Tales From a First Year Saver: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Bank Account

February 14, 2012

By Sean Naron, Consumer Federation of America advocacy associate

Last May, I graduated from college and forayed into the real world, entering a volatile and unpredictable jobs market. A few months of crashing at a friend’s apartment and hundreds of applications later, I found myself happily employed in Washington D.C. However, shortly after starting my first “big-boy” job, I quickly discovered that my paycheck had this uncanny tendency to spend itself before it really ever reached my checking account. Things like rent, groceries, my commute, as well as those pesky student loans, had seriously cut into the amount I had budgeted to spend on fun activities, not to mention what I had planned on saving.

As a first year saver, I have come to rely on a few tricks to stretch my paycheck here and there so I can build towards my goals without sacrificing all forms of fun. So here are some of the lessons I’ve learned and tricks that I use to get the most out of what I’ve got:

 

Lesson 1: Budgeting is a necessary evil. But it doesn’t have to be hard.

  • More often than not, that first budget you plan will be shot by month three, if not earlier. Certain things will cost more than originally expected (who knew razor blades were so expensive?), and unexpected hiccups will always occur. It’s perfectly alright for a budget to be a work in progress, but developing, and eventually sticking to a budget is absolutely vital in ensuring that you become an effective saver.

Not the perfect budgeter or occasionally guilty of impulse buying or jumping at that awesome Groupon? Me too. When working on a budget, it is important to know there are now a variety of resources available to help you develop, monitor, and maintain your budget. Many of these will help you track your spending and hopefully keep you from buying another refurbished Blu-Ray player.

Lesson 2: Pay yourself first.

  • It sounds really simple-- and it is-- but it works. On payday, before you start spending your hard-earned money, take whatever you budget for your savings and transfer it out of your checking all at once. Do your best to keep that amount untouched unless absolutely necessary (Happy Hour is not always as necessary as it seems).

By transferring that amount into a savings account immediately, you won’t see it every day in your checking balance and will be less tempted to spoil your budget. It’s really rewarding to see that savings balance jump after every new paycheck.

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