Do you want to put more money in your savings? Want to stop living paycheck to paycheck? Not sure where to start? No matter how old you are, odds are that you could use some help to improve your money saving skills and get ahead. Whatever your age, here are some tips to help you get ahead.
20s: Savings 101
People in their 20s tend to be much better at spending money than saving it. College-aged kids are out on their own for the first time, taking out student loans, and signing up for credit cards. With so many opportunities to seemingly pull money out of thin air, it can be easy to rack up a mountain of debt and develop costly habits.
Don’t fall victim to the debt game. Start saving early and you’ll put yourself in a better position to cash in on the years to come. Here’s a few ways you can start:
- Resist signing up for multiple credit cards no matter how good the initial offer seems. Stick to one and pay it off every month.
- Only use your credit card for emergency purchases. Set aside cash, or use a debit card, for things like gas and groceries.
- Don’t give in to impulse purchases for things you don’t need.
- Keep up on your bills! Late fees and collection agencies will haunt your dreams.
- Buy generic instead of brand name products.
- Use a coupon for textbooks and sell them back when you’re done.
- Cancel your cable and double down on Internet speed instead. With the rise of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO GO, you’ll have plenty of entertainment to choose from – especially if you can share an account with friends or grab a login from good ol’ mom and dad.
- Learn to cook! Buy in bulk, use grocery coupons, and plan your meals and you’ll save big. That means making your own coffee, too.
- Set a “fun” budget for all those nights out that make your 20s special and don’t allow yourself to spend more than you set aside.
- Get your first job? Invest in your future. At the very least, open a savings account if not an IRA or 401k. The earlier you start, the better.
30s: Commit to Your Future
By the time you reach your thirties, adulthood has begun to take hold of your life. You’ve probably had a steady job (or two), watched friends get married and have kids, and started to dream about retiring. If you want to get there one day, it’s time to get serious about saving. Take these steps and you’ll put yourself on a good path:
- Create and review your budget to live debt-free. This includes setting short and long-term goals. It will help you understand where you spend money and where you can save.
- Learn to pay yourself first each month by automatically putting a portion of your paycheck in a savings account. Whether you want to go on vacation or grow your emergency fund, stick with it.
- Remember that retirement IRA or 401k account you set up in your 20s? Well, it’s time to ramp up your contributions and make sure you have both now.
- While you’re at it, see if your employer will match your contributions and max out all benefit opportunities available through your work – everything from snacks to health insurance.
- Start to invest and diversify your portfolio. Though you’ll want to consider mutual fund and steady earners, you’re still young enough to take some risks on emerging companies that you know and love as well.
- Think about buying instead of renting your home. It can be a great investment, but it’s not for everyone. There’s a lot to consider, so do your homework before taking the plunge.
- Cut back. Buying new gadgets, clothes, and going out every weekend is fun in your 20s, but kills your ability to save. It’s time to eliminate some unnecessary spending. Divide your purchases into “needs” and “wants” and focus on the former.
- When you do shop, search for coupon codes and discounts when buying anything online.
40s: Make It or Break It Time
By now, your dream to retire has taken full-effect. Get serious about retirement saving, or you could be working from the retirement home down the road. Make sure you’ve fully embraced the tips for your 20s and 30s – it’s time to ramp up your efforts for everything you’ve started. Here’s what you need to be doing:
- Create a retirement savings roadmap. In order to reach your ultimate goal, you need to know where you’re going and what it takes to get there. Consider meeting with a professional financial planner and check your retirement status.
- Eliminate debt. Pay off your credit cards one at a time and make those final payments on your two-decade-old student loans.
- Speaking of student loans… if you have kids, it’s time to plan for their college expenses and set up an education fund so you can afford it when the time comes.
- Make retirement savings a priority. Diversify your investments, look into mutual funds, and max out contributions to your 401k and IRA.
- Get a raise at work? Use it to increase your contributions to savings, not spending.
- After four decades, you’re bound to have accumulated a mass of stuff. Get rid of it! Sell it on eBay, Craigslist, or just have an old-fashioned garage sale to get a little extra cash and space in your life.
- Take advantage of all the tax benefits and write-offs you’re entitled to. The IRS currently holds over $1 billion in unclaimed refunds – better make sure none of it’s yours.
With some planning and a commitment to saving money, you will put yourself on a path to financial security. Keep your ultimate goals in mind and be willing to adjust your lifestyle to reach them. Stay open to new ideas and read personal finance blogs, like this one, for inspiration.
Charlie Cohn is the author of The Step-by-Step Guide to Saving Money with Coupon Codes and Shopping Online and oversees CouponPal.com’s blog. He’s an obsessive deal hacker on the search for new ways to save money and get a deal online.