By paying yourself before others, you are building the habits and discipline it takes to gain peace of mind with an emergency fund, save for large purchases and trips, and invest for long-term wealth building. Learn these steps now so that you can be ready to apply them when you transition to a career.

Pay yourself first: work towards the life you want

How Do I Pay Myself First?

  1. Open a savings or money market account at your local bank or credit union of choice.

  2. Each pay period, create your budget and title the first expense “savings.” Set a fixed amount or a percentage that you are going to save right away.

  3. Once you are paid, immediately transfer the money into your savings account manually or via auto-transfer.

  4. Build up emergency savings for unexpected events in this account.

  5. Once your emergency fund is fully funded (three to six months’ cost of living expenses), identify your most important short, medium, and long-term goals. Estimate how much each of these goals will cost.

  6. Set up a separate savings or investment account for each of your major goals. When you’re ready, talk to an investment professional to help determine your investment plan based on your time frame and tolerance for risk.

Saving and Investing 101

Piggy bank with chalk drawing of a line graph

Once you have your emergency fund in place, start thinking about retirement savings and investments. To save for large expenses like a down payment on a home or a car, consider starting a separate savings account outside of your regular checking and emergency fund accounts. Label the account and allocate a fixed amount to it every month until you hit your goal. To save for longer-term goals like your children’s education and your retirement, talk to a licensed professional about your tolerance for risk and your investment strategy. Take the time now to read up on stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and further your saving and investing knowledge.



  • – The site for the Security and Exchange Commissions’ investor education
  • Compound Interest Calculator – The SEC’s long-term investment calculator
  • Savings Calculator – Use this tool to find out how much you can end up with by saving and investing your money over a given time period
  • Retirement Plans – Explore this IRS website on retirement plans and learn about IRAs, 401(k)s, and more
  • Saving for College – The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) site with college savings plans and tips
  • Saving and Investing – A roadmap to your financial security through saving and investing (can be downloaded in English and Spanish)
  • Retirement Calculator – FINRA’s retirement calculator to help start planning your retirement investing when you’re ready