You’ve set a New Year’s resolution to save money. This time, you’re going to save.

It’s almost end of January and you realize you’re still falling behind. You intend to do something about it, but deep down, you’re uncertain if you ever will.

27% of Americans have no emergency savings. 23% have some savings, but it’s less than three months’ worth of expenses. Among 3,000 full-time private sector employees in the US, 65% participate in a 401(k), IRA or other retirement plan, which is down from 67% in 2012.

There are many reasons (excuses) to not save. “I don’t make enough” “I don’t know how” “I will start saving from this week” “I have fallen behind my bills” “What…? And give up on the luxuries?”

But it’s not how much you make but what you intend to do with it. The best time to start a savings account was yesterday. But all’s not lost – you can always pick up from here and now to get started. Here’s how:

1. Get Specific

Always make sure your goals follow the SMART acronym. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Accessible, Realistic, and Timely.

For example, a goal such as “I will save more money in 2014” is too broad and easy to ditch. It does not say how much more money and in how much time.

To make things more tangible, try a goal like this: I will save $100 extra every month for the year of 2014.

But it’s not enough to make your money goal specific and timely – make sure you can do it. Is it realistic for you? The answer depends on how much you’re making now.

If a monthly goal sounds too overwhelming, try a weekly goal. How about saving a humble $10 each week without fail? What would you have to give up for that to happen? Perhaps those pizza nights? Or cut down on $3.50 coffee for 3 days out of 5?

2. Automate transfers

There is a saying in the financial world that never goes wrong: Pay yourself first. It means you pay yourself a cut of whatever you make every month because soon, a large chunk of it is going to be spent on bills and other expenses.

Set up an automated weekly withdrawal of a fixed amount you’re comfortable with (yes, $10 will do) from your checking to savings account. Automating it will ensure you never go unpaid for any week.

3. Track your spending

A simple excel sheet could work here. See the next bullet point for more.

Alternatively, there are many free and paid apps to help you with your finances.

4. Budget

A lot of people shudder over the thought of budgeting. A lot of stigma is attached to the word “budget”. It sounds too restrictive and you end up feeling worse about things.

Realize that this is just another excuse to stay in your comfort zone. If you stop paying too much attention to the negative connotations and firmly intend to budget, you should be fine.

A budget is your plan to save more money and keep your bank account healthier. There is nothing restrictive about it – instead, think of it as taking things in your control and empowering yourself.

Take a look at how much you’re spending (fixed) every month and how much bacon you’re bringing in every month. Fixed outgoing expenses are your rent, mortgage, food, insurance, transportation, basic necessities, bills etc that are must-haves.

Create a simple spreadsheet where you add up all your fixed expenditures. Now, add your emergency fund as an item under expenditure. After all, with an EF, you’re paying someone – yourself.

Now, add a section for variable expenses such as birthdays, hair cut, vacation, parties etc. This is your plan and anything that’s not on it will not be spent on.

Look at the total. You have a lot of room to play in the variables. Cut back on impulsive shopping, unnecessary expenses like dining out every night, buying “deals” for items that you don’t really need.

5. Find the Loopholes

According to CareerBuilder, the most valued expenses for 2013 were as follows:

  • Internet connection: 55 percent
  • Driving: 40 percent
  • Pet: 36 percent
  • Smart phone: 29 percent
  • Cable: 24 percent
  • Travel: 10 percent
  • Going out to eat: 9 percent

Cut back on items you don’t need or can do without. For example, reduce driving and replace it with walking/biking/public transport depending on what’s feasible for you. Cancel your TV subscription. Chances are you’re not watching all those paid channels anyway. Why not save and enjoy free entertainment instead?

Swap going out to eat with homemade food. Some people choose to cook food in bulk and freeze it for the whole week. Not a bad strategy to save time and money!

If you’ve had a loan, mortgage, credit card or car finance in the last 6 years, read the fine print on your paperwork for PPI (Payment Protection Insurance) or ASU (Accidental Sickness Cover). If there is a mention of either of these two, you’re eligible for a claim. This infographic explains what to do next (step-by-step).

Take advantage of cashback and reward credit cards.

Use comparison sites to find the cheapest deals. Some examples are Shopping.comShopzilla.com and Pronto.com.

Look at buying home-brand goods instead of branded products. Also, consider bulk-buying that’s much cheaper for non-perishable items.

Another neat little trick to save on your travel cost is to hunt for cheap deals on flights. Most sites show you reduced price tickets when you visit them for the first time. Check out Cheapflights.com for example. Make sure you’re clearing your cache and deleting cookies from your computer before visiting it again because sites have a way to track whether you’ve visited them before and increase the prices if you have.

As you’ll notice, there are many more ways to save money. Once you start saving, you will start feeling better about the whole practice. Remember, start small if you have to, but start somewhere.

Now is a good time.

Want more money saving tips? Try 9 Ways to Generate Passive Income Efficiently.

Image by Tax Credits.

If you are efficient and wise with your money, you can probably save thousands each year. 55 Practical Ways To Save Money Efficiently

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