Here’s the thing: I’m not a master budgeter. In fact, I just got started in the budgeting game about a year ago, and I’d never even had a savings account until a couple of months after that. But I decided that 2019 was going to be the year I got my finances together and got serious about saving. I set a goal in January that I would have $10,000 saved by the end of the year. Now with a few months still left in 2019, I’ve already met (and surpassed!) that goal.
How did I meet my savings goal so early? It was actually pretty simple. I didn’t have to eat packaged ramen noodles for dinner every night or deprive myself of shopping for months on end. I just took a conscious approach to spending and made savings a priority each month. After breaking my big savings goal into smaller chunks—and getting used to a few new money habits—I sat back and watched my savings grow. I’ll walk you through exactly how I made it happen.
How I Met My Savings Goal Three Months Early
1. I set a specific goal and made a timeline.
The first step in meeting my savings goal was the easiest: setting the goal. I knew I needed to specify an exact dollar amount and lay out a timeline if I was going to be serious about meeting this goal.
A vague aim to “save more money” just wasn’t going to cut it. So after taking a realistic look at my income and how much I expected to spend each month, I decided on a number that seemed doable. For me, that goal was to increase my savings to $10,000 by the end of 2019.
2. I fully committed to that goal.
Once I had that goal in mind, I committed to it. I wrote it down. I built my budget around it. I even told someone (my mom) about the goal to make it feel more official. I resolved myself to achieving a specific amount in a specific timeframe, which made the goal tangible, actionable, and thus more achievable.
3. Tracking my spending.
Next came the hard part. Navigating all the day-to-day decisions to spend or save was a constant test while working toward that goal. Should I grab takeout for dinner or cook at home? Is this sweater really worth the $80? Can I afford to splurge on a weekend trip this month? A huge help in making those decisions—and meeting my savings goal—came from knowing exactly where my money goes each month.
I stay on top of where my money is going because I take the time to track it. My budget consists of an Excel sheet where I record every purchase I make, whether it’s for my utilities bill, groceries, or a random Target run. I track every cent I spend, so I always know much money is leftover at the end of each month (AKA the amount that can go toward savings). This system also serves to point out areas where I’m overspending and helps me cut back on unnecessary expenses, which in turn means I can save more.
Over the past several months, my powers of restraint were often put to the test, and especially during times when I had a little extra money floating around. But I was determined to make saving my No. 1 priority this year, and (I’m proud to say) I stuck to that. When I had extra income or cash leftover after all my usual expenses were taken care of, I chose to save more instead of spend more. Though it was tempting to spend that bonus cash on an extravagance my budget doesn’t normally allow, I took it as an opportunity to fast-track my savings goal instead.
For example, I dog-sat for a co-worker in June and took home an extra $250 on top of my regular income. I could have easily blown that extra cash in one quick online shopping session, but I decided to put it towards my savings instead. That put me ahead of schedule to reach my savings goal—and saved me from buying a bunch of clothes I didn’t need.
4. Keeping a long-term focus.
Looking back on instances like these, I realize that maintaining a long-term focus was the most important contributor to my savings success. When deciding whether to save or splurge, I often had to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
How does this purchase fit into my larger plan? Is it more important than my savings goal? In many of those situations, I chose to prioritize my long-term goal over my short-term wants, and that’s why I was able to follow through with my savings plan so efficiently.
By practicing these money strategies, I met my savings goal faster than I could have anticipated—and it was easier than I thought. All I had to do was keep my specific goal in mind and make conscious spending choices, and the rest basically took care of itself.
I reached my goal of $10,000 in savings by early September, nearly four months before my projected end date. And—I must admit—the satisfaction of that achievement felt much better than any new pair of shoes ever has.