Financial Literacy for Everyone

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Throughout your life, you will be faced with many decisions about saving and spending. Your goals can vary from smaller purchases such as a new smartphone to larger purchases, such as a car or a house to long-term savings for retirement and any unknowns. There are some life events that you can plan and save for, like higher education or starting a family, but it’s impossible to foresee unplanned expenses. That’s what makes saving important — so you’ll be prepared for any type of expense by having money set aside.

buying a home

Many Americans spend more than they save, and nearly one in five people are saving less than 5 percent of their income (according to a 2015 Bankrate survey). If you’re reluctant to start saving or believe it isn’t possible, think of it as a path to exciting opportunities rather than a burden. Chances are you’ll need the funds for unexpected situations throughout your lifetime, good and bad. Here are some basic steps to get you started.

  • Create a budget and stick to it. When you make a monthly budget, overestimate your expected costs. This way, you’ll likely end up with leftover funds, which can go right into savings.
  • Pay yourself first. Determine a set amount of money to put away every month and treat it like any other bill. Put away part of every paycheck — ideally 10 to 12 percent — and watch your savings grow.
  • Save wisely. Choose the right savings methods to match your goals, and make sure to do your research to find the best interest rates.
  • Be ready for the unknown. Create an emergency fund with three to six months’ worth of living expenses in case unexpected costs arise.
  • Set financial goals to keep you on track. Use SMART goals so you know exactly how much you want to save and how long it will take to get there. When you set clear goals, it’s a lot easier to track your progress.

SMART Goals

Real-life reasons to save are good motivators. After you have secured an emergency fund and have enough saved to support yourself for three to six months, you can start saving for what you really want. Think about short-term (current month or year purchases) and long-term goals (for important life events and big expenses), using this SMART guideline:

SPECIFIC goals inspire. Setting a clear goal will help you focus on saving for it.

    Example: Save enough for a summer vacation.

MEASURABLE goals let you see the real task at hand. By using real numbers, you can measure your progress along the way.

    Example: A summer trip costs $3,000, and I have $800 saved.

ATTAINABLE goals pay off. When setting your goal, ensure that it is realistic and within your reach.

    Example: I know I can save enough money each week to pay for that trip.

RELEVANT goals make good sense. Set a goal only if you know it will be meaningful in the long run.

    Example: I am saving for a home-share because it’s cheaper than staying in a hotel.

TIME-RELATED goals have a real deadline. Setting a time frame for your goal will help you stay committed to reaching it.

    Example: I want to go on a vacation by next summer.

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