Opinion: How to save 'little and often'

Man playing piano

The mantra 'little and often' can help you learn the piano – and help you save money, says Peter Sharkey - Credit: Getty Images

Finance expert Peter Sharkey says embracing the recommended ‘little and often’ mantra can help when learning the piano – and when saving.

As the prospect of a third lockdown loomed large on the horizon, it gradually became apparent that it was unlikely to be a short one. Soon, restrictions preventing people from going out or mixing socially were re-imposed, making life uncomfortable, although for millions of folks ‘Lockdown III’ also created an opportunity.

Suddenly, there was a boom in home exercise, knitting, baking, gardening and a host of other activities, with new ideas swapped via Zoom or Teams.

I picked up on one of these and saw Lockdown III as a chance to learn how to play the piano. I bought a modestly priced electric piano (replete with headphones so that no-one else was subjected to my playing), together with The Complete Piano Player by Kenneth Baker, a comprehensive guide to the instrument’s basics and beyond.

My aim was to become a modern-day Nat King Cole, rattling off standards such as 'Let There Be Love', singing along in Nat’s mellow style while enjoying a drink perched precariously over the ivories.

Sadly, my progress has not been quite as rapid as I would have preferred. My left hand often has a life of its own when required to play at a different pace to the right, but I’ve managed to tackle a number of tunes, mastering some, while enjoying the unexpected benefit of learning how to read music.

Most importantly, throughout my, ahem, solid progress, Kenneth Baker’s book has frequently re-iterated one vital piece of advice: when learning, play little and often.

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The ‘little and often’ theme was reassuringly prominent in a completely different sphere of life when I spoke with Scott Mowbray, co-founder of Norwich-based money saving app Snoop.

Mr Mowbray was responding to a Lowell report published earlier this week which found that two-thirds (66%) of Britons maintain that building a financial safety net, while important, was also the most difficult financial task to undertake.

The importance of having a monetary buffer, a pot of cash to fall back on when a financial emergency needs to be addressed (paying for boiler or car repairs), or a more serious situation arises (losing your job) goes without saying, but how deep should this pot of money be?

Granted, it’s akin to asking how long is a piece of string, although experts recommend that, ideally, a rainy day fund should consist of between three to six months of your regular expenses.

That may sound like a daunting, almost impossible level of saving to attain, although the good news is that money management apps such as Snoop can help take the strain, simplify your finances and spot regular, often small saving opportunities at a glance.

Not surprisingly, it’s a topic about which Scott Mowbray speaks with obvious enthusiasm and authority.

“New technology means you can make your life easier, get on top of your money and achieve your goals,” he says, adding that the latest financial apps can save users both time and money.

“[The apps] can take the hassle out of the important but mundane task of managing money,” he continues. “They show where your money goes, help keep your finances on track until the next payday, help you avoid rip-off deals, swerve expensive auto-renewals and cancel wasteful subscriptions. All of which means more money in your pocket to build a safety net and make more of what you’ve got.”

Who couldn’t use such readily available assistance?

But how best to go about creating that rainy-day fund? This is where the ‘little and often’ approach comes into its own. It’s also where having a financial goal acts as a huge incentive because, irrespective of your financial aim, research proves that people who set goals save more than those who do not.

Your target in place, the next step is to begin saving in order to achieve it: Mr Mowbray suggests trying the 50:20:30 method, i.e. allocate 50% of your regular income to needs, 20% to savings and 30% for wants. Some people may find a different percentage allocation is more convenient, but the key is to replenish the savings element as regularly as the other two. Even if only 5% of your income drops into the savings pot, adhering to the ‘little and often’ mantra will eventually pay enormous dividends.

“You should treat saving like any other bill,” says Scott Mowbray. “It's easy to let saving slip and think, 'I’ll do it next month,’ but consider saving as another bill and budget for it accordingly, namely as a non-negotiable. This will help you get into the habit. Automating your saving by using a standing order makes it even easier.” This is sound advice.

Establishing your financial safety net from scratch might appear a daunting task, but remember: ‘little and often’ – and eventually you will.