Barely making your monthly bill payments is stressful enough. There might not be any extra cash around to start stashing away in case of an emergency or just to cover costs.
A savings account is meant to help you build up extra cash. If you don’t have a savings account, here’s what you need to do right now to get on track.
1. Open a high-yield savings account
A regular savings account, like one through a big institutional bank, usually has a savings rate of 0.01%. A high-yield savings account has annual percentage yields upwards of 1.5% and sometimes higher.
This means that every little bit you add to your account, the more it will build in a faster amount of time. Consider accounts that don’t have minimums or lots of fees so you’ll have the flexibility to use it the way you want to. Sometimes, traditional bank accounts have stricter requirements compared to online banks and credit unions.
2. Tackle (or create) your budget
Even if you feel like you don’t have any money to put into a savings account, you’d be surprised to see where your money is going once you craft or revisit your budget. Your budget is the most important key to your financial success, and without one, it’s hard to keep track and manage your money.
You’ll find a slew of apps that are available at the ready to get you on the right track. Set up budgets for your needs, like home and car payments, credit card payments and other bills. Don’t forget to include food, like grocery shopping. Also include your wants, or spending that is a little more flexible; things like dining out or shopping would go here.
3. Set up auto-pay
There are a few ways to automate to your savings account. Some people have a portion of their paycheck go straight into their savings, but this depends on what’s available from your employer as well as the savings account you set up.
You can log into your savings account and see what they offer for auto payments. Some let you set up a specific dollar amount to be deposited as frequently or as sparsely as you’d like. For instance, you may want money from your paycheck to go in every two weeks. Or you might want one big deposit every month. There’s no wrong way to contribute to your savings, as long as you’re adding to it.
4. Build up your emergency fund
A savings account is a saving grace in case you need cash in a pinch. Almost 30% of adults admit they don’t have any emergency savings, according to a Bankrate survey. Less than 20% of Americans say they can live off their savings for the next six months in case something happens.
Not having an emergency fund means you don’t have the cash to cover a financial catastrophe. What happens if you lose your job and can’t make next month’s rent? That’s why an emergency fund is so vital.
Start by trying to reach $1,000 in your emergency fund, which lives in your high-yield savings account. This might seem like a far-away goal but once you’ve restructured your budget to account for this new expense, it can happen much faster than you think.
Once you’ve done that, keep going! It’s a good idea to have at least three months’ of expenses saved up in your emergency fund. Then work on six months’ worth. The more you have, the less you’ll feel pressured if disaster strikes.
5. Pay off debt
If your debt is holding you back from increasing your savings, you should try to pay off what you can as soon as possible. If you’re not sure what to concentrate on more — building up savings or paying off debt — keep in mind you can do both.
Try to pay at least the minimum amount on each debt every month while you build up your savings. Then once you hit your goals, like your first $1,000 or three months’ worth of expenses, you can feel more comfortable putting extra cash towards debt.
How you pay off debt depends on a few different factors. For instance, if you have high-interest credit card debt, you may want to implement the debt avalanche method. This is when you list out every debt you have and organize them by the highest interest first. You’ll make minimum payments on each debt but put as much extra cash as you have towards the debt with the highest interest. You’ll do this every month until the debt is completely paid off. Then you’ll move onto the next-highest interest rate and repeat the steps until all your debt is paid in full.
If you like the idea of seeing faster results, you may want to try the debt snowball method. This is when you list out each debt from smallest to largest. You’ll make minimum payments on each debt and then put any extra cash towards the smallest debt. You’ll do this until the debt is paid off, then repeat the steps until all debt is paid in full.
Not every debt repayment plan works for everyone and it can be difficult to concentrate on building an emergency fund with mounting debt. But once your budget is in tip-top shape and you’re contributing to your savings, paying off debt will come faster than you think.