Throughout your personal and professional life, you may see different incomes and expenses; but you can and should be saving.

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When it comes to life expenses, some you can expect and plan for, and some come as a surprise. According to a survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Board, 47 percent of Americans said they could not come up with $400 to cover an emergency expense without borrowing or selling something. Stacey Black, a financial educator at BECU, recommends putting aside money each month into a savings account, not just for the important financial milestones that come along in life, but also for those unplanned expenses. At any stage of your adult life, Black suggests starting with at least $1,000 in a savings account and, over time, building that up to three to six months’ worth of income. “Having a savings account means that someone can help avoid future debt by being able to cover an emergency or unexpected expense without having to use a credit card or personal loan when a car breaks down or an unexpected trip to the hospital arises,” she says.

Of course, at different points in life, you may want to think about your savings goals differently. Black recognizes that throughout your personal and professional life, you may be dealing with different incomes and expenses; regardless, you can and should be saving something.

First job! Reward yourself with a nice, cushy savings plan

It’s tempting to spend that first paycheck from your first job on something special to reward yourself for all that hard work, but Black says you should start saving right away, even if your expenses are not too high. “Starting your first job is the perfect time to get in the habit of setting up an automatic savings plan. You should put 20 percent of every paycheck into savings automatically. That way you get in the habit of saving and you won’t be tempted to spend that money.”

And what about after you get that first raise? Black advises putting as much of the raise as possible into that automatic savings plan, too. “Sometimes as we get raises, we adjust our spending up too, and then it feels like we didn’t get a raise at all.” A good rule of thumb no matter how much you make is the 50-20-30 rule. Fifty percent of your income should go toward your everyday needs and expenses, twenty percent toward your financial goals, like saving and reducing debt, and 30 percent for expenses you want versus need, like outings with friends or travel expenses.

Sharing space: Cuddle up and create a “we do” plan

Finding a serious partner is a huge life change, both emotionally and financially. To help prepare, Black suggests doing your research on any big upcoming financial expense, like a wedding or moving in together. “Do your research to figure out how much it will cost,” she says. “Then make an estimate and divide it by how many months from now you’ll need that money to determine your monthly amount to save.” Black also recommends opening a separate savings account named “Wedding” or “Moving,” and treating it like a monthly bill. This allows you to get in the habit of allocating a portion of funds into it regularly.

If you are having trouble figuring out how much money you can realistically put toward that kind of a spending goal, Black proposes making a budget, starting a spending journal, or using an app like BECU’s Money Manager. Add up your expenses at the end of the month in different categories so you can see where you might be able to make adjustments in your budget to save even more. Keeping track helps you remain accountable to where each dollar is spent.

Babies really do need a college fund. Like, now.

“One of the most surprising realizations in someone’s life is how expensive it can be to have children,” says Black. She suggests researching how much a child will cost you, just like with other big life events like a wedding or buying a house. And, don’t forget the expenses that come with kids even many years down the road, like college tuition. “I went in to talk to a financial planner about saving for college when my daughter was 2 years old, and even that might not have been soon enough,” she says. “The earlier you formulate a plan, the less pressure you feel financially because you’ll have that many more years to save.”

Upsize your saving plan to make that down payment a reality

Whether you’re looking to buy a home or move into a new rental, if you need money for a down payment or deposit, saving for that event in advance is necessary; and the earlier, the better. Again, Black suggests figuring out how much money you need to save each month to reach the amount you need. If you want to be absolutely sure you’re held accountable at making that monthly savings payment, Black proposes opening a certificate of deposit: “You can open a two-year certificate of deposit, for example, adding money to it each month, but then that money is locked in for two years, so you’re not tempted to spend it on other things.”

Retirement takes planning, and a little practice

Retirement is, of course, on the mind of most working people years before they are near the end of their working days. “You should think about saving for retirement at your first job, not just in the years when you’re approaching it,” she says. Black suggests talking to a financial planner to make sure you’re on track with where you want to be savings wise. “In your last several years of work, you want to start tightening up your spending even more, which means sitting down and creating a new budget. Start thinking about ways to cut back so you can plan for what your budget will look like when you do retire.”

As a member-owned credit union, BECU is focused on helping increase the financial health of its members and communities through better rates, fewer fees, community partnerships and financial education.