Most people save a set percentage of their income and set it aside in a savings account. As this fund grows, it becomes accessible for emergencies, car repairs, and other unexpected expenses. Saving money for expenses is important, but it’s not a wealth-building strategy. In other words, it’s not going to grow on its own. A savings account is easy to deplete, and it will take time to rebuild.

A savings account built up over time isn’t the only component of a stable financial foundation. Your emergency savings fund can be wiped out with one unexpected situation. Saving money when you can isn’t enough. You need a strategic plan to save money regularly and over time.

1. Start saving more than 10% of your income

If you’re only saving 10% of your income (or less), you’re not saving enough. Even those with 401(k) plans and other retirement accounts aren’t necessarily saving enough. 

If you save 10% of your income, you can calculate exactly how much money you’ll add to your savings by the end of each year, provided your job remains the same. On a take-home salary of $35,000, you’ll save $3,500 per year, which is good for an emergency fund, but isn’t nearly enough to retire on. 

CNBC reports that 20% of Americans save 5% of their income or less; 28% save 6-10%; and 16% save more than 15% of their income. The reason, according to survey participants, is mostly due to expenses.

One mindset says that it’s okay to indulge in unnecessary expenses. Life is too short; just do what makes you happy. While that sentiment has value, it’s not the bigger picture. If indulging today robs you of your future, it’s not going to make you happy in the long run.

Give up a few pizza parties, movies, and slow down on buying designer clothes. Make 10% your baseline to save, but practice the habit of saving more when you can.

2. Keep an updated plan for getting out of debt

What are you saving money for? Hopefully, getting out of debt is included in your financial plan. 

It’s not hard to get out of debt, but it requires precise calculations to figure out what you owe and how long it will take to pay it back. 

In this Ultimate Guide to Budgeting from, they point out that credit card companies have a perfect formula for keeping their customers on the hook for debt as long as possible. That formula involves giving customers a low required payment that ensures it will take years to pay the full balance, and they’ll collect hefty interest in the meantime. 

The guide also shares that until recently, consumers were on their own to calculate all aspects of their debt. Those calculations are cumbersome. Credit card companies know most people aren’t going to bother. The CARD Act aims to change that. Thanks to this law, credit card statements are required to display three calculations for you: 

How much you’d need to pay to get to a zero balance within three years
How long it will take you to pay off your balance if you only pay the minimum payment
How much interest you paid the previous year

With this information, it’s easy to create a plan for getting out of debt. When you see the numbers, you’ll probably never pay a minimum amount ever again. You’ll know how much of your income you’ll need to throw at your debt to be debt-free in three years. Or, you can adjust those calculations according to your time plan.

3. Open a checking and savings account with a credit union

You’ll never earn significant interest with a traditional bank, but you can earn substantial interest with a credit union. Credit unions offer multiple types of accounts just like banks, but unlike banks, they offer free accounts, and even free savings accounts will earn interest. 

Some credit unions have checking accounts that give you cash back rewards for making purchases, just like credit card companies. Except, it’s your own money and you don’t have to go into debt to get the reward. If you use your checking account to pay bills, it makes sense to pay those bills on an account that will provide a return. It’s literally free money, and it doesn’t make sense to skip it.

Start with the basics

These are just several components of a money saving plan. Start with the basics, and when you’ve built up a decent chunk of cash, consider investing to secure your future.