Debt diet: 6 tips to getting into financial shape

(KPRC) -- Getting in shape isn’t just for your body. Most of us need to get in shape financially, too. Here are some tips to getting your wallet back in the black.

The money challenge

There are a few simple financial challenges people are sharing online. For example, there's the spending fast where you don't buy anything other than necessities: No eating out, no shopping, except for groceries, and first, you have to eat what you already have in your pantry and fridge.

In the 52-week Money Challenge, you save $1 the first week of January, $2 the second week, $3
the third week and so on. By the last week of the year, you will have nearly $1,400.
We’re a few weeks into the New Year, but it’s still possible to get on track with this challenge with just a little bit of catch-up.

These challenges can be really motivating to get you started, but you have to follow up and set up some auto-save programs so when you're ready to bail out of your lofty savings goals, you will keep going.

Pay yourself first

"Pay yourself first," Richard Rosso, of Clarity Financial, said.

Rosso said if you set up your direct deposit from your employer so that a larger chunk of your paycheck automatically goes into your savings, you'll never have the opportunity to spend it.

"You will adjust your spending to the deduction, so do the deduction," Rosso said. "It sounds painful, but after awhile, you will fit your budget into the deduction."

Open a virtual savings account

Now is also the time to open a savings account with a virtual bank. They pay double what the big banks pay in interest.

"You're going to get better rates by looking at the online banks, like an Ally Bank or a Synchrony Bank," said Rosso. "These are all FDIC-insured, but they just don't have the overhead."

Use rewards cards

If your credit card isn't giving you cash back, you're missing out on money. Nerdwallet has a list of the best cards for 2018 that will give you cash back at the end of the year.

Review credit card statements

​Take the time now to review your credit card statements for recurring charges you forgot you were paying.

"I dare to say you are going to find a bill and go, 'What is this? I forgot I had it,'” Rosso said. “For me, it was a magazine subscription. I haven't read the magazine in over two years, and yet I paid over $200."

Build your savings

Certified financial planner Nancy Hecht said you should have emergency savings of three to six months.

“At a minimum, I would look at three months’ worth of income to have in a checking, savings, a money market (or) an account you do not touch,” said Hecht.

She said the money won’t earn interest, it’s just simply a financial lifeline for an unexpected event.

“Most people look at an average of 5 percent to reach the level that is comfortable and appropriate for you,” Hecht said.

With the Federal Reserve expected to raise interest rates in 2018, you don't want to get stuck putting emergency car repairs or other unexpected expenses on a credit card. If you have savings, you will be ready for most emergencies.