Three years ago, my family and I stopped living above our means and put an end to all credit card spending. It wasn't until I was in the habit of regularly tweaking the budget to accomplish things that I began to realize how much others can benefit from creating savings plans like we were.
To kick start your savings plan, choose a dream or goal that you had set aside because you felt it was too expensive or out of reach. By following the four steps below, this dream can be made more affordable and ultimately achievable.
Step 1: Choose your goal or dream. Coming from a family whose income fluctuates as much as the weather (in our case, literally; if it rains, he can't work), I knew that I needed to create a plan if we were going to successfully live without credit and on cash alone. I learned about the importance of saving and budgeting for everything, especially for fun things like holiday gatherings, mini vacations to attend family weddings, parties, and more, and took action. Just because we decide to live below our means doesn’t mean we have to stop living!
Step 2: Research your goal’s costs. Comparison shopping in the age of the internet makes it so much easier to find out how much that dream cruise or beach destination is going cost. Be thorough in your research! Don't stop with hotels and airfare. You'll want to include a budget for all the incidentals too: dining out and entertainment, as well as fare to get around by a cab, bus, subway, or even a car rental. Find the options that best suit you and be as conservative as possible with your estimates.
Step 3: Set a date for achieving your goal. Once you have a date set, it makes it easy to calculate how much money you'll need to set aside each month toward funding your goal. Keep in mind that some goals, like vacations, require payment of a deposit or of the trip in full in advance of the actual trip; always take note of important benchmark dates, like when a deposit is due.
Step 4: Create your savings plan. After you've crunched all the numbers, creating a savings plan is easy. The hard part is sticking to it. I'm not going to lie, those first few months were rough for me. It can be frustrating to resist the impulse to shop or the instant gratification of swiping your card. Think long and hard about any unbudgeted purchase; it could mean the difference between reaching and missing your savings goal’s target date.
Revisit your savings plan often, and you too will experience the excitement that comes with progress. Even under the tightest of circumstances, contributions can be made toward all of your savings goals with careful planning and realistic budgeting.