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Saving doesn't come naturally to me, so here is how I look at it

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A woman looking longingly at a piggy bank.

Saving is hard, but not impossible, and totally worth it.

Have you ever heard, ‘pay yourself first’? This phrase is used by financial advisors to encourage us to put funds aside in a savings account before spending money on anything else. Why is it though, that putting money in a savings account doesn’t actually feel like paying myself? I don’t know about you, but when my paycheck comes in, the last thing I’m thinking about is potential home repair or an upcoming tax bill. What I am thinking about, however, is the really good restaurant that just opened or the handbag I saw a few days ago at the mall.

The thing is, if you’re anything like I was until very recently, you may have never had funds in a savings account when an emergency arises. You may not know yet how much of a relief it is. It’s easy to say, ‘save for the rainy day’ but when many ‘rainy days’ have been managed without a savings account, saving can feel unnecessary and like we just don’t have it in the budget.

So please, just let me get that gourmet pasta dish and specialty cocktail I’ve been craving when I finally get my paycheck. Right?

Honestly, I didn’t realize, personally, how valuable a savings account could be until very recently. Like a lot of people, I have a high deductible healthcare plan. I’m lucky that my employer contributes each month towards my Health Savings Account (HSA). These accounts are used solely for medical expenses and they roll over annually. I hadn’t had any medical emergencies, so this account was just continuously growing over the last few years without me actually doing anything to contribute to it.

That was until this summer, when a major and unexpected medical issue caused over $3,000 in bills. It was so stressful, trying to focus on physical healing while concern about my financial health was taking over. But then it came to me, an ‘AH-HA’ moment – use the HSA! Because I had been “saving” without any real effort, I had these funds set aside. This really saved me in a moment of panic. It didn’t cover everything, but it certainly made a big dent and allowed me to get on a payment plan that fits my budget comfortably for the remaining balance.

After this, I saw the light, as they say. I realized, for the first time ever, what it meant to be saved by a savings account. From here, I made a commitment to myself. The next time something major happens, I want to at least be able to cover a part of the cost without having to use my credit card, take out a loan, or just go without. I got real with myself, streamlining expenses. I stopped making excuses and really focused on what I can do to help myself in the future.

So, what if there’s absolutely no flexibility in the budget? I hear you, and I’ve felt the same way. The challenge that I have for you is to take a look again at the way money is being spent now. Be honest with yourself, almost like a third party consultant looking over things. Leave any emotion or guilt aside. Is there anything, however small, that you may be able to remove as an expense? If not, maybe looking into a supplemental source of income while you build up a little reserve may be helpful, like a second job or selling some of your unused household items.

You may be able to shave off a couple dollars here and there. Let’s say we find about $30 per paycheck that we can set aside in a savings account. Over the course of the year, assuming a paycheck every other week, we’d have $780 set aside. That can go a long way if the car suddenly breaks down or there’s an emergency household repair. Even if the $780 wouldn’t cover all of the expense, it’s still far less that you’d have to borrow or stress to find a way to cover.

We also don’t only save for the bad stuff. We want to save for the good stuff, too! This can be part of your motivation. Looking at how you spend your ‘fun money’ now and compare that to the more expensive, long term ‘bucket list’ items. For me, I have to ask, is shopping each week with my sister really worth me giving up my dream of traveling Europe? It’s all a trade off. Our funds are finite, and we can choose where we want to allocate them by being very honest with ourselves.

We’ve all heard about the importance of saving, but it’s something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally. It’s a skill that chronic over-shoppers like me have to build. It takes time, dedication, and focus. We know that things happen. We know the car will break down, or there’s an out of town wedding, or the dog will have to go to the vet, or any one of numerous, unforeseen events will occur. Building the skill of saving will help you and your loved ones stay calm, cool, and collected when a large financial need arises.

Virginia Credit Union’s mission is to help you achieve financial confidence. We offer financial seminars to help, free and open to anyone in the community. Click here to see upcoming seminars. You can also find saving resources on our site by clicking here. For our members, keep in mind that we offer free financial coaching and advising through BALANCE, our long term trusted financial partner. You can see more details about BALANCE here