You’ve got a lot you want to accomplish: pay off your student loans, take a dream vacation, buy a house before 35. And maybe get married and have kids someday. And oh yeah, the monumental task of saving for retirement that’s constantly hanging over your head.
But all of this takes money, and your paycheck can only stretch so far.
How are you supposed to handle all those demands?
1. Identify your goals
The first thing to do is identify your goals. And don’t just think about them, write them down, recommended Karen Robbins, a financial adviser with UBS Wealth Management. Do you want to become a homeowner? Open your own business? Pay off your student loans as quickly as possible?
2. Know exactly how much you’re working with
The next step is knowing how much money you have to put toward your goals.
Track all your expenses for at least six months, recommended Robbins. That way you know where all your money is going and you can find areas where you can cut back.
“Every new savings dollar can then be allocated toward one of these future goals,” she said.
3. Prioritize your goals
At the top of your goal list should be an emergency savings fund.
Experts generally recommend having three to six months of living expenses on hand to deal with any unplanned events or costs.
“That gives you the freedom to pursue other goals,” said Rich Ramassini, a certified financial planner and senior vice president at PNC Investments.
Once you have your emergency fund in place, prioritize the rest of your savings goals so you can allocate funds accordingly.
If you are staring down massive debt, there are two popular approaches to prioritize: the “snowball” method and the “avalanche.”
The snowball method involves prioritizing outstanding debts from smallest to largest and paying off the smallest balances first to build momentum to pay off the larger balances. The avalanche approach involves first paying off accounts with the highest interest rates. Either method you choose, aim to pay at least the minimum balance due for every bill.
And there are some goals you should be saving for simultaneously.
Keep in mind that for goals that are farther down the road, like retirement, time is your best friend. Even small amounts socked away at a young age can grow into substantial nest eggs thanks to compound interest.
4. Make it automatic
Don’t undo all your hard work with a moment of weakness.
Ramassini recommended automating all your savings allocations when you get your paycheck to avoid any temptations.
“Don’t force yourself to make the decision over and over again every month. That gives you another opportunity to change your mind.”
5. Be prepared to wait
Funding all your goals might require a little patience.
“Sometimes competing financial priorities involves some level of delayed gratification,” said Ramassini.
That could mean living with your parents or renting longer before becoming a homeowner, or ticking off other items on your savings goals list.
“If you don’t have control over your finances today then it’s hard to be confident for tomorrow,” Ramassini said.