This information is provided by our friends at Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed).

Saving money is a way for you to invest in yourself in order to reach a future goal. For years, personal finance experts have echoed the mantra, “Pay yourself first.” What does that mean? Exactly what it says—give your future and your goals a high priority by setting aside a portion of your income as savings before taking care of any other financial obligations. When you think of this advice in the same spirit in which a flight attendant instructs passengers to secure their own oxygen masks before helping others, it easy to understand the importance of getting into the habit of paying oneself first. Make saving a seamless part of your everyday life, and match your short-term and long-term goals with savings strategies that support them. Then watch the real power of a savings plan unfold.

The key to leveraging the most from your savings is to get specific about how and why you’re saving to begin with. How far in the future are your savings goals, and what type of savings accounts or products will help you get there most effectively?

Be specific about your goals—not “I want to have a rainy day fund for things like car repairs” but “I’m aiming for $1,000 in my emergency fund.” Then you can choose a savings method that suits the amount of money you have and the goal you’re trying to meet. Now you’re seeing the power of a savings plan and the advantages that come from starting to save right now.

How saving helps you in the short term

Short-term savings methods like interest-earning checking accounts, regular savings (or share) accounts, certificates, and IRAs form the foundation of your financial wellbeing. They let you earn solid returns on your money without making it inaccessible over the long haul.

Basic savings accounts let you withdraw money whenever you need it (up to half a dozen times per month) while still earning respectable interest. Even the most humble savings plan builds tangible results over time. And by saving first and paying cash for major purchases, you completely dodge the risk and responsibility of credit card debt.

When you’re saving toward a short-term goal, avoid long-term certificates and investments that hit you with stiff penalties for early withdrawals. You need to be able to use your money at a moment’s notice, whether you’re gunning for a new apartment or building a secure emergency fund.

Paying off debt is a top priority for almost everyone, but sometimes saving money takes precedence even over that. Building a solid emergency fund prevents life’s little emergencies from dragging you further into debt. Creating a rainy day fund should always be a top priority.

If you make monthly direct deposits of $1,000 or more and your average daily balance per statement cycle is up to $50,000, a PenFed Access America Checking account could be exactly the savings tool you need. If you don’t typically maintain a high enough balance to earn checking account dividends, a PenFed Regular Savings account could be a better fit.

How saving helps you in the long run

When you have years and years to work on long-term goals like a college fund or retirement savings, you can trade easy access to your money for an account that charges a stiff penalty for early withdrawals but rewards you with more substantial returns. Time is on your side here, and even a modest monthly contribution will grow impressively over the years.

Simple savings tools like share accounts, certificates, and IRAs can all help you protect your savings. These methods are federally insured.

Even with certificates, you can preserve your ability to access your money without early withdrawal penalties by building a certificate ladder. Buy overlapping certificates with different maturity dates to get penalty-free access to some portion of your nest egg at regular intervals.

Still worried that you should pay off debt before you get around to saving? If your employer matches your contributions to a 401(k) retirement plan, don’t miss the boat. Make every effort to pay in as much as you can. That’s free money from your employer—and it all comes back to you in the end.

Hassle-free advantages now and tomorrow

The best way to start saving is to nail down specific goals that matter to you. The sooner you start, the more time your money has to grow—and even modest savings will swell to a respectable nest egg, given time.

Create a monthly budget and figure out how much you can afford to set aside for savings each month. Then look at the accounts that will earn you the most interest without penalizing for getting to your money if you should need it.

Remove the hassle by making saving a simple set-it-and-forget-it proposition. Direct deposit, payroll deductions, and automatic transfers make it easy to keep your nest egg growing without any action on your part. When you don’t see the money to begin with, you’re not likely to miss it, making the process of saving absolutely painless. You won’t even have to think about your savings until you need it—and there it will be, ready to help you achieve your dreams.