The following is a guest post by Roberta Pescow, a contributing writer for NerdWallet
After years of low interest rates, APRs are on the rise. This is good news for all savers, but especially women. Thanks to their longer life expectancies and the gender income gap, women particularly need to prioritize putting aside money.
The new year is a great time to adopt savings strategies that will boost financial wellness no matter what life brings.
Compare savings accounts
APRs move up or down with trends, but that doesn’t mean they’re identical at all banks. Shop around for financial institutions that provide free banking and the highest interest rates for savings accounts. Include credit unions in your search; on average, they offer better returns on savings than banks. And explore high-yield and money market accounts, since these typically come with higher interest rates than traditional savings accounts.
Budget and organize
It’s hard to save if you don’t know where your money goes. Take control with a detailed budget that tracks expenses and reserves some money for savings. There are lots of free, user-friendly apps that make the process easier.
Pay yourself first
Selflessness is admirable, but when it comes to saving, it’s better to put yourself first. Deposit what you can afford in savings each month before making any purchases or paying bills.
Make savings a no-brainer with an automatic savings plan. These electronically transfer an amount you choose from your checking account to savings each month.
Another approach is to send a portion of each paycheck to your savings account via direct deposit. You’ll never miss what was never in your hands, so your savings will grow without a feeling of sacrifice.
Plan for life’s changes and challenges
Ideally, you’ll build an emergency fund that covers three to six months of living expenses. But having even a few hundred dollars saved up can help prevent a debt spiral if you face medical problems, property damage or job loss. It’s smart to separate this emergency cash from everyday savings so you won’t drain it accidentally.
Then there’s retirement. Even if you’re nowhere near that finish line, it’s best to prepare early in your career. Keep in mind that, on average, women outlive men by close to five years and only earn 80 cents for every dollar men earn, which can translate to a lower Social Security benefit. The challenge is to build retirement savings that will keep you comfortable for a longer period of time on a smaller income, and with less government help.
It takes decades to save enough to support yourself for 15 to 20 years or more. If your job offers a 401(k) match, contribute at least that much to the plan. After all, it’s essentially free money. If you don’t have a work-related retirement plan, look into tax-advantaged IRAs.
Create more cash
If you can’t find space for savings in your budget, here are a few ways to bring in additional dollars:
- Sell unwanted items at consignment stores, yard sales or online.
- Cash in credit or debit card rewards points.
- Ask for overtime hours at work.
- Start a side business doing something you love, such as crafts, music, tutoring, dog sitting, or babysitting.
You also might be able to free up funds by cutting spending:
- If you’re paying ATM or bank account maintenance fees, find a bank with truly free checking.
- Make sure you’re getting the lowest available prices for your cell phone, utilities, insurance and other services.
- Eat more home-cooked meals, bring lunch to work, and enjoy occasional restaurant meals during lunchtime instead of pricier dinner hours.
- Reduce entertainment costs by visiting free local parks, beaches, concerts and sporting events.
- Cut cable in favor of TV streaming services, such as Netflix or Hulu.
- Lower your thermostat a few degrees to reduce heating costs.
With just a little effort, you’ll begin to build the cash reserves needed for financial security. You’ll start moving closer to your savings goals almost immediately, and you’ll set the stage for a lifetime of glowing financial health.