Saving money is easier said than done. You have every intention to set aside money each month, but somehow life gets in the way.

There are only two ways to save money. “That’s to reduce your spending or increase your income,” said Andrew Zumwalt, University of Missouri Extension associate state specialist for financial education.

“Increasing your income often requires getting a second job,” Zumwalt said. “But there are trade-offs — less time to relax and enjoy life, less time to spend with your family, and more stress.”

Spend less

You need to know where you’re spending money before you can reduce expenses, Zumwalt said.

“A lot of people don’t know where their money is going,” he said. “They have a general idea but are surprised when they discover how much is spent on little things like eating out, groceries and entertainment.”

To learn where your money is going, track your spending. Go back to the prior month and look at receipts and credit card and bank statements. This method of tracking spending is faster but more difficult, Zumwalt said. A $10 credit charge at a superstore — Was it food? Housewares? Clothing? You’ll have to rely on your memory to accurately determine where the money is going.

The easier way takes more time, he said. As you go forward, track everything you spend for that month. This will give you a clear and accurate picture of where you’re spending money.

Once you know what you’re spending, you’ll be able to see where you can make cuts. Don’t use the “B-word,” Zumwalt said. It’s not a budget; it’s a spending plan.

“You’ll have fixed spending like mortgage, rent or car payments,” he said. “Other things like cellphone minutes, entertainment and groceries have more variability.”

The variable spending is where you can find money for savings. Eating out less and making modest food choices at the grocery store are ways you can cut spending, Zumwalt said.

Begin to save

Setting aside money for savings takes discipline. It’s not a good idea to rely on your “future self” to take care of this, Zumwalt said.

“Pay yourself first, because too often we pay ourselves last,” he said. “Treat savings like any other fixed expense like your mortgage.”

The most painless way to pay yourself first is to make it automatic. Many banks let you set up automatic transfers and some employers allow direct deposits into multiple accounts. Over time, you can watch your savings grow.

“The advantage of saving comes down to freedom, comes down to choice,” Zumwalt said. “It can take a crisis and turn it into a matter of inconvenience.”

The MU Extension guide “Managing Your Money” (GH3830), available for free download at extension.missouri.edu/p/GH3830, includes suggestions, worksheets and checklists for tracking expenditures, saving money and developing a spending plan. Additional information also is available at www.missourifamilies.org/mosaves.

An audio program is available for this story at houstonherald.com. Search this headline.

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