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Personal Finance
The #1 secret to money success | Follow this rule to always stay ahead of your finances!
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The #1 secret to money success | Follow this rule to always stay ahead of your finances!

The #1 secret to money success | Follow this rule to always stay ahead of your finances!

The #1 secret to money success | Follow this rule to always stay ahead of your finances!

Americans have never been known to be great savers — and it’s not that people don’t understand the importance, it’s just not a top priority for most people.

New data shows that nearly 25% of American adults have nothing saved for an emergency. What’s worse is that about 32% of people between the ages of 53 and 62 have zero in an emergency fund — meaning one unexpected expense could cause serious financial damage, like being forced to borrow from retirement accounts.

Watch the video

RELATED: From intimidating to empowering: How to change the way you think about budgeting

Secret to money success: Spend less than you make

You’ve probably heard it before, and while it sounds like a simple concept, it can take people years and even decades to finally realize the impact this idea can have on their life (some people never do).

The reality is, until you learn to spend less than you make, you will never truly reach financial freedom — the ability to make your own decisions, when you want to make them, without having to rely on someone else’s approval (like say, from the bank, other lender or someone else).

Living below your means requires you to pick and choose. Maybe you take one less vacation or limit how much you go out to eat. Or maybe you go to dinner with friends, but eat before you go so you aren’t stuck with a big bill when everyone splits the check. You can have a social life without draining your wallet — it just takes some prioritizing and a little strategizing.

RELATED: Money 101: 5 basic money rules you can live by forever

Reality check!

If you want to get on the quickest path to reaching your goals, you have to start living below your means — and the best way to do that is to start paying attention to what’s going on with your money so you can keep your priorities in line.

Decide what’s most important to you and start saving for those things. A few examples may be building an emergency savings fund, paying off debt or buying a house or a car. By making your goals a priority, you give yourself a much better chance of reaching them — and on your own timeline, which is key. Because when it comes time to buy a house and you realize you wasted a lot of money that could have been saved for a down payment, having to put it off won’t be a very pleasurable situation.

RELATED: How to increase your income by reducing expenses

The risks of not saving enough money

Regardless of your income, there are always ways to reduce costs in order to put money away into savings.

One big problem many people face is the psychological barrier — prioritizing present needs and wants over future needs — no one expects an emergency to come up, so it’s easy to assume that there will always be more time to save later.

RELATED: Financial security: How to prepare for the unexpected

But this is a really bad mindset to have, for two reasons. First, time is money. The earlier you save, the more time your money has to grow. So even if you save a lot of money down the road, it still won’t be worth as much as the money you save now.

Second, emergencies do happen — and the reality is, if you don’t have the money to cover it, one unexpected bill can end up causing you major, long-term financial damage.

In fact, it’s very often smaller, unexpected expenses that can cause you big problems — things like small car repairs, home maintenance and health-related bills. But if you aren’t prepared and have to cover it with a credit card, those small bills can quickly turn into big debt.

“Our analysis shows that most families will be faced with a significant and possibly destabilizing unexpected expense at some point, said Clinton Key, a researcher for Pew’s financial security and mobility project. “It’s critical for families to build emergency savings.”

RELATED: 12 places to never use a debit card

How to get into the habit of spending less & saving more

1. Pay yourself first!

Regardless of how much money you make, if you don’t make saving part of your routine and monthly budget, you will very likely reach the end of the month and realize you’ve spent what you had planned to save.

So do it before anything else. Figure out what you can afford to save each month (which may require reallocating the budget and/or reducing costs), and then have that money sent automatically into savings so you don’t give yourself the chance to spend it.

Bottom line: your financial well-being should be your #1 priority — and paying yourself first forces you to make that happen.

If your budget isn’t working, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to create and stick to a budget that works for you.

2. Get more out of your hard-earned savings

If you’ve been with the same bank for years, it’s time to reevaluate your options — especially if that bank is one of the monster mega banks (JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citigroup).

If you shop around for the best deal at different financial institutions, there’s a good chance you’ll save some money.

According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, 38% of people said they have a second bank or credit union they do business with, because they “were able to get better rates for some services and products at other institutions than their primary bank or credit union.”

Most people stick with the same old bank because they just don’t want to deal with the hassle of moving everything — but it can be a lot easier than you think.

How to get 100x more out of your savings

Online banks have started offering higher rates on savings accounts — much higher than the current rates at traditional, bigger banks — so why not just move your savings to take advantage of the bigger return?

To give you some context, online bank ally recently increased the rates on its savings accounts to 1.15% — while the rate on a regular savings account at Bank of America currently sits at only 0.01%. 

That’s a HUGE difference. So even if you aren’t ready to switch banks altogether, at least moving your savings can earn you a lot more money.

Here’s a list from Bankrate of where to find the best savings rates.

If you want to get the most out of your money, here’s a guide on how to choose and switch to a better bank for you.

How to keep your savings on track

Once you get yourself into the habit of saving money, there are steps you can take to avoid big setbacks.

Don’t rely on credit cards

You should never use a credit card to cover the cost of an emergency. Credit cards often come with pretty high interest rates — so if you swipe a credit card to pay for an emergency, you will just end up facing a bigger bill down the road. And the bigger the bill, the longer it will probably take you to pay it off, which will then not only cost you more in interest, but could also damage your credit score.

One example is medical debt  — you don’t want to put an unexpected medical bill on a credit card. You’re much better off negotiating a payment plan with the hospital or provider — which you pay over time — than putting the bill on a credit card.

Another reason is because medical debt is now factored into your credit score differently than consumer debt, which is anything you put on a credit card. So an unpaid medical bill will no longer impact your credit score as severely as it would have in the past. And while ideally you don’t want any type of debt in your life, having a medical or hospital bill— instead of a credit card bill — is better for your long-term financial status.

RELATED: 9 ways to find free money

Build an emergency savings fund

The best way to save for unexpected financial shocks is to have two separate emergency funds: a rainy day fund and an emergency fund.

  • A rainy day fund is money you might dip into every once in a while to cover an unexpected expense, like a medical bill.
  • An emergency fund is a bigger, longer-term savings fund. This money should be able to cover at least three to six months worth of living expenses in case you can’t work for a period of time, for whatever reason.

If you’re starting from scratch, these goals may seem impossible — but they aren’t. The best way to approach saving is to start with baby steps and then build up from there. Also, one important thing to remember about emergency savings is that the money should be easily accessible if you ever need it — like in a savings account. To help you get started on your savings, here are some tips, tricks and strategies you can put in place immediately.

4 ways to kickstart your savings

1. Reduce your expenses: There are tons of little ways to reduce your monthly expenses and still maintain your same lifestyle. From cable bills to everyday spending habits, here are some tips and tricks to immediately reduce your monthly expenses:

2. Increase your income: There are plenty of ways for pretty much anyone to earn extra cash. Bringing in some extra money each month can be a great way to fund your emergency savings without having to cut out other areas of your budget. Here are 29 easy ways to make extra cash each month.

3. Continue paying off debt: Don’t ignore the debt you already have — that will just end up costing you more and probably damage your credit score. Start with the credit card that has the highest interest rate and put as much money toward that debt as you can each month, while still setting some aside for your rainy day fund. Then once that card is paid off, move to the card with the next highest interest rate. For more guidance, see  Clark’s guide to paying off credit card debt.

4. Keep it separate and make it automatic: Once you cut back on your spending and start to have some spare cash, it’s important to keep it in a safe place so you won’t spend it — because no matter how disciplined you are, if it’s there, it’s tempting. So if you don’t already have a savings account, open one. Then budget out how much extra money you will have each month and set up an automatic direct deposit from your paycheck for that amount. That way the money is put into savings before you have a chance to spend it.

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The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • A duck boat accident on Table Rock Lake in Branson, Missouri, Thursday night killed 17 people, including the boat’s driver, and injured 14, according to authorities. >> Read more trending news  Update 5:15 p.m. EDT July 20: Stone County authorities now say all 17 of the victims in the duck boat accident have been accounted for and that nine of the victims were from the same family, according to Gov. Mike Parson’s office. Two members of the family, identified by local news outlets as the Coleman family, survived. Officials said the victims range in age from 1 to 70 years old. Meantime, mourners are putting flowers on the victims’ cars in the Ride the Ducks parking lot, and the community of Branson, Missouri, is holding several candlelight vigils Friday night in memory of those killed. One of the vigils is scheduled at Table Rock Lake where the accident happened, according to KY3-TV. Update 4:30 p.m. EDT July 20: As the search for the bodies of the final four victims in the tragic duck boat accident in Branson, Missouri, continues, family and friends are mourning the staggering loss of life on Table Rock Lake Thursday evening. One woman lost nine members of her family, USA Today reported, citing Gov. Mike Parson’s office. Update 2:20 p.m. EDT July 20: Branson Mayor Karen Best told The Associated Press that Bob Williams, the man who was driving the Ride the Ducks boat that sunk Thursday in a southwest Missouri lake, was a “great ambassador for Branson” who “was at every event.” Seventeen people died, including Williams, and 14 others were injured Thursday when the duck boat capsized in Table Rock Lake, according to authorities. Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said earlier Friday that the boat’s captain survived. In a statement posted on Facebook, employees of Ride the Ducks Branson said the business would be closed “while we support the investigation, and to allow time to grieve for the families and the community.” “This incident has deeply affected all of us. Words cannot convey how profoundly our hearts are breaking,” the statement said. “Thank you for your support, and we ask that your thoughts and prayers be with the families during this time.” Update 11:40 a.m. EDT July 20: Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said Friday morning that authorities recovered four more bodies after a duck boat capsized in southwest Missouri, KSMU reported, bringing the death toll from Thursday’s incident to 17. Rader said 14 people were taken to hospitals after the incident. He said the driver of the Ride the Ducks boat died. The captain survived. Update 11:20 a.m. EDT July 20: Nearly two decades ago, the National Transportation Safety Board issued a warning about boats with overhead canopies like the one that sank Thursday on Table Rock Lake after a deadly accident claimed 13 lives in Arkansas, according to the Kansas City Star. The Miss Majestic duck boat was carrying 21 passengers when it sank in 1999 in Lake Hamilton, the Star reported. Authorities found seven dead passengers trapped inside the boat when they recovered it, four of which were pinned to the underside of the canopy, according to the Star. “Contributing to the high loss of life was a continuous canopy roof that entrapped passengers within the sinking vehicle,” NTSB officials said in an accident report. Authorities continued searching Friday for four people who are presumed dead after Thursday’s accident in southwest Missouri. Officials said 13 other people have been confirmed dead in the incident. Update 10:25 a.m. EDT July 20: Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said divers are going back in the water Friday in search of four people who remain missing and are presumed dead after Thursday’s duck boat accident on Table Rock Lake. Rader said the search had shifted to “recovery mode for the bodies that are still missing,” at a news conference Friday morning. 'It's been a long night,” Rader said. “It's been a very trying night.” Rader said the driver of the Ride the Ducks boat died but that the captain survived. Update 10:05 a.m. EDT July 20: Authorities are expected to provide an update on the investigation into Thursday's deadly duck boat accident in Missouri at a news conference Friday. Update 9:55 a.m. EDT July 20: President Donald Trump shared sympathies Friday to the families and friends of the people involved in Thursday’s deadly duck boat accident in southwest Missouri. “Such a tragedy, such a great loss,” the president wrote Friday in a tweet. “May God be with you all!” Update 8:15 a.m. EDT July 20: Officials with the State Highway Patrol said Friday that two more bodies have been found after Thursday’s duck boat accident in southwest Missouri, bringing the death toll to 13.  >> On AJC.com: Bahamas boating tragedy brings vacation safety to the forefront State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jason Pace said four other people remained missing. Original report: Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said 14 people were taken to hospitals after the incident. Seven were being treated early Friday, he said. The boat capsized after a strong line of thunderstorms moved through the area around 7 p.m. Thursday. Rader said weather “was a factor” in the incident. Authorities said the boat had 31 people on board, including children, when it capsized.  The boat had life jackets on board, according to CNN. The news network reported that other boats on the water docked before the bad weather hit. The National Transportation Safety Board has sent a team to investigate and are asking anyone who witnessed the accident to come forward. A dive team and rescue officials worked through the night to find survivors. They ended the search around 11 p.m., according to KY3. Emergency responders set up a staging area overnight on the lakeshore near the Showboat Branson Belle, local media reported, although the Belle was not involved in the accident. Branson officials opened an emergency shelter inside city hall for the victims. National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Linderberg said a top wind speed of 63 mph was measured around 7 p.m. Thursday at Branson Airport.  “There’s nothing to slow down winds in an open area,” he said. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is watching the developments. DUKW, known as duck boats, are six-wheel-drive amphibious vehicles that were used by the U.S. military during World War II and the Korean War.  Since then, duck boat tours have become popular and are offered on lakes and rivers around the United States, including Missouri, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Alabama. Ripley Entertainment acquired the Ride The Ducks in Branson in late 2017 from Ride the Ducks International, a subsidiary of Norcross, Georgia-based Herschend Family Entertainment Corp. Ride the Ducks International manufactures amphibious vehicles and licenses them for tours at affiliates. It also operates duck tours at Stone Mountain Park in Georgia. The company formerly operated tours in several other cities, including Baltimore, San Francisco and Philadelphia. But in recent years it ended operations following deadly accidents.  In 2015, a Ride the Ducks tour bus collided with a charter bus carrying student on the Aurora bridge in Seattle. Four students were killed and several others injured. The Associated Press and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this report.
  • More states have reported an outbreak of cyclosporiasis illnesses that have likely come from salads at McDonald’s. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working with state and local officials to investigate the outbreak. >> Read more trending news  According to the CDC, 163 people in 10 states have gotten ill. No deaths have been reported, but there have been three hospitalizations. On July 13, McDonald’s decided to voluntarily stop selling salads at affected restaurants in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, North Dakota, Kentucky, West Virginia and Missouri until it can switch to another salad supplier. More than 3,000 locations are affected. Related: McDonald’s pulls salads from some restaurants after more than 100 people infected by parasite “The additional states identified by the FDA and CDC are among the same states where, a week ago, we proactively decided to remove our lettuce blend in impacted restaurants and replace it through a different supplier,” the restaurant said in a statement Friday. “McDonald’s is committed to the highest standards of food safety and quality and we continue to cooperate and support regulatory and public health officials in their investigations.” According to the FDA, the restaurant's removal of affected salads means it is unlikely to put customers who eat at those locations at risk.’ Symptoms of Cyclospora infection include loss of weight and appetite, frequent watery diarrhea, cramping, bloating and increased gas, a low-grade fever, fatigue and nausea. Vomiting, body aches, headache, fever, and other flu-like symptoms may also occur, according to the CDC. Some infected with don’t have symptoms. The investigation is ongoing.
  • The Republican Party will host its 2020 presidential nominating convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. >> Read more trending news The Republican National Convention Site Selection Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously in a closed session to select the Queen City to host the convention. The 168-member RNC delegation made it official with a vote Friday. In a candid question-and-answer segment organized by Charlotte City Councilman Tariq Bokhari, site selection chair Ron Kaufman went into detail about the circumstances leading to Friday's vote. He said he sent letters to 30 cities and seven expressed interest in hosting the convention. From those seven, Charlotte and Las Vegas stood out. Kaufman said that the thing he loved most about Charlotte was the fact that, from elected officials to Uber drivers, everyone seemed to be passionate about the city. He admitted that he kept a close eye on Monday's Charlotte City Council meeting, when city leaders approved the framework to host Republican leaders. Kaufman said he was surprised that most of the speakers were in favor of hosting the convention. He said he wasn’t worried about possible protests or security issues because he sees Cleveland as a more partisan city than Charlotte, and there were only 27 arrests there. “There is so much time and effort being put in to make sure Charlotte will be the safest city in America that week,” Kaufman said. Doug Lebda, the CEO of LendingTree, an online lending exchange company based in Charlotte, was also in Texas. He said every major convention and trade show will be looking at Charlotte, since the city will have landed both the Democratic and the Republican national conventions. The Associated Press and the Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report. 
  • A Minnesota 2-year-old and a neighbor’s dog have become viral video stars after a family friend recorded them playing a unique game of fetch that even a wooden fence couldn’t stop.  Chad Nelson, a photojournalist with KARE11 in Minneapolis, told the news station that he, his wife and their son Conway were at a friend’s Savage home for a play date Wednesday evening when his friend’s neighbor’s dog, a Labrador retriever named Dozer, peered over the fence and dropped a ball into the yard.  An excited Conway picked up the ball and chucked it back over the fence. The moment quickly turned into the cutest game of fetch ever.  “Conway just loves playing catch,” Nelson told KARE11. “We have two dogs, but neither one will play fetch. So he was pretty excited to have someone that would.” >> Read more trending news Nelson’s friend, Erin Richter, captured the game of fetch on video, which Nelson shared on social media.  “A fence can’t stop my 2-year-old from playing with his new best friend,” Nelson wrote.  As of Friday morning, the video had been watched more than 7.7 million times on Facebook. It had been shared nearly 250,000 times and garnered more than 14,000 comments.  It was also a sensation on Twitter.  Nelson said he and his wife were stunned by the response.  “It was just a cute thing,” he told the news station. “We just thought Conway was being cute and our friends would like it, and all of a sudden it’s being shared to thousands of people.” Richter said Dozer is a frequent playmate of her son, Landon, despite the fence.  “They play ball every time they are both outside,” Richter told KARE11. “Landon quits throwing once the ball becomes too slobbery, but Dozer will keep dropping balls or bones over until he has to go inside.” Several of the commenters on the video of Dozer and Conway were impressed by the toddler’s strong throwing arm.  “So cute, and what a good arm and aim for a 2-year-old,” a man wrote on Facebook.  “Nice arm,” another man wrote on Twitter. “Teach him to throw with his left and he could pitch in the MLB as a LOOGY (Left-handed One Out Guy) into his 40s!” “He has quite the cannon, doesn’t he?” Nelson responded.  Twitter users, by Friday, had watched Conway and Dozer play fetch more than 10.7 million times and shared the video over 255,000 times.