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This morning on my drive to work, I tuned into my favorite radio station just as they began talking about popular New Year’s resolutions for 2018. The three hosts speculated about what the first place winner could be, eventually agreeing it must have something to do with eating healthy or working out—but it was revealed shortly after that food nor exercise was central to the top resolution.

Instead, the majority of Americans (who responded to the online survey) hoped, more than anything else, to save money in 2018.

Oftentimes, New Year’s resolutions go unaccomplished because we set unrealistic goals or we fail to create a clear plan for reaching our goals. That being said, saving money is not an unrealistic goal, nor is there cause for blindly chasing that distant, yet attainable dream. Instead, map out just how you can accomplish your goal of saving more money in 2018—or better yet, abide by the guidelines we’ve already put together for you. Follow these five simple steps, and start saving money immediately:

    1) Track your every purchase.

    The initial step toward saving your money is figuring out how much money you spend and where you spend it. Jot down all of your expenses from your groceries to gas, rent, morning coffees, clothes, jewelry, fast food runs… account for every little purchase. Then, organize these expenses into larger categories such as ‘food’ and ‘extracurriculars,’ and calculate how much money you’ve spent on each. The goal here is simple—it’s to get a clear and accurate understanding of where your money is going. You might even consider looking at your bank statements to ensure you’ve accounted for all of your expenses.

    2) Create a realistic budget.

    Now that you have an accurate idea of how much money you spend and where that money is going, it’s time to create a budget! Base your budget on your expenses, yes, but in consideration of how your expenses match up to your income. So, for example, if you’ve found that you typically spend $150 on food a week, your budget for food should be in this ball park; if you set it too low, then you’re likely to overspend. Additionally, be sure to account for those expenses that don’t necessarily occur every week but come up every so often, such as car maintenance or a trip to the doctor’s office.

    3) Build in savings.

    The most effective way to save money is to plan on doing so. You’ve designed a budget, which includes the essentials: food, rent, extracurriculars, emergency funds, etc. But there’s another essential category you should add if you want to save some change each month: savings. Rather than having a free-for-all with all the money you have left over, allocate a decent percentage of it to savings. If you have some trouble putting that money away and need some additional motivation, think about what that money could go toward in the future: a much-needed vacation, a new laptop, even a down payment on a house.

    4) Cut out one consistent, unnecessary expense.

    Thus far, you’ve made the conscious effort to understand and then account for your lifestyle’s expenses—and you’ve even ensured you save some money by putting it aside in savings. Now’s the time to challenge your current lifestyle and cut out at least one unnecessary expense. Maybe you go through the Starbucks drive-thru every morning, even though you have coffee at home. Or maybe you’ve gotten into the habit of grabbing takeout after work, leaving your groceries to wilt in the fridge. Identify an unnecessary expense of the like and cut it out completely—start using that Keurig; stop buying takeout, and make dinner instead. You’ll be amazed at how much money this can save you in just a month or even a couple weeks.

    5) Be a smart shopper.

    The fifth and final tip to successfully saving money is to be a smart shopper. Not just while you’re scouring the aisles of a grocery store (although, that’s a great place to start), but when you’re deciding between ordering a soda or a water at dinner; as you’re shopping for an interview ensemble; or when you’re at the drugstore conflicted over two different brands of shampoo. Make a habit out of making the cheaper decision—of course it’s okay to splurge every now and then on the bigger and better meal or more luxurious fabric, but vouching to spend less when you can will help you save an impressive amount of money.

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