7 Habits of Highly Successful Savers
Friday, February 17, 2017
According to a 2016 study conducted by GOBankingRates, more than two-thirds of Americans have less than $1,000 saved, with 34 percent admitting to having absolutely no money in their savings account. Though today's consumers are more aware than ever about the importance of savvy spending, these statistics ask the question: What does it take to be a successful saver?
Luckily, becoming an effective saver can be achieved in a handful of ways. Piggybacking on the ingenuity of Stephen Covey, author of "7 Habits of Highly Effective People," here are seven habits of highly successful savers to keep in mind.
1. They pay themselves first. Paying bills on time is crucial to financial management, but what about paying yourself as part of that commitment? People who consider their future selves just as important as their monthly mortgage are more effective at building savings accounts.
To build up your savings on a consistent basis and get into a regular habit of doing so, start "paying yourself first" by setting aside a certain amount each pay period for your savings account. Treat this account just like you would a recurring bill and, if possible, make it automatic. This can mean asking your employer to deduct a certain amount of your paycheck into a savings account every pay period or setting up a recurring transfer of funds between your checking and savings accounts. You can also download a tool like Digit, which reviews your spending and finds unused funds to transfer into an FDIC-insured savings account.
2. They avoid lifestyle inflation. When you receive a raise, it's tempting to spend more money on things and experiences that make you happy. However, the "hedonic treadmill" theory suggests that even though an income boost can make us feel like we've earned an uptick in spending, our newfound windfall will eventually leave us as unsatisfied as we were prior to the raise because our needs don't disappear – they just get grander. Savvy savers know to avoid lifestyle inflation during periods of income growth and invest in themselves instead. This can mean upping retirement contributions or diverting the difference into a savings account, emergency fund or toward some other financial goal.
3. They're frugal. Spending less than you earn is key to staying afloat financially, yet many of us rely on credit cards to fund our lifestyles. With more than $16,000 in credit card debt per household in America, it's clear many of us struggle to understand exactly what we can and cannot afford. Successful savers are very clear on that point and often live a frugal lifestyle despite having an income that can afford a few luxuries. Warren Buffett, for example, still resides in the home he purchased for just $31,500 nearly 60 years ago, despite being one of the wealthiest people on the planet. Take it from Buffett: Maintaining a frugal lifestyle while your income continues to grow will help you reach your financial goals sooner.
4. They save for retirement. Many experts suggest that you contribute 10 percent to 15 percent of your income to a retirement plan. While that may not be realistic for everyone, successful savers know to contribute at least what their company is willing to match. If your employer offers to match 3 percent of your income toward retirement savings, you should at least match that or risk leaving money on the table. Additionally, because contributions to your 401(k) are tax-free, it's a good idea to contribute something to reduce your overall taxable income.
If your employer does not offer a retirement benefit, or you're self-employed, consider opening a traditional IRA or Roth IRA. A traditional IRA is similar to a 401(k) in that contributions reduce your taxable income, while a Roth IRA provides tax-free withdrawals upon retirement. Research these options and chat with a financial planner about the plan that works best for you, your budget and your business.
5. They set savings goals. People who set goals for a purchase – whether it's a car, television or family vacation – are more apt to reduce unnecessary spending in pursuit of that goal. While other consumers use credit cards to purchase items they can't afford, effective savers rarely spend money they don't have.
The next time you decide to invest in a big purchase, review your budget to see where you can make cuts to allocate more funds toward that goal. You can also boost your income to reach your savings goals quicker by taking on side jobs, such as freelance writing, dog walking, web design services or another gig that takes advantage of your marketable skills.
6. They regularly review expenses. To avoid overspending on recurring bills, conscious consumers know to regularly review rates on everything from loan interest to insurance policies to service plans. Keeping an eye on these expenses and making a change when lower rates are available ensures that you keep more of your hard-earned money to use toward savings goals or to pay down debts.
What's more, it's important to evaluate whether services, policies and other expenses are actually needed, and not being paid simply out of habit. Since most bills are automated, it's easy to set-and-forget your expenses to the detriment of your budget and overall savings goals.
7. They save for emergencies. Emergencies are inherently unexpected and almost always emotionally and financially jarring. Emergency funds are a key component in the arsenal of a successful saver because they not only mitigate the financial burden of unexpected expenses, they also help reduce the stress which often accompanies them. Unlike the amount you set aside for a specific purchase, an emergency fund is to be used exclusively for events like family crises, medical issues and natural disasters. People with emergency savings avoid crippling debt and are on the road to recovery much more quickly than those who are unprepared.