How to Start Investing on a Low Budget
It’s a new year—the best time of year to set resolutions and goals. If you don’t have savings or are living on a low budget, the idea of setting an investment goal might feel uncomfortable, but remember that discomfort often comes with growth. This is the time to challenge yourself to not just survive the year financially, but to come out ahead in the end. Even if you don’t have a lot of money, this is possible. Here’s how.
Decide how much you want to save: You can’t invest without savings, so if you don’t have any, your first step is to set a reasonable savings goal—something you can realistically achieve within one year. To calculate this number, pull out a piece of paper and write down all the unnecessary things you spend your money on (coffee on the way to work, vending machine snacks, lunch out, more expensive versions of food or alcohol). Don’t just sit down once to create this list. Keep the list around for a couple of weeks and add to it as you think of new things. At the end of the week, start adding up the cost of your unnecessary purchases per week. Use that number to calculate the amount you could potentially save in a year (and note that you will actually have to stop making those purchases in order to save the money).
START SAVING FOR RETIREMENT NOW.
Even if you have to start slow...
Plot your path to investing: To start investing, you should have at least $1,000. It’s not a lot, but it will get you going and you can build from that foundation. Your route to saving will be unique to your circumstances. If you have no money and are living on the edge, your steps may be to cut out a few extra expenditures and maybe call up your phone and utility carriers to get a better rate and to find a higher-paying job or an extra job. If you’re starting with more savings or better cash flow, you may still want to cut out unnecessary expenditures and also create automatic transfers from your paycheck to savings to ensure the money goes to savings rather than to wish-fulfillment.
Some money-saving tactics you may try include:
- Cutting unnecessary expenses
- Eliminating debt
- Seeking lower rates on your utilities
- Saving your money in a high-return savings or money market account
- Paying yourself first when you get your paycheck (in other words, put your money in savings account before you start paying off bills and making purchases)
- Creating automatic transfers from paycheck to savings
- Taking money-saving steps like winterizing your home or turning your thermostat down
- Working an extra part-time job
Whatever path you choose, write it down from beginning to end—how much you want to save, how much you’ll have to save each month to reach your goal, where that money will come from, and how you will ensure that it makes it into your savings account.
Envision success: A lot of people cut this step out but it’s an important one. If you can picture yourself in a better place, it’s somehow easier to get there. I don’t know how it works. You can see it as a pact you make with the universe, if you like. I think of it as simply setting your focus on something you want so that you’re always working toward it. Either way, it’s easy enough to do, so take a minute to strengthen that vision in your mind. Why not, right?
Reach your savings goals: Once you start saving, don’t give up. You may find that you have to dip into your savings to cover an emergency expense. Don’t let that deter you from continuing to save. Be thankful that you had the money to cover the expense (which you wouldn’t have had if you had not started saving!) and continue to save until you’ve reached your goal for investing.
NOTE: If you have nothing in savings now, you may want to save above and beyond your investment goal so that you have emergency funds in a regular savings account. Once you invest your money, you won’t have easy access to it and may have to pay a penalty in order to use it.
Now invest!: When it’s time to invest, make an appointment with a financial advisor. Many people mistakenly believe that financial advisors only work with wealthy people. In fact, financial advisors work with people of all income brackets to help them increase their net worth. $1,000 may not feel like a lot to begin with, but over the years, as you invest more and your investments earn interest, your earnings can grow more and more quickly.
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