It may seem unrealistic to talk about paying yourself first when you’re faced with so many other financial obligations. Yet, while it’s critical to pay all your bills on time, planning for your future can’t always take the back seat. If you're having trouble finding ways to pay yourself first, try taking these steps to get into the habit:

1. Figure out how much you can afford. If you take a close look at your expenses , you may find that even small changes in spending habits, such as bringing your lunch to work or making less frequent trips to the salon, could create big savings over time.

2. Set a personal payment goal. If you know you can only pay yourself a small amount right now, look for opportunities to increase these payments in the future. Determine how much of your monthly salary you need to set aside to meet your financial goals, such as paying for a vacation or saving for a college education. Then, find ways to make changes that will impact your expenses in the long-term. If you decide, for example, that you can manage without premium cable channels, update your plan the next time your contract is up and put the difference toward your savings goals.

3. Create a savings strategy. Once you’ve found the money you need to pay yourself first, it’s important to find a smart way to save those funds until they’re needed. You can start by moving money into a savings account once a month, before you pay your other bills. There are two easy ways to do this. One, split your direct deposit so that an amount or a percentage goes directly into your savings account before you can spend it. Or, set up an automatic transfer for each payday, regularly sending money from your checking account to your savings account. This can help you get used to managing living expenses with what looks like a smaller paycheck, when actually you’re building up your own savings. Transfers can be set-up, modified, and cancelled by you as needed. The most important part is to stay consistent and to treat the money you’ve saved as if it’s off-limits, except for its intended purpose or a true financial emergency.

 Tip 

Move money into a savings account once a month, before you pay your other bills.

You may not immediately see the benefit of paying yourself first, but don't get discouraged. If a financial emergency arises, this strategy can help you weather the storm. Ultimately, paying yourself first is about putting yourself first, which helps make sure you’re prepared for whatever’s yet to come.

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Paying yourself first means spending money on the items you want most.

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