as saving for retirement or your child's education, may take longer. A few tips:
- Begin with 1-2 specific goals
- Assign a timeline to your goal(s)
- Set monthly sub-goals
- Track your goals
5. Make Savings Automatic
Most banks and credit unions offer automated transfers between your checking and savings accounts. You can choose when, how much, and where to transfer money. Did you know that you can split your direct deposit so a portion of every paycheck goes directly into your savings account?
Tip: Splitting your direct deposit and setting up automated transfers are simple ways to save money because you can set it and forget it. It can also help reduce the temptation to spend the money instead of save because funds are moved automatically into your savings account.
Tracking expenses, creating a budget, reducing spending and creating goals are all great ways to reduce overall spending. Get started today by tracking your expenses and you'll be one step closer to learning how to increase your savings.