Murad Sezer /Reuters/File
A money changer counts US dollar bills at a currency exchange office in central Istanbul. With the right habits in place, saving money can become an easy and manageable task.

Three steps to building a smart savings plan

The thought of building a savings plan from the ground up may be intimidating, but it can become easy with the right frame in place.

When you want to get fit, whether it’s physically or financially, you’ve got to train if you want the gain. By training yourself to save, you’ll learn a new habit — one that will literally pay off, all year long. Having a plan to reach your goals makes things easier.

Whether you’re starting from zero or you’re a saving pro, we’ll show how you can prepare for big expenses in 2016 and prevent them from draining your bank account.

So, where are you when it comes to being a financially fit saver?

Level 1: What savings plan?

You’re pretty “meh” about planning out big expenses for the year. But simply figuring out what you need to save for can make life less stressful. Stop avoiding it; just sit down and make a list. Here are some things you might need to save for in 2016:

  • Gifts: Birthdays, holidays and other special occasions add up. Set aside a bit of cash every paycheck and you won’t have to skimp on presents for your BFF.
  • Replacing or upgrading stuff: Want a shiny new toy, like the latest iPhone or a car? Saving up will make it hurt less when you have to hand over all that money.
  • Moving: It’s more expensive than you might think and can wipe out your savings. If you’re moving to or within an expensive city, save up enough to cover first month’s rent (and maybe last, too), deposit, fees, a rental van and moving supplies like boxes and tape.
  • Job-related expenses: You might be job hunting or just starting at a place where you need a more professional wardrobe. Or maybe you want to learn some new skills for work. If you have career ambitions that’ll come with costs, saving up for them bit by bit will help.
  • Travel: Wanderlust much? Getting your travel fund going now means being able to plan amazing trips later with fewer financial limitations.
  • Freelance taxes: The loveliest part of hustling for yourself … figuring out your own taxes. Setting aside an estimated amount with each payment from a client will make quarterly taxes a bit less painful.

Soooo, you probably can’t afford to save up for all these big expenses and cover everything else in your budget. Prioritize big-ticket items so that if you can’t afford them all, or if other things come up, you can put saving for the less-important expenses on pause.

Level 2: You know what’s up

You’ve got your big expenses for the year on lock. Here’s how to figure out how to save for them all.

  • Divide each big expense by how many paychecks you have until you need to pay up.
  • Take your expected income for the year (underestimate to be safe) and subtract your necessary costs (food, rent, etc.). The disposable income you have left is what you’ve got to work with.
  • Add up all your big expenses to see if you’ve got enough disposable income to cover them all. If you don’t, cut the less important ones or make them less expensive (like DIYing gifts).
  • If it makes it easier for you, create a savings account to hold funds for big expenses.

The best part about following a savings plan? If some of those big expenses don’t happen, you have something to fall back on when you need it.

Level 3: Beast mode is ON

You’re like the Beyonce of financial fitness (nah, no one can top Bey). You know exactly what you need to save for and you’ve got a plan, so pair up with a friend to spread the wealth.

  • Hitting the gym is easier when you’ve got a workout buddy, and the same goes for hitting your savings goals.
  • FOMO can hit hard when you’re trying to cut back on spending. But you’ll feel less like you’re missing out if your bestie’s along for the ride. 
  • Once you and your financial bestie have your savings plans laid out, agree to encourage each other to stick to them. You’ll both have an easier time training yourselves to save, and you have someone to go on (free) fun adventures with throughout the year.

Ready to get financially fit?

Looking ahead at the whole year can be intimidating. Who knows what will happen? Oh wait, you do. You know what big expenses you’ve got coming up, and now you’re ready to save for them from the start.

This article first appeared on NerdWallet.

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