Dear Liz: I’m a mother of two children and I work part-time. On top of that I go to school full-time. Even though I receive financial aid, I still have trouble saving money on a tight budget. How can I do it?
Answer: Saving money in your situation is tough, but it’s not impossible. The most important thing is to make it a priority. In other words, don’t wait until you’ve paid your bills and otherwise spent your paycheck to figure how much is left over that you can save. Instead, pay yourself first by setting up an automatic transfer that moves some amount of money — however small —from your checking account to your savings account. The transfer should occur the day your paycheck is deposited, if possible. Even small contributions build up over time, and you’re unlikely to miss the money if you make the process automatic.
If you’ve found yourself raiding your savings for non-emergencies in the past, then decide now under what circumstances you’ll tap your funds. A car repair may be a good reason. Dinner out, even if you’re bushed from all that working, mothering and studying, probably is not. If you really can’t keep your hands off your savings, you may need to move the money somewhere that’s harder to access. You could set up an account at an online bank or at a bank or credit union that’s different from the one that holds your checking account.
Another issue that prevents many people from saving is that they spend too much on their so-called fixed, or basic, expenses. If too much of your income goes to rent, food, utilities and transportation, for example, you may have continual trouble making ends meet. Trimming those expenses can have a profound effect on your ability to save.
Following frugality-oriented websites can give you ideas for reducing your expenses as well as encouragement that your sacrifices will be worthwhile. As one blogger put it, saving money isn’t about deprivation, it’s about gaining control. When you make the decision to save, and follow through with action, you’re putting yourself back in control of your spending and your own life.
It won’t be easy, but remember you won’t always have to work this hard. Your education should result in bigger paychecks that will enable you to save more easily — as long as you continue to pay yourself first.