How to actually save more

A recent morning after a harsh storm, I came outside to find a huge branch had fallen out of a tree and into our yard.

By “huge branch,” I mean it was thicker than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s thigh and longer than a minivan. Somehow, we’d all slept through the massive snap and crash it surely made. (Those sounds must’ve blended in with all the lightning cracks.)

Somehow, too, it had missed our roof and fence, all windows and all living things — including plants — and dropped harmlessly into the grass.

It dug an annoying divot, and it forced me to spend time I didn’t want to spend cutting it up, but really, “dropped harmlessly” is the absolute best a guy can hope for in a situation like that.

What if?

As I was hacking that log apart, my mind wandered to all the costs it could have entailed. What if it had crushed an eave and ripped off the gutter? What if it had smashed a car? What if the whole tree had come down and we had to have someone come out to remove it?

Needless to say, these aren’t costs that anyone relishes — or anticipates.

My wife and I understand the importance of savings, of course, even if we don’t actually save as much as we believe we should.

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Survey of American Family Finances, we’re like the majority of people in that regard.

Most everyone agrees that families should keep a certain amount of “liquid” (easy-to-tap-into) savings on hand. And, in fact, most of those surveyed said they do have a savings cushion.

But here’s the catch: There’s a difference between the amount of money people say they should save and the amount they do save.

And the average amount of that difference is about $9,000.

Experts say any family should have somewhere between three and eight months of salary in savings they can access in case of emergency. (This is a big range, but it all depends on your family: If you have two working adults, you can probably get by with closer to three months, but if you’re single or have a partner who isn’t working stably, you should aim for the higher side).

So what about your family?

Do you have any savings you can rely on in case of an emergency like a job loss, a serious illness or even an unexpected car repair or appliance purchase?

Hopefully you do. And hopefully the difference between your savings and a three-to-eight-month cushion is smaller than $9,000.

But in case it’s not, here are a few tips for increasing your savings.

Have a separate savings account and keep it separate. The Pew Survey found that most people don’t think about their savings and checking accounts as purely distinct.

Actually, half of the survey takers who said they had no savings actually did have one — they probably just thought of it as another bucket for spending money.

They forgot it was a savings account. When you open a savings account and use that money only for emergencies or another intended purpose, guess what? You’re much more likely to actually have the money there when you need it.

Make your savings automatic. If we leave it up to ourselves to remember to add money to our savings account, we’re going to get around to that around the time The Rock wins his next Academy Award.

But setting up an automatic deposit into your savings account saves you from your own worst enemy (we all know who that is), and makes saving a sure thing.

Save at least a little more. It sounds like a no-brainer: To beef up your savings account, you need to save more! But simple or not, lots of us don’t do it.

Financial experts say that every time you add even a few extra dollars to your weekly or monthly savings, you’re doing yourself two favors: You’re boosting your savings, but you’re also forcing yourself to get used to spending less.

Which makes it easier to save more.

Which makes it more likely that when you need money for an emergency, it will be there.


Eric Braun is a Minneapolis dad of two boys and the co-author of the forthcoming book for young readers, The Survival Guide for Money Smarts: Earn, Save, Spend, Give (Free Spirit Publishing, September 2016). Send comments or questions to ebraun@mnparent.com