Much like going for a run or eating your greens, saving your cash offers long-term benefits, but is not always appealing. And, letâ€™s face it, there are always good reasons not to lock your money away â€“ confusion over different accounts, fear of making the wrong choice, or feeling as though you donâ€™t have enough money to make it worthwhile can all outweigh the best intentions. But, as the NHSâ€™s Couch to 5K programme taught us about exercise, things are a lot less overwhelming if you start small and build up.
It is never too late â€“ or too early â€“ to start
Donâ€™t worry if you have been putting it off for years â€“ you canâ€™t be too old to start saving. Whatever your age, you need to decide that saving is something you want, or need, to do, says Iona Bain, the founder of the blog Young Money. After all, she points out, â€œsaving is only possible with motivationâ€.
If you are struggling to feel driven, she has advice: â€œSaving gives you choices in the future. Once you start understanding that itâ€™s still your money, just put somewhere safe in case you need it, you start finding that motivation that will make saving much easier.â€
Clear the decks
Donâ€™t start a savings account if you have expensive debt to pay off â€“ you will be better off clearing an overdraft or credit card, as they charge higher interest rates than you can earn. But once these debts are cleared, you can start to think about building a nest egg.
One option is to set up a monthly standing order to pay into a savings account just after you have been paid. The logic here is that if you cannot see the money in your current account you will not spend it. This is a good choice if you know how much you can afford to save each month.
If you donâ€™t, you can squirrel away money throughout the month using a round-up feature. Offered by the new online banks, including Revolut, Starling and Monzo, as well as Lloyds TSB and Halifax, these let you round up any spending to the nearest Â£1 and put the difference into a savings pot. So, if you spend Â£1.45, you will be debited Â£2, of which 55p will be squirrelled away.
Monzo lets you transfer to an interest-earning account once you have at least Â£10, while Starling pays up to 0.5% on all balances. Lloyds and Halifax give you a choice of accounts.
Alternatively, you could wait until the end of the month and sweep what is left in your current account into your savings. You can do this with any bank, but First Directâ€™s 1st account can be set up to do this automatically.
Have a goal
As with Couch to 5K, it can be helpful to have a goal. Small, short-term targets are good at first, because they are achievable and will get you into good habits. It might be tickets for a show or an activity you have wanted to see for a long time, a new pair of jeans or a night away. Whatever it is, work out how much you need and when you need it.
Once you have achieved your aim, do not close your account. You are in the habit now, so keep going.
Bain says not to worry too much about savings rates at this point, but if you want an extra incentive, a website such as Savings Champion will show you the best-paying accounts. If you want to be able to withdraw your money in the next year, take a look at easy-access accounts.
Think long term
If you are saving for a property, think about using a Lifetime Isa. If you want to save for the long term, start exploring pensions and other investments. Some of these have minimum payment levels as low as Â£1, although small investments may disappear in fees, so you will need more to make it worthwhile â€“ Â£25 a month is more typical and meaningful.
â€œIf you are investing over a short time period, certainly fewer than five years, then you should stick with cash, even though interest rates are currently at very low levels,â€ says Patrick Connolly, a chartered financial planner at the advice firm Chase de Vere. â€œThis is because, if you invest in the stock market and it falls in value, you will have very little time to claw back any losses.â€
A good starting place if you have a small sum and do not want to take much risk is a fund that tracks the UK stock market. The Money Advice Service, an independent body set up by the government, has a useful guide on how to buy investments, with links to sites where you can research potential purchases.