Life Money
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We’ve all heard the spiel: save your money. Invest in your future. Become a millionaire by the time you’re 60 (if only you could just start now).

The thing is, there’s a lot to consider when you’re trying to put aside a few dollars, especially when it seems like you have insurmountable bills coming at you each and every week. So how are you ever actually supposed to get ahead?

Here are a few of the most realistic money-saving plans to start with, one of which even includes treating yourself to that store-bought coffee.

Set a budget

We know, we know. This seems like such a basic starting point, but the first step with any financial-related plan really is just sitting down with your finances. Make a list of all your expenses and what they cost you a month. Rent, mortgage, your phone, cable, internet, insurance, gym membership, groceries and anything else that applies. If you’ve got decimal places, always round up — not down.

Once you’ve got everything listed out and added up, divide the list into two based on when in the month you’re billed for each item. Most of us get paid bi-weekly, right? So find out what each cheque is specifically going towards. Hopefully, you’ve got some money left over. And that’s the money you can allocate to your entertainment and savings budgets.

Pay yourself first

This one is, without a doubt, a cardinal rule. Know that budget you just made? List “savings” as one of your expenses. Whether it’s $25 or $100 biweekly, just committing to putting that much money aside is a sure-fire way to actually start accumulating some wealth.

Set up automatic withdrawals

Your phone and internet bills are automatically deducted from your account. As is your mortgage. So why aren’t your savings? If you want to make sure that you’re automatically putting aside a certain amount of money every other week, talk to your bank or set up an automatic online transfer from your chequing to your savings. If you never “see” the money, you won’t be tempted to use it.

Stick to cash

Debit and credit are convenient and easy to use, for sure. The problem is that they’re so easy and convenient that we quickly lose track of how much we’re actually spending. Figure out how much money you have to set aside for groceries, entertaining and unforeseen expenses each week, and then take that money out of the bank each time you’re paid. Pop them into marked envelopes or jars, and then don’t take out anymore money until your next paycheque.

Sign up for free rewards

It’s totally annoying to carry around a massive mound of loyalty cards. Even more annoying? Passing up on free cash, and that’s exactly what most of these cards offer. Air Miles offer cash back rewards that translate into free groceries. Gas loyalty cards can mean free gas. Build up your points and cash them in when you have a super expensive week, then transfer the money you would have spent on said items into your savings account instead.

Squirrel away anything extra

You’ve heard of taking all your spare change and popping it into a jar, right? Invest in an opaque jar or piggy bank (or use an old coffee tin) and at the end of every week, dump any extra cash you have lying around and in your wallet into it. (You don’t want a see-through jar because then you’ll see all your savings and be tempted to spend it.)

Alternatively, you can squirrel away online cents as well. Remember how we told you to round up in your budgets? At the end of every month, manually transfer whatever remaining funds you have in your chequing account (even if it’s just a few cents) into your savings account. Eventually, it all adds up.

Have the store-bought coffee

Don’t skip out on buying that morning coffee, because sometimes, you just really need a cup of java on the way to work in the morning. Or a store-bought lunch with the team on Fridays. Or that bottle of red after a really long work day. We get it, life happens. But if you don’t plan to spend that money, it’s money lost. And depriving yourself of things you love will only make you spend a lot more later on when you decide to binge on it.

Instead, try to minimize how much you spend (maybe just get a regular coffee with almond milk instead of that latte, or go for the bottle that’s on sale), and then factor it into your entertainment spending budget after every paycheque.

Plan your meals

We cannot encourage meal planning enough. Not only are you ensuring that you have a quality, quick meal every day throughout the week, but you’re saving a ton of money by doing so. Think about it: knowing what you’re going to be eating means less temptation to order that last-minute pizza. If you’ve got a piece of salmon marinating in the fridge, you’re probably not going to hit up the expensive sushi joint on your way home.

Want to save even more money? Plan your meals based on that week’s grocery flyer, and see if you can make meals only out of items that are on sale.

Fill a jar with zero-cost date ideas

This applies to couples and groups of friends alike: think up a bunch of fun activities you can do that cost nothing or practically nothing, like going for a hike, heading to a public exhibit, hosting a potluck or staying in for a spa day or old movie marathon. Then, whenever your entertainment jar is running low and you need a little inspiration, pick a date idea from the jar and enjoy it knowing that you’re having a good time while sticking to your budget and saving some dough.

Make your own essentials

It’s amazing how far a little vinegar, baking soda and lemon will take you when it comes to cleaning your house. Not only is making your own cleaning stuff surprisingly easy and economical, but as an added bonus, it’s all natural.

Know what else is super easy to make? Bread. All you need is a little yeast, flour and patience. Love beans? Soak your own dried varieties and save tons of dollars (and storage space) that you usually spend on cans.

These homemade fixes might not be for everyone, but if you can spare an hour to make four or five loaves of bread (freezing the extras), that definitely adds up in terms of long-run savings.

Plan an ongoing financial date with yourself

So you’ve got all these basics down but you’re still finding it hard to put together a few bucks every cheque? None of us get it right the first time. Or the second, third, fourth or fifth. Planning your finances is an ongoing venture, one that you constantly have to revisit as life changes. Set aside a monthly date with yourself (or your partner) to sit down and go over it all — be sure to see where you succeeded and where you could do better the next month.

After all, you know what they say: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. That mantra is totally applicable here.

Happy savings!