So how do you keep money out of your checking account?
1. Start a retirement account. If you have a 401(k) at work, join it. If you have already joined, increase the amount you're putting aside. If your company puts you into the 401(k) automatically, you might be signed up to contribute only 3 percent of pay. That's not enough. Start raising the contribution by a couple of percentage points a year. Remember the magic: You'll still be able to pay your bills because your spending will automatically adjust. Your eventual savings target: 15 percent of pay.
If you don't have a 401(k), start an Individual Retirement Account (more details on IRAs here). You can set up regular payments into an IRA from your checking account.
2. Start a savings account, for quick cash on hand. Do it by arranging automatic payments out of your checking account and into savings. Time the payments to occur a day or two after the bank clears your regular paycheck. You can arrange for the transfer online or by phone. Start paying your bills only after the savings have left your checking account.
3. Claim zero exemptions on your income-tax withholding form (ask your company's Human Relations Department how to do it; you'll need a new W-4 form). When you receive your refund, put the entire check into savings.
4. Save all found money — gifts, bonuses and checks from side jobs. When your savings account is large enough, put some of the money into an IRA or other long-term investments.
5. If your income is irregular, put 10 percent of every paycheck into savings. (Okay, start with 5 percent and work up.) Never put your entire paycheck into your checking account, intending to pay your bills and save whatever is left. There is never anything left! Put money into savings first and then start on the bills.
If you can't save money and also pay your bills, the Great Budget God is telling you something. Keep on saving, and figure out how to get your spending budget into balance. Your future depends on it.