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It’s that’s time of year when everyone is thinking about their New Year’s resolutions.
If there’s one resolution that you should make – it’s to start saving.
A recent study found that 30% of adults have less than £300 in savings and wouldn’t be able to pay their next month’s rent or mortgage if they were to lose their job.
It’s not just those on low salaries, as you might think. Another study found that one in 10 people earning more than £75,000 a year don’t save.
Some might not be able to afford anything if they’re busy clearing debts. Any disposable income might be better off put towards clearing those debts before building up savings.
Those with seemingly large salaries might have hardly any disposable income if they’re mortgaged up to the hilt and used to the finer things in life – and are unwilling to give them up.
But for those who can, putting a little something away every month is better than doing nothing. Everyone needs some core savings as an emergency fund for those unforeseen events.
Here are five steps to adopting a healthy savings habit for 2019 and beyond.
- Stop splashing the cash
Spend some time with your bank statements and receipts from your purse or wallet. They may not make the greatest companion, but they will definitely prove an interesting read as you finally pinpoint where your money really goes each month. Highlight the items that you regularly buy, but that you could live without. Even if you just saved the amount you stop frittering each month, you will start to see a nice fund building in time.
- Set savings goals
There is no hard and fast rule on how much money should be squirrelled away in a savings account as an emergency or rainy day fund. But it should at least be enough to cover essential outgoings for around six months. There are lots of budgeting and savings apps that can spur you on – they can help you keep track on how your savings pots are building up. Tandem, an all-digital bank, has just launched an auto-savings feature which will scan your other accounts and work out how much you can afford to save based on what goes in and out. It will then automatically move what you can afford into an account that pays interest.
An app called Chip works in a similar way. It will scan your current account every few days and calculate what you can afford to put away. The cash is then deposited in a Chip account hosted by Barclays.
The golden rule of saving is not to dip into any pot unless it’s totally unavoidable, so resist, resist, resist.
- Hunt down the best rate
There’s a huge menu of savings accounts to choose from. Easy access, fixed rate accounts, regular savings accounts and then there’s cash ISAs. Whichever one you choose depends on if you think you’ll need access to the money. Ideally you won’t touch it in which case you can choose a fixed rate account where rates are higher to reward you for leaving your money for longer. There are one, two, three and five year options. Don’t assume ISAs pay the best rates – they often don’t. And we each now have a personal savings allowance which means you can earn £1,000 a year in interest tax-free if you’re a basic rate taxpayer – £500 for higher rate. Use a comparison website such as moneyfacts.co.uk to help you find the best account and rate. There are still a number of good accounts on the market despite the low interest rate environment.
- Get paid to save
Getting paid to save sounds too good to be true. But actually you can earn as you save, using one of the Government-backed ISA schemes.
If you’re saving for a deposit for your first home, go for a Help to Buy ISA or, if you are aged between 18 and 40, a Lifetime ISA monthly savings plan to earn the generous 25% bonus on your savings from the Government.
With a Help to Buy Isa the most you can put in is £200 a month – or £1,200 a year – with no limit on how long you can save for. The maximum bonus is £3,000 on the first £12,000, giving you £15,000.
With a Lifetime Isa you get the 25% bonus, too, but you can put in more – £4,000 – each year. You can use your savings towards your first home as long as the plan has been running for at least a year.
- Think longer-term
It is only when this emergency pot has been built up, and disposable income increases, that it’s right to start thinking about how to make savings work harder. Investing money in the stock market offers opportunity for better returns that are likely to exceed any interest rate a high street bank can offer. Historically speaking, stock market gains far outweigh cash. But you need to be comfortable with the prospect of losing money.
Holly Thomas is an award-winning financial journalist and former Deputy Personal Finance Editor at The Sunday Times. She writes across all areas of personal finance and consumer issues, specialising in investments, mortgages and property. Previously she worked at the Daily Express and Sunday Express as Money editor and also at Financial Times Business. Holly was voted Freelance Journalist of the Year at the HeadlineMoney Awards in 2016. Her work can be seen in national press including The Times, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail.