Saving More

How To Save To Meet All Your Goals - Both Big And Small

It’s no secret that money can be a source of stress — particularly when income is low and monthly bills are, well, higher. But what if the idea of trying to save something…anything…for the future is also a line item on your list? It can be intimidating to save for all of life’s competing priorities. 

Saving For Big Goals vs. Small Goals

The secret is that it’s really very formulaic.  Saving for any goal = Time (in other words the amount of time you have to get there) x Money (or the sum that you’re able to sock away on a regular basis.  

For the most part, our smaller financial goals, like taking a vacation, require less money saved, and we want to meet those goals quickly, usually by the end of the year.  For a $2,000 (Savings) vacation in 10 months (Time) you need to save $200 a month or $50 a week (Money).   Meanwhile, bigger goals, like saving for retirement or buying a home, will take many thousands of dollars, and require saving for many years.  (The added benefit to having more time is that you can also invest the money allowing the miracle of compounding to work in your favor.)

Saving for small goals feels more flexible — and it is. With a few cutbacks here and there (more on that below!) you can watch your savings account grow quickly, and you can adjust exactly how much you save each month based on your other priorities. In contrast, saving for big goals like retirement requires more discipline, and consistent contributions to stay on track.  Here’s how to go about both.

Saving For Small Goals

If you’re saving for something small, a couple of the best ways to make it happen include:

Spend Less Day-To-Day. When we’re saving for small goals, one of the best ways we can set aside extra money each month is to spend less on the little things, explains Jason R. Hastie, CPA and author of “The Dollar Code.” And yes, this includes reigning in impulse buys, but it also includes planning ahead so that we eliminate the need to spend $5 here or $10 there when we’re out. “How many times do we stop for a latte, forget to pack a lunch, or grab a couple of extra things while standing in line to pay at the register?” he asks. These costs may seem small, but when you add them up, you could easily see how they add up to $100 a month or more — perhaps the exact amount you need to meet your goal. Thankfully, with a little advanced planning, you can keep that cash in your pocket.

Make Swaps Wherever Possible. When was the last time you hit up the thrift store for new clothes, or shopped at the discount grocer that’s a little further across town? Sometimes the best ways to save are right in front of us, but we get stuck in our routines…but those routines could be costing us money! To free up an extra $20-$50 every pay period, think outside the box for swaps you could be missing. For example: you could meal prep rather than having lunch out, make coffee at home rather than pulling into the Starbucks drive-thru, or take the bus rather than snagging an Uber.

Play A Mindgame With Yourself.  Think about how little you notice it when money is pulled out of your paycheck for a retirement contribution (more on that in a sec.) Often, if you don’t see it, you won’t spend it.  So, open a new savings account for these small goals and set up an auto transfer from checking every week for the amount you want to save.  (Or sign onto your banking portal and transfer a smaller amount every day.)  Alternatively, if you’re still using cash, pull an extra $20 from the ATM weekly and stash it in a secret envelope.  Or, decide you’re going to save all your $5s.  Or, make a deal with yourself not to spend your Venmo cash outs but to save them instead.  These strategies may seem silly, but behavioral finance teaches us that they work.

Saving For Big Goals

If you’re saving for something big, here’s how to make it happen:

Automate Everything To Make Saving Easier. When you set out to save large amounts of money, one of the most important things is consistency — you’ll need to save regularly in order to meet your goal. One of the best ways to do this is to automate your savings. When money gets transferred into savings automatically, we don’t even have to think about it, and we eliminate the risk that we might forget to contribute to a particular goal. Not only, as noted above, does out of sight mean out of mind, the money you don’t need right away should always be put into savings so that it can earn more in interest. “Only keep as much money in your checking account as you have to,” says Brannon Lambert, certified financial planner at Canvasback Wealth Management.

Create A Financial Vision Board. Shari Greco Reiches, wealth manager and author of “Maximize Your Return on Life,” says that a financial vision board — a collection of physical images that represent your big financial goals — can be a terrific way to stay on track with our big financial goals.  “It’s important to visualize your goals, and pictures can be more effective than numbers,” she says. In other words, vision boards can serve as a physical reminder of what we’re working towards, and why we want to realize that accomplishment.

For example, if you want to buy a new home, place a photo of your dream home in the center of your vision board. Likewise, if your plan is to get a promotion, raise your credit score, or pay down all your credit card debt, those pictures will remind you where you’re headed, and help you keep your eyes on the prize.

The Savings Strategies That Work For ALL Your Goals

Keep in mind that some savings strategies work well no matter what our goals are, including:

Get On A Budget. If you’re consistently spending more than you earn every month, you’ll need to start spending less in order to have room to save, no matter what your goals are. 

One of the best beginner budgeting exercises is to track your spending. (It’s so effective that the FinanceFixx money makeover program kicks off with an automated version of this important exercise!) Once you do this, you’ll be able to see areas where you can cut back.

“For example, if you keep tabs on where your discretionary spending is going, you can evaluate how to reallocate some of that impulse or unnecessary spend toward saving for a meaningful goal like a down payment on a home,” explains Chantel Bonneau, certified financial planner at Northwestern Mutual. “Hold yourself accountable with an app, a journal, an accountability partner — whatever works to keep you on track.”

Celebrate Your Financial Milestones. Mandy Velez made headlines a few years ago when she threw a funeral for her student loan debt…Yes, you read that right! After six years of making payments toward her $102,000 tab from college, Velez finally paid it all off, and then proudly dressed up in all-black to bury her debt forever.

Odd? Maybe a little. But honestly, why not? We celebrate birthdays, weddings, and new babies… why not money-focused milestones, too? Having a little fun when we hit a big goal can be just the motivation we need to keep going — and hit that next milestone even sooner than we expected.