Forget three months of savings in an emergency fund. Nearly two-thirds of Americans don’t have the cash on hand to cover a $500 unexpected expense, a recent Bankrate survey found. The good news, if you’re in the low-savings majority: You can steal a page (or chapter) from the playbook of super savers, who manage to sock away their dough even on modest incomes. Here are five habits to adopt today:
1. CREATE AND AUTOMATE YOUR BUDGET.
Yes, it seems basic. But when Voya Financial scrutinized the savings habits of more than 1000 individuals, 65 percent of the highest-scoring savers had a budget, compared with just 19 percent of the lowest-scoring savers [PDF]. Once you’ve crunched the numbers, automate your accounts so that money flows directly into savings. “By automating your savings first—instead of trying to save whatever’s left over at the end of each month—you’re forcing yourself to live on less than you make, and that’s the key to building wealth,” says Greg McBride, a senior vice president and chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com.
2. STUDY THE SHORT TERM.
If you're not particularly motivated to save for some far-off retirement, you’re not alone. Most of us have a hard time picturing our lives decades in the future, let alone depriving ourselves in the here and now for the sake of that distant pay-off. But a study in the journal Psychological Science found that people who concentrated on cutting a recurring expense—say, swapping that Friday night sushi habit for a weekly potluck with friends—saved 82 percent more than those who were focused on the distant future.
3. GET CHATTY.
When it comes to savings, if you’re slogging away in silence, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Voya found that more than half of the top savers had a relationship with a financial advisor, compared with only 7 percent of the lowest-scoring savers. But the difference in dialogue happened in the home, as well: Only 9 percent of the worst savers had talked with their spouses about their goals, compared with 65 percent of the top savers. Whether it’s asking questions, debating money moves, or just sharing your financial priorities with family, it seems that being vocal pays off.
4. EMBRACE MOBILE BANKING.
People who earn more than $100,000 annually are significantly more likely to use mobile banking, according to a study published by the Federal Reserve. And that habit may make it easier to save: The same study found that when people check their bank balance or credit limit on their phone before a big purchase, they decide to hold off on making the purchase about half the time [PDF]. More proof that knowledge is (savings) power!
5. SAVOR THE FUN STUFF.
Adopt an austere savings plan, and you’ll probably veer off course quickly. But if you make room in your budget for two or three things that bring you real joy, you’ll be able to stick with the rest of your budget’s pared down spending. That’s what Chris Reining, an IT worker making about $75,000 a year, realized when he set a goal to save $1 million over six years. So he prioritized one overseas vacation each year—and pared the rest of his budget to the bone, according to The New York Times. The same is true for super saver Darlene Orlov, who cut back on everything save for theater tickets and regular vacations with her parents.