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5 tips to get started saving and budgeting

If getting ahead financially has always been challenging, make a fresh start this year. These five tips will help you organize and grow your financial resources before you know it.

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1. Plan a budget

It's tough to save if you don't know where your money really goes. Building a budget is an effective way to get finances under control so saving becomes possible. Begin by subtracting your monthly expenses from your income for a quick financial snapshot. Then allocate portions of income for spending and saving, making any adjustments needed to help bring goals within reach. Because it can be difficult to follow a cash trail, consider using your debit and credit card so you can monitor and track your spending in online banking

2. Pay yourself before paying bills

It can be difficult to save when it seems like nothing is left after you pay all the monthly bills. Break that cycle by making a firm decision to pay yourself first. Even if it's only a small amount, commit to putting something into savings before paying any other bills or expenses. You'll be amazed what a difference this small change in perspective makes to your savings balance over time.

3. Automate the process

Increase your odds of savings success by reducing the effort involved. Set up an automatic savings plan at your bank to transfer an amount of your choosing from your checking account to your savings account each month. You likely won't miss what was never available to spend. It's helpful to open a separate savings account solely for this purpose, so savings grow uninterrupted.

an infographic outlining how to start saving and budgeting

4. Trim expenses

With a little creativity, you can cut back without taking the fun out of life:

  • Check out free and low-cost programs at neighborhood schools, libraries and houses of worship.
  • Explore free hiking trails, parks and beaches.
  • Hold a potluck dinner party, and invite friends to bring forgotten nonperishable food from their cabinets.
  • Curl up with loved ones for movie nights at home.
  • Rather than purchase expensive prepared foods, buy fresh ingredients and cook delicious, cheaper meals from scratch. Prepare large quantities and freeze portions so that convenient, economical meals will always be available when you're tired, stressed or hungry.
  • Take lunches to work instead of buying your meals.
  • Buy nonperishable food in bulk, and choose generics when possible.
  • Avoid buying bottled water.
  • Consider cutting cable and opting for a less expensive service such as Netflix or Hulu.
  • Find bargains and adventure at local yard sales and consignment shops.

5. Raise extra cash

Earning more income is another way to supplement your savings, and it can be fun. Use your interests and skills to earn additional cash after work by giving music lessons, performing, baby-sitting, tutoring, crafting, coaching, or taking on automotive or home repairs for neighbors. You might also want to sell unwanted household items online or via a yard sale.

Budgeting and saving can take a little planning, but the effort truly pays off. As your nest egg grows, you'll be able to achieve dreams such as homeownership or travel while remaining well prepared for any unexpected curves life might throw.

Contributed by Roberta Pescow, NerdWallet

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