By: Ashley Patrick
Sometimes it can feel like the world is against us and no matter what we do, we can’t seem to get ahead. Every time we try to save money, something “pops” up that we didn’t think about or plan for.
Even though it can feel like no matter what we do, it doesn’t make a difference, it does! With a few tweaks to your plan, you CAN save even when it feels like you can’t get ahead.
In this post, I’m going to give a few simple tips to get started. But before we dive in, I want to remind you that we don’t need perfection. We only need progress to get ahead.
So, during those months that everything goes wrong, remember that it’s only a snapshot in time, not the big picture. As you go along, focus on how far you have come, even if it feels like it’s not a lot, it is more than when you started. Focus on progress, not perfection. I see people get so hung up on doing it “right” and then don’t do anything. As long as you do something you will make progress.
Ok, let’s dive in on how to start saving money!
Figure Out Why You Can’t Save
One of the first things to do when it feels like you can’t save is to figure out why you can’t save. You either have an income problem or a spending problem. To figure that out, we need to dive deep into where your money has been going.
Print out the last month or more of bank and credit card statements and visually see where your money has been going. Then highlight the transactions by category. I use a different color for each category so I can see quickly where the issue is. Then total up each category as best as you can to see where the issue is.
If you aren’t sure what a transaction was, that’s ok, put it in a “I don’t know” category for now. If you buy all sorts of things in one transaction, then try to break it up as best as you can.
Now if you get everything under the sun at Walmart, just put it in groceries unless you know that somethings were toys or clothes. But the normal things you get like dog food, household supplies, medicines, make-up, etc, when grocery shopping, put it in groceries.
One thing to note when doing this is to NOT make it overly complicated.
If you get paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, all while getting groceries, put it in groceries.
Remember we don’t need perfection, just progress.
The point of this exercise is for you to SEE that you can actually save money. You are likely spending more on stuff that you don’t even realize.
Create A Roadmap
Once you know where your money has been going, it’s time to make a plan for it going forward.
To do this, you need to decide where you want to go. How much do you need to save and for what? You need to be very specific and really dive into why you need to do it. This will help you stay motivated and on track when times get hard.
Once you know where you want to go, it’s time to create your roadmap. That means you need to create a plan for your money or the dreaded “B” word, create a budget.
Creating a monthly budget doesn’t need to be a dreaded soul sucking task. It’s really quite easy and will help you reach your big goals, like saving money.
If you really hate it, call it something else like your Dream Roadmap or Cashflow Plan or Savings Guide. It doesn’t really matter what you call it.
Ok, let’s break this down.
The first thing to do is to plan out your bills and then figure out how much you should have left each month. This is where the magic happens.
With what is left, you need to plan for it to go toward your goals.
You also need to plan for those things that always “pop” up.
Those monthly budget busters can completely derail your plans, so if you can plan for them ahead of time, they won’t mess up your plans.
The more you can plan for, the better off you will be.
Once you have those things planned for, what is left is what goes toward your savings goal.
Now if you get to the end of the month and don’t have much you can save, it’s time to start cutting expenses.
A lot of times this may just be stopping running through the drive thru everyday but you may need to find other ways to save. You can cancel services, call and negotiate service or even just ask for a discount. Usually the biggest area people can cut is food.
While you think about what you can cut, I want you to keep in mind that you don’t have to cut everything all at once. If you want to have long-term success, you need to make gradual changes over time. If you try to jump all in and do it all at once, you will burn out quickly. Which will then result in you giving up and not making any progress.
So, pick one thing at a time to work on and do build those lasting habits over time.
Once you have your plan, you need to actually do it and stay motivated. It’s really important to focus on why you need to save money.
Creating a visual savings plan will help as well. Keeping your goals and motivation visually in front of you will help you stay focused in the day-to-day.
Plus it will help you during those rough patches easily see that even though you may not have made much progress that day or month, overall you have made a ton of progress.
Focus on Progress
As you make your changes over time, remember you don’t need to get it perfect, you just need to get it going. I promise you, you won’t get it perfect. We aren’t perfect humans.
So, just throw that out of your mind right now.
No-one gets it right every single month. Shoot, I don’t even get it right every single month! But that doesn’t mean that I’m just going to give up and quit.
And you shouldn’t either.
Learn from the setbacks and keep going.
That’s the most important thing to do.
Just keep going!
Check out the Savvy Ladies Budgeting Worksheet for more help.
Ashley Patrick is a personal finance expert, and founder of Budgets Made Easy. She helps busy moms create systems to save money and pay off debt so they can reach their big dreams faster and easier.
She was able to pay off $45,000 in just 17 months including $25,000 in student loans in just 10 months. She is a Master Financial Coach and has a bachelors degree in psychology and will help you get to the root of your money problems.
She has been featured on Fox Business, Yahoo! Finance, USA TODAY, MSN, CNBC, NerdWallet, and many others.