I was having lunch with a friend last week, and as usual, we were downloading the activities of our lives. As we expressed frustration with a lack of time, the subject shifted to the frustration with the rising cost of life in general and a shared disappointment in ourselves over our respective families spending habits.
Both of us share a lower middle class background where the cost of any extracurricular activity was a sacrifice and owning designer clothes was out of the question. As young adults, leaving college and earning our first “big” paycheck, we thought we would never spend it all. However, the truth is that we do. So, there we sat, pondering how this happened, but more importantly, how to make sure we are saving enough.
One question I always ask clients is, “What is the best piece of financial advice you’ve ever been given?” This question came to mind as our discussion continued. So, I posed it to my friend. Her answer came without hesitation. “Pay yourself first,” she said. I erupted with laughter because we had found something else to add to our list of things we have in common.
“Pay yourself first” is a simple lesson that I keep learning and teaching over and over. It is so simple and often overlooked, but it works every time. If you think of your monthly contribution to your savings as a bill and include it in your outgoing payments, you won’t miss the money.
When my husband and I got married and developed our savings plan, we realized we could be saving a lot more with our combined income and households than we had as individuals. However, as we began to think through the impact the additional savings would have on our monthly “fun” money, we began to second guess the original dollar figure. In the end, we decided to try it, knowing we could always reduce our monthly savings contribution. So, I set up an automatic payment through our online banking.
A month or two went by and an amazing thing happened. My husband asked me if we had started the additional monthly payments. He hadn’t even noticed that the amount of “fun” money had changed. So, once again I learned to pay myself first.
After the initial adjustment is made to the “fun” budget, and the automatic payments are established, you won’t think about the additional payment. It will just become another monthly bill. The difference is this is the only bill that pays you.