What Does it Really Mean to Pay Yourself First?

If you’ve heard the phrase Pay Yourself First before and never really understood what that means, you’re in the right place. It’s one of the phrases that comes up a lot when talking about saving, investing, or even just budgeting. It’s a simple strategy, but one that needs a bit of explanation to make the most of it.


Pay Your Future Self

A good way to think about the Pay Yourself First strategy is to remember that you aren’t paying the you that wants a venti coconut milk chai latte (extra hot) right now, but the you a year or so down the road who needs money for an unexpected car repair, moving to a new apartment, buying a house, or retirement. You’re paying the future you.

These Payments Come First

So, if you’re paying your future self first, does that mean you ignore your bills and have zero fun ever? No. Putting priority on your future self just means that you adjust your budgets in a way that these savings or investments happen before anything else. Ideally, they come off your paycheque on payday. This could mean a bit less money right now but saving shouldn’t be painful or make you antisocial. It might just mean more potlucks and less dinners out.

Make Regular, Consistent Savings

Paying yourself first should be easy to manage, once you get it set up. Automatic contributions and savings programs are your best friend in this strategy. After you’ve figured out how much you can save from each paycheque, you won’t have to touch these numbers unless there is a change in your income or expenses. Need help figuring out how much you can save from each paycheque? Here’s your guide to creating a budget.

Self-starter? Set up your own savings schedule by opening a separate account, preferably one where you can earn high interest, that you only make deposits into. Make bi-weekly or monthly contributions and do not use this account for paying bills or spending money, this is strictly for the future you.

You Might Already Be Paying Yourself First

Some employers have group Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs), or other investment or savings opportunities that can come right off your paycheque before you even get it. If you’re participating in a plan like this, congrats! You’ve already started to pay yourself first.

The Payoff is Security

Paying yourself first can be a tough habit to get into because you don’t get to enjoy that money right now. There’s no immediate payoff (unless you’re really into watching a number on a screen get bigger every month). The payoff comes when you have an emergency you can handle without going into debt, or not needing a loan because you can pay for a newer car up front, or having an entire down payment for a house, or knowing you can live well in retirement. It’s security, and yes, money can buy that, so start paying yourself first.


Paying yourself first isn’t so bad. Any advice on how you fend off impulse buys and practice paying yourself first? Tell us how what you do to pay the future you!

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