Travel Hacks 1 of 12: 6 Ways to Save on Airfare

If you’re planning a trip overseas, airfare may be your largest vacation expense. Even when flying relatively close to home, the cost of your airline ticket can take a big bite out of your vacation budget. Fortunately, there are loads of ways to save on airfare and leave you with more to spend at your destination. Here, we’ve compiled a list of six ways to save on airfare.

  1. Be flexible with dates and destinations

If you’re willing to be flexible on dates and the destination of your flight, you can potentially save hundreds on your airline ticket. Instead of choosing a date and destination for your vacation and then searching for the best prices, select a date and destination based on the best available deals. If you’re set on going to a particular destination, you may be able to save a boatload of money on the ticket by flying to a nearby airport and then driving to your vacation spot. 

  1. Shop smart online

Harness the power of technology to score the best price on airfare. Searching sites and apps like Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline is like using multiple travel agencies to find the best flights for your vacation. Kayak, another popular travel app, plugs your preferred dates into its search engine and searches airline sites and agency sites to provide you with all the prices and options available. 

  1. Act quickly to snag mistake fares

The best deals on airfares happen by mistake. When an airline accidentally discounts a ticket, you can snag a flight for as much as 90% off its conventional price. Mistake fares get snatched up quickly, so you’ll need to check your favorite airlines and flight apps often so you don’t miss a deal. If you haven’t worked out your child care and/or work arrangements for a date with a heavily discounted airfare, it’s best to grab it anyway and work out the details later. By federal law, airlines must allow 24 hours for free cancellations of all flight tickets. 

  1. Consider booking with a foreign currency

If you’ll be flying a foreign carrier, it may be cheaper to pay for your ticket with the local currency of your destination. Before paying for your flight, check to see if it’ll cost less if you don’t pay in dollars. Sometimes, it can actually cost more this way, but oftentimes, you can save a significant amount by simply changing your location from the U.S. to your destination.

  1. Book early

You’ll typically find the best deals on international flights 3-6 months before the departure date. If you’ll be traveling during peak times, like summer or during a holiday season, you’ll want to search for tickets even earlier. Flights are updated constantly, so check often to get the best deal.

  1. Watch out for sneaky fees

Too often, an economy flight will actually cost a lot more than its listing after the airline tacks on all sorts of extra fees and surcharges. For example, you may need to pay a fee for every bag you check during each leg of your journey. Other airlines charge a fee for choosing seats, which may be a necessity if you’ll be flying with young children or an elderly person in need of assistance. Make sure you know exactly how much you’ll be paying before you book a ticket – it can sometimes be cheaper to upgrade your ticket or switch to a direct flight and avoid some of these fees. 

Airfare can be the biggest item on your vacation budget, but there are so many ways to save on this expense. Use the tips outlined here to get the best deal on your tickets and keep your vacation budget intact. Happy travels!

Your Turn: Have you scored a low price on an airline ticket? Share your best hacks with us in the comments.

What to Buy and What to Skip in January

What’s your January shopping style–all shopped out, or ready to hit the mall again as soon as the last guest leaves? Whatever it is, we’ve got you covered! January begins with a bang, but there are no major shopping holidays once the new year gets underway. Of course, you can still pick up great bargains this month, or find that you’ve overpaid on items that get price drops just weeks after you’ve purchased them. Here’s what to buy and what to skip in January.

Buy: Winter clothing

Were you given a ton of gift cards to retailers over the holidays? If so, you’re in luck! Prices will start dropping on all winter apparel this month so retailers can make room for the new spring line. You can pick up warm-weather wear that’s discounted by as much as 85% and still have lots of time to enjoy it this season.

Skip: Spring clothing

The worst time to purchase an item is generally right before it’s in hot demand. With spring wear landing in inventory this month, prices will be high, so don’t plan on picking out a springtime wardrobe just yet. You’ll start seeing the first round of discounts on spring clothing in April. And of course, as the season deepens, so will the discounts. 

Buy: Fitness gear

The new year is here and it’s time to make good on that resolution to shed some holiday pounds. Retailers know this well, so they’ll slash prices on yoga mats, fitness balls, resistance bands, weights and more. You can also find athletic wear on sale this month, and sometimes exercise machines as well. Shop multiple retailers to score the best deals. 

Skip: Mattresses 

Is your deep winter sleep getting disrupted every night by a lumpy mattress? Hold on just a bit longer before springing for a new one. Online and brick-and-mortar mattress retailers will be dropping prices on their merchandise by as much as 60 percent next month during Presidents Day sale events. As always, look up prices at several online and in-store retailers for the best deal. 

Buy: Linens and soft goods

While you’ll want to skip the new mattress this month, you can still upgrade your night’s sleep without spending a bundle in January. The first month of the year is famous for its white sales, with soft home goods like blankets and pillows seeing discounts as deep as 70%.  

Skip: Snow gear

While winter apparel will see slashed prices this month, snow gear, which includes skis, skates, snowshoes and the like, tend to retail at full-price until the end of the season. Wait just a few more months for steep discounts on all things snow.

Buy: TVs

The football post-season is the perfect time to give your flatscreen an upgrade. Retailers will be competing for your business and offering up promotions on their TVs with discounts that rival those of Black Friday. 

Skip: A new car

Car prices tend to rise and fall throughout the year, so you usually don’t have to wait long for a discount on a new set of wheels. But, if you are shopping for a new car, you don’t want to finalize your purchase in January. According to Edmunds.com, January is the least discounted month of the year for car prices. If you’re not in a rush, you can wait for the big sales that run from fall through the end of the year. Otherwise, the next time you’ll see discounts on cars will be on Presidents Day next month. 

Buy: Holiday decor and gift baskets

The bargain-priced holiday leftovers you found on the shelves at the end of December will be selling at even lower prices this month. Get started on next year’s holiday prep by stocking up on wrapping paper, decor and even small gift baskets for those last-minute presents you frantically shop for each year. You can also pick up these small gifts to have on hand whenever you need one for any reason throughout the year.

It’s a new year, and a great time to pick up a fantastic bargain. This guide can help you learn what to buy and what to skip in January.

Your Turn: Have you picked up a bargain buy in January? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Step 12 of 12 Steps to Financial Wellness-Review and Tweak

Congratulations! You’ve reached the 12th and final step of the 12 steps to financial wellness. In this step, we’ll review each of the previous steps and adjust this part of your financial health as necessary. 

Step 1: Track your spending

Are you being responsible in tracking your spending? You can do this with a budgeting app, by keeping a running estimate of how much you’re spending in each category in your head, or by reviewing your receipts and checking account statements at the end of each month. Knowing where your money is going will help you make more responsible spending decisions in the future. 

Step 2: Create and stick to a budget

Budgets need to be reviewed and tweaked every few months or so to ensure they still work for your present life circumstances. Fluctuations in consumer prices, your income and various life expenses need to be accounted for in your budget. If your budget no longer works for you, make some changes until it does again.

Step 3: Pay down debt

Take a minute to review where you are in your debt-paying journey. Have you made as much progress as you’d hoped to at this point in time? Can you beef up any payments and make that debt disappear sooner?

Step 4: Talk money with your partner         

Have you had the big money talk with your partner? Are you remembering to touch base on money matters on a regular basis? Do you need to revisit any of the topics you’ve discussed, such as sharing accounts, dividing expenses and saving up for a shared dream?

Step 5: Spend mindfully

Review some of your recent purchases. Are you blowing money on stuff you don’t need instead of relieving stress and emotional overload in a healthy manner? If so, look for better ways to de-stress and remember to avoid temptation by disabling one-click purchases and staying away from stores that trigger your overspending impulse.

Step 6: Pay it forward

The money, time and smiles we share are the only moments that are truly ours. Are you remembering to pay it forward? You can volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, donate clothing to the less fortunate and help your favorite charity.

Step 7: Pay yourself first

Are you remembering to feed your savings? Remember to prioritize having an emergency fund with three to six months’ worth of living expenses. Once you have that funded, you can work on saving toward long- and other short-term saving goals by automating a monthly transfer from your checking account to your savings account. At this time, you may want to consider increasing the amount you are putting into savings each month by trimming some discretionary expenses.

Step 8: Know when and how to indulge

Living a spartan lifestyle without any indulgences can make you lose your budget–and fast! Instead, make sure you know when and how to indulge. Are you remembering to work your selected just-for-fun expenses into your budget so you can indulge without the guilt? Now is a good time to look back at your indulgences to figure out if they were good uses for your money.

Step 9: Check your credit score

How are those three magic numbers doing? If you’ve been following the rules for boosting and maintaining a high credit score, like paying your bills on time, having several active cards and keeping your credit utilization low, your score should have improved during these last few months, opening the door to low-interest loans and more.

Step 10: Think about retirement

Have you opened and furnished retirement accounts at work and beyond? Take the time now to review these accounts and to assess whether your funds have reached the place you’d hoped they would by now. 

Step 11: Start investing

Have you taken the beginner steps toward investing? A crucial part of successful investing is reviewing your portfolio on a regular basis and adjusting as necessary. Make sure your investments are performing well and that your assets are diversified in the most optimal way.

Step 12: Review your overall financial health

In this final step, you’ll review your financial health on a regular basis, just as you’ve done here. Don’t forget to maintain each component of your financial wellness to keep it in top shape.

Reviewing your financial health on a regular basis is an important part of staying financially fit. 

Your Turn: How often do you review your financial health? Tell us about it in the comments.

Buy This, Not That: How to Spend Your Way to Wealth and Freedom

Title: Buy This, Not That: How to Spend Your Way to Wealth and Freedom 

Author: Sam Dogen

Hardcover: 336 pages

Publisher: Portfolio

Publishing date: July 19, 2022

Who is this book for? 

  • Financial Samurai fans looking to learn more.
  • Readers of average economic status who want to learn how to build wealth and achieve financial freedom.

What’s inside this book?

  • The Financial Samurai’s unique approach to money management, which has been absorbed by an audience of 90 million over the past 13 years.
  • The Financial Samurai’s innovative 70/30 framework for optimal financial decision-making.

4 lessons you’ll learn from this book:  

  1. How to tell the difference between good debt and bad debt.
  2. The best way to invest on your own terms.
  3. How to create your own rules for spending.
  4. How to take the guesswork out of financial planning.

4 questions this book will answer for you:  

  1. Can I invest in real estate if I can’t afford to buy property?
  2. How can I build passive income streams that work with my goals and risk tolerance?
  3. What’s the best way to pay down debt?
  4. How do I optimize every dollar I earn so I can maximize my wealth?

What people are saying about this book: 

“Financial Samurai and this book have prepared me for life after basketball! A straightforward guide to live a balanced, financially free life. – Shaun Livingston

“A no-nonsense guide to living your best life now while also ensuring a financially independent future.” – Emily Chang

“A one-of-a-kind book! Bold advice from someone who’s not just done the math, he’s lived it. A must read!” – Kumiko Love

“Step-by-step, chapter-by-chapter, Sam shows how to make optimal money choices that focus on wealth building—not just saving for saving’s sake, but for living life on your terms.” – David Mcknight

Your Turn: What did you think of Buy This Not That? Share your opinion in the comments. 

Cash, Credit or Debit–How Should I Pay?

Q: With inflation soaring, I want to spend my money in the best way possible. When paying for various everyday and occasional purchases, should I be using cash, credit or debit?

A: There’s a time and place for everything. Some purchases should be paid for with cash, some with a credit card, and others with a debit card. Your lifestyle and personality may influence this choice as well. Let’s take a closer look at each payment method and when they should be used.

When should I use cash?

Between P2P payment platforms, mobile payment wallets and the growth of cryptocurrency, the world of commerce is becoming increasingly cashless. In fact, some consumers barely touch cash at all. 

However, there can be times when you’d be better off using cash. First, some gas stations charge less per gallon when the driver pays in cash. The difference is usually modest, up to 10 cents a gallon, but with gas prices soaring, it can add up to substantial savings over the course of a month. Next, if you have trouble sticking to your budget when you shop, it can be helpful to take only the amount of cash you need and leave your cards at home. This way, you’ll be forced to stick to your budget. Finally, some small businesses, like food trucks or independently owned stores, only accept cash payments or offer discounts for paying cash.

On the flip side, there are many disadvantages to using cash. First, cash provides no purchase protection. Consequently, it’s best not to use cash for very large purchases. Next, cash leaves no paper trail and it can make tracking expenses difficult. It’s best not to use cash if you’re trying to get a clear picture of where your money is going. Finally, cash always carries the risk of being lost or stolen. 

When should I use my credit card?

Credit cards are the double-edged sword of personal finance. On the one hand, credit card debt is one of the leading causes of consumer debt in the country. On the other hand, owning credit cards and using them responsibly is a crucial part of one’s financial health. 

In addition to the impact to your credit score, responsibly used credit cards offer two primary advantages: rewards and purchase protection. Using a rewards card for purchases you’d need to make anyway, such as paying utility bills or subscription fees for a service, can help you earn cash back, airline miles or another reward. The second big advantage to using a credit card – the purchase protection it offers – makes it the ideal choice for paying for large purchases or when buying something from a newer retailer. Knowing you can always dispute the charge or even cancel it if the product turns out to be different than expected, can help you shop with confidence. In addition to these advantages, paying with a credit card and making on-time payments can help boost your credit score while making expense tracking easy. 

Ideally, credit cards should only be used to cover fixed or steady payments, such as monthly bills, and for purchases you know you can pay for in full when the bill becomes due. It’s never a good idea to swipe your card for a purchase you cannot pay for today or within the next few weeks. Use your cards responsibly to ensure a healthy credit score and to stay out of debt. 

When should I use my debit card?

In many ways, debit cards offer the best of both worlds. You can always track your spending by reviewing your checking account statement, and you generally can only spend what you have. This helps minimize the risk of falling into debt. In addition, if your card is lost or stolen, you can cancel it and/or close the associated account. 

Debit cards can be a great choice for everyday purchases of any kind. However, since they  typically don’t offer rewards or the same level of purchase protection as credit cards, they may not be the best choice for large purchases, or for paying for products from a new retailer. 

Life is expensive, and you want your money to go as far as possible. Use this guide to help you choose the right payment method in every situation. 

Your Turn: When do you use cash, credit and debit? Tell us about it in the comments. 

What to Buy and What to Skip in September

Get ready for savings on big-ticket items this month! Retailers are looking to bring the crowds back after the big back-to-school storm has passed, and bargain prices are always a great way to attract shoppers. They also need to clear shelves before the holiday season blows in with its shopping frenzy. Add in the Labor Day sales that kick off the month, and it means big savings during September – but not on everything. Here’s what to buy and what to skip in September. 

Buy: Mattresses and bedding

Mattress sales practically give Labor Day its awesome name, and for good reason. You can find crazy-deep discounts on mattresses this month at almost any retailer that sells them. Top off the deal with some bedding and bath supplies, which are also selling at bargain prices. Be sure to start comparison-shopping at least a week or two before Labor Day to snag the best deal. After all, if you snooze, you lose. 

Skip: Halloween costumes and decor

Retailers might have you thinking Halloween is tomorrow, but you still have plenty of time to prep for Oct. 31. Though Halloween costumes and decor will hit the stores this month, it’s best to hold off on these purchases until October rolls around, as that’s the earliest you’ll start seeing scary-low discounts. 

Buy: Airfare

Since the days are getting shorter, it’s time to think winter! The holidays will be here before you can blink, and if you’re looking to grab airline tickets at a great price, you may want to shop for them now. The best deals on plane tickets usually show up eight weeks before the travel date, and for Thanksgiving, that means you’ll need to buy tickets in September. Look out for deals on tickets at the end of the month to save big on your travel plans. 

Skip: Autumn wear

It’s too early in the season for slashed prices on clothing. Pick up some essentials if you must, but you’re best off waiting until October or November to shop for your complete autumn wardrobe at sizzling-hot prices.

Buy: Plants

Hold onto summer a little bit longer with some vibrant greenery. All summer plants, trees and shrubs will be retailing at dirt-cheap prices this month as garden centers make room for autumn and holiday plants. This can be a terrific time to upgrade your property’s landscaping with some well-placed perennials. You can also find some fabulous deals on summer flowers, though you may not have much time left to enjoy them.

Skip: Electronics

Labor Day might bring some incredible deals on big-ticket items, but electronics aren’t among them. Instead, TVs, headphones, audio systems and more tend to see their lowest prices during Black Friday sale events. Wait just a little bit longer and you can snag a fantastic deal on an electronic item you’ve been eyeing for months. 

Buy: Denim

Jeans are a hot item during back-to-school shopping. Come September, retailers will slash prices to unload their unsold inventory. Cash in on a great deal by shopping these sales for a new pair of denim jeans this month. 

Buy: Beauty and skincare products 

Early autumn is a great time to stock up on beauty and skincare products. As college students pack up to head back to the dorm and consumers pick up skincare routines, prices may have dropped over the summer. Look for price cuts on products like shampoo, body wash, moisturizer and all kinds of cosmetics from Labor Day and on. 

It’s back to school, back to work and back to savings this month! Use this guide to know what to buy and what to skip in September. 

Your Turn: Have you picked up any great bargains in September? Tell us about them in the comments. 

Step 8 of 12 Steps to Financial Wellness-Know When and How to Indulge

[Now that you know how to spend mindfully, pay it forward, and regularly set aside money for savings, you’re ready to learn how to indulge in the occasional expensive treat–responsibly.]

Many people equate financial health with a life of deprivation, but this is far from the truth. In fact, living a life of true financial wellness means being happy with a lifestyle that is within your means, but does not leave you feeling like you are lacking. Like an overly restrictive diet, an overly tight budget is more likely to become broken.

On the flip side, financial wellness means spending your money wisely and learning how to treat yourself for less – or for free. It means money choices are governed by discipline, and not by emotion. And sometimes, it means telling yourself no.

How, then, do you strike a balance between the two?

Here’s how to indulge responsibly. 

Live with a budget

The first step to financial wellness is knowing where your money is going and how much you actually have to spend. The best way to always have this information is to create and stick to a budget. 

[If you’ve been following all the steps to financial wellness until this point, you’ve already developed and live with a budget. So you know how to stick to it. Let’s take a quick review of this crucial money management tool.]

Create your budget by tracking your spending for three months. Make a list of all your expenses, including fixed, non-fixed and discretionary expenses, and list your income in a parallel column. Tally up your totals and assign a realistic dollar amount to each expense. Going forward, be sure to only spend within the allocated amount for each expense category each month. 

Leave room in your budget for “just for fun” purchases

As you work on building and sticking to a budget, be sure to leave room in your spending plan for the occasional treat. The exact amount will vary by income level, lifestyle and personal choice. However, choose an amount you can easily afford without feeling deprived. 

To ensure you don’t overspend in this area, you can borrow an idea from the money-envelope system and withdraw the designated amount from your checking account at the beginning of the month. Place this cash in an envelope, and use it as necessary. When the money is gone, so is your “allowance” for pricey treats this month.

It’s important to note that the indulgences referenced here are spontaneous buys, or small purchases that aren’t part of your normal budget. Large purchases you have planned for and saved toward for months, or even years, are in an entirely different category. 

Review your savings

Before giving yourself permission to indulge, make sure you are setting aside a percentage of your monthly income to savings. Savings should be an item line on your budget, with short-term savings like an emergency fund in a savings account, holding enough to keep you afloat for 3-6 months if you have no source of income. Long-term savings should be sufficient to support your retirement and any long-term savings goal you may have, like saving for a house or a luxury vacation. 

Choose your “treats”

Everyone’s got their personal vices and their guilty indulgences. Take a look at where your non-discretionary money went during the last month or two. Highlight the more expensive impulse buys and hold them up to these questions:

  • Did this purchase bring me happiness or positive energy the day I bought it? Did that feeling last until the next day? The next week?
  • Did this impulse buy blow my budget?
  • Does thinking about this purchase now fill me with joy, guilt or something else?
  • If I found myself in the same circumstances today, would I make that purchase again?

Here, too, the answers to these questions will depend on your personal set of circumstances and lifestyle. Use the insight you’ve learned about your indulgences to help you make better money choices in the future. 

Lose the guilt

Once you’ve decided how much you want to spend each month on indulgences you can afford, it’s time to let go of the guilt. If you’re spending responsibly and you’ve already fed your savings as well as your future, there’s no need to eat yourself up over an impulse buy you could have done without. As long as you’re keeping these just-for-fun purchases within your budget, and your choices fill you with happiness or positive energy, you can still maintain your financial wellness.

Your Turn: How do you indulge responsibly? Share your best tips in the comments.

5 Steps to Take When Applying for a Business Loan

If your business can use a shot of cash to help it grow, fund a move or to get through its slowest season, a business loan can be the right answer. 

Here’s what you need to know about applying for a business loan.

  1. Check your credit

Before you apply, check your personal and business credit health. 

Personal credit scores range from 300-850. A score in a range of 580-669 is fair, 670-739 is good, 740-799 is very good and 800-850 is exceptional. In general, the higher your score, the easier it will be for you to qualify for a loan and the lower the interest rate you’ll have on your loan when approved.

Business credit scores are measured differently. Experian uses Intelliscore Plus as its credit scoring model, with scores ranging from 1 to 100. Equifax assigns each business a payment index score, which ranges from 0 to 100; a credit risk score ranging from 100 to 992 and a business failure score ranging from 1,000 to 1,880. The D&B score, assigned by the Dun & Bradstreet Corporation, ranges from 0 to 100. Finally, the FICO Small Business Scoring Service score ranges from 0 to 300. 

If your personal and/or business credit scores are low, work on improving your credit before applying for a loan. Be timely or early with your bill payments, work on getting rid of debt and check your monthly credit statements for any erroneous charges.

  1. Update your business plan

Most lenders will ask to see a current business plan before approving a loan. It’s a good idea to review and update yours so it’s ready to show a potential lender. The plan should include information about the loan, such as how the company plans to use the funds. 

Be sure to have a comprehensive business plan to show a prospective lender. The plan should include details about how the company intends to use the funds, the anticipated increase in revenue and plans for repaying the loan. 

3. Organize your personal and business documents

You’ll need the following documents and identifying paperwork when applying for a business loan:

  • Photo ID
  • Accurate monthly financial statements from the past two years
  • Business license
  • Any commercial leases
  • Business insurance plans
  • Payroll records
  • Incorporation documents
  • Current financial obligations
  • 3 months of bank statements
  • Personal and business tax returns
  • Collateral

4. Research potential lenders

A business loan is a big deal, and it’s best not to jump into the decision too quickly. Take the time to research potential lenders carefully, being sure to check each lender’s eligibility criteria, the average size of the loans they offer, their current interest rate average and more. 

Consider applying for a business loan through a credit union. A credit union will offer you personalized service, looser qualifying criteria and a competitive interest rate. [Call, click, or stop by Advantage One Credit Union today to discuss your options.] 

5. Submit your application

You’re ready to apply for a loan! With luck, you’ll soon have the funds you need to take your business to the next level. 

Your Turn: What are your best tips for taking out a business loan? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Cashing Out: Win the Wealth Game by Walking Away

Title: Cashing Out: Win the Wealth Game by Walking Away

Author: Julien Saunders, Kiersten Saunders

Hardcover: 272 pages

Publisher: Portfolio

Publishing date: June 14, 2022

Who is this book for? 

  • African Americans who find it challenging to build their wealth despite following all the right rules.
  • Anyone struggling with money management and career growth.

What’s inside this book?

  • A roadmap to financial freedom that makes wealth possible despite a broken economic system. 
  • A financial and career path that breaks free from corporate America’s rules so you can build wealth on your terms. 

4 lessons you’ll learn from this book:  

  1. Which goals to prioritize at each stage of your career so you can plan for an early retirement.  
  2. How to talk about money with your partner without every conversation ending in an argument.
  3. Practical strategies to grow your wealth without a large investment of time and energy. 
  4. Why the mantra of “Black Excellence” is an unsustainable form of motivation for building wealth. 

4 questions this book will answer for you:  

  1. I’m following the same script as my white colleagues; why am I only seeing half the results?
  2. Is financial freedom really within my reach?
  3. Why am I always being passed up for career opportunities?
  4. Do I have to sacrifice my time and mental health to maximize my income?

What people are saying about this book: 

“Cashing Out feels like the talk you desperately needed from the big cousins you’ve always looked up to. It’s filled with gems about money, navigating your career and most importantly — relationships — from people who’ve done it successfully. You can literally feel the love and wisdom they’ve poured into every single chapter.” –Anthony O’Neal

“Read this book. Read it for the cool stories. Read it for the cool concepts. But mostly read it because it just might nudge you toward a far freer, richer and more rewarding life.” –J.L. Collins, author of The Simple Path to Wealth

“The ideas in this book have the power to change the wealth trajectories of Black folks everywhere.” –Jewel Burks Solomon

“An honest and encouraging approach, with a dash of tough love, to help you determine what it takes to be financially, emotionally and mentally wealthy.” –Erin Lowry

“Kiersten and Julien know their stuff, but they never put themselves on a pedestal. Instead, they nudge you along to your best financial life like your favorite older siblings, sharing their own vulnerabilities, acknowledging the many systemic barriers that exist, and never making you feel bad for your past choices.” –Tanja Hester

Your Turn: What did you think of Cashing Out? Share your opinion in the comments. 

12 Steps to Financial Wellness Step 7: How to Pay Yourself First

[Now that you’re managing your money well and you’ve even learned to share the gifts you’ve been given, it’s time to start perfecting the art of saving.]

“Pay yourself first” is a catchphrase that means prioritizing your personal savings above other expenses. Savings should not be an afterthought or an extra that only happens if there’s money left over at the end of the month. Putting aside money should be a fixed line on your budget that happens every month without fail. 

Here’s how to successfully pay yourself first.

  1. Review your spending

Take a clear look at your spending. If you already have a budget, this will be as easy as reviewing the column that lists all of your expenses, including your discretionary spending. If you don’t already have a budget, track your spending over several months to identify your primary expenses and to find the average amount of money you spend monthly. A budgeting app, like Mint or YNAB, can make this step super-simple.

  1. Set short- and long-term saving goals

Before you start setting aside money each month, you’ll want to have a clear picture of your saving goals. 

Short-term savings, or funds you want to be able to access in the near future if necessary, can be allocated to an emergency fund. Experts advise having three to six months’ worth of living expenses set aside in an emergency fund in case of a sudden, large expense and/or loss of employment. Some people also build a rainy-day fund, or a slush fund that can be used to pay for anything at all, such as a spontaneous vacation or a large discretionary purchase like a new phone. 

Long-term savings should include funds you can afford not to touch for several years or more. Your long-term saving goals can include funding your retirement, as well as a downpayment on a home, a new car, a sabbatical from work or any other super-big expense.

Narrow down your short- and long-term goals until you have a realistic picture, then attach a number to each savings category.

  1. Set a timeline for each savings goal

Now that you have a number for the amount of funds you want to save, you’ll need to determine a realistic timeline for meeting those goals. You’ll want to give first priority to your emergency fund, but at the same time it’s best not to neglect your future and to start saving for retirement today. This allows time to let compound interest work its magic. To that end, you may want to allocate the bulk of your monthly savings to your emergency fund until you meet your goal. Once your emergency fund is full, you can divide your savings more evenly between your short-term savings and long-term savings. 

While you work through this step, you may want to reach out to an HR rep at your workplace and/or your accountant to discuss your options for a 401k, IRA or another retirement plan. 

  1. Calculate how much you’ll need to save each month 

You’re ready to determine how much money you’ll need to put into savings each month to reach your goals by their deadlines. Take your total for each goal, and divide it by the number of months in your timeline. For example, if you’ve decided you want to have an emergency fund of $24,000 set up in four years’ time, you’ll divide $24,000 by 48 months to get $500 a month. This is the amount you’ll need to set aside each month to reach your goal in time. Do this for each of your goals. 

As you work through this step, don’t forget to account for any interest you’ll accrue for your long-term savings. Also, remember to prioritize your short-term savings for emergencies and adjust your savings allocation once your emergency fund is set up. Without the funds to get you through an emergency, your savings can be depleted as soon as any unexpected expense crops up.

  1. Automate your savings

Once you’ve got your savings plan ready to go, it’s best to make it automatic. You can set up a monthly transfer from your credit union checking account to your credit union savings account [or share certificate]. This way, your savings will grow even when you forget to feed them. Think of this money like taxes – it’s not actually part of your take-home pay, because it gets skimmed off the top before it even hits your wallet. But unlike taxes, all of this money (and the dividends or interest it earns) will land in your pocket one day, with some extra, too!

  1. Monitor and tweak as necessary

Life is dynamic, and your savings plan should be, too. If you find the system you’ve set in place is not working anymore, you can always tweak and come up with one that better meets your lifestyle. If you find that you’re short on the funds you need for paying yourself first, consider trimming your discretionary spending in a budget category or freelancing for extra cash before lowering your monthly savings goal.

Congrats–you’ve mastered the art of paying yourself first!

Your Turn: Do you pay yourself first? Share your best saving tips and advice with us in the comments.