If you've made financial savings a New Year's resolution, you're not alone. A recently released report by nonprofit organization Corporation for Enterprise Development finds that nearly 45 percent of Americans lack enough savings to cover three months' worth of living expenses -- meaning half of America currently lives in what financial experts call "liquid asset poverty." In practical terms, these households lack sufficient funds to weather through an emergency.
Though many households that fall under this category are technically living above the poverty line, being liquid asset poor means they may be just one crisis away from falling below that line. As stagnant wages and high unemployment continue to eat away at most household incomes, it's no surprise that the Journal of Clinical Psychology reports that financial savings figures as the third most popular New Year's goal this year.
Though most New Year's resolutions are forgotten in six months, the report findings above show that most of us literally can't afford to let our financial plans go off-track so quickly. Liquid asset poverty may determine who stays in poverty, who moves up and who falls behind. As the first month of 2013 comes to an end, it's an ideal time to check in with our progress on our personal financial goals. Ideally, this monthly check-in would become a regular routine that continues throughout the rest of the year.
First, go over your monthly expenses for January. Paying all your bills through a bank account or debit card offers an easy track record of your monthly bill payments and spending. Then, compare your monthly spending total with your after-tax income. This gives you a basic idea of how much you can save and what luxuries you need to cut out.
Don't assume that luxury necessarily means "expensive" or "extravagant" -- any nonessential spending that puts a strain on your budget is a luxury, whether it's a Netflix subscription or a gym membership. Developing more realistic expectations around luxury based on the limits of your own income enables you to appreciate more financially responsible luxuries, such as movie outings and a Starbucks coffee, rather than pining after outrageously priced goods that would be a serious drain on your income and a detriment to your wealth building.
Also, consider putting your savings in autopilot by having your money deposited from your checking account to a dedicated savings account. If you only move money into your savings account whenever you feel financially comfortable, you probably won't be saving enough. Move the money over to savings automatically, and you'll be less likely to miss what you don't see. Certain banks and credit unions also allow these automatic deposits to be reported as on-time payments, helping boost your credit score.
Aim to place 10 percent to 20 percent of your after-tax income into your savings account. If your salary is lower and you have a harder time covering basic expenses, you may only be able to afford to save around 10 percent. The more you make, the more you should be striving to save closer to 20 percent of your salary.
Finally, as with any resolution, don't get discouraged if you slip up and have a bad month. Focus on meeting your budget goals for the month after, and keep setting smaller, short-term objectives for yourself to help you tackle your bigger savings goals.
By Dedrick Muhammad, the senior director of the NAACP Economic Programs. To learn more about preventing foreclosure and personal finance, check out the NAACP Financial Freedom Center Facebook Page or on Twitter @naacpecon.