Q. I want to start saving to buy Christmas presents, but I tend to spend whatever is in my accounts. Any suggestions?
— Planning ahead

A. It’s all about your budget.

Do you actually have one? That’s the best way to start.

Ron Garutti, a certified financial planner with Newroads Financial Group in Clinton, offered an example with a hypothetical budget.

Let’s pretend your budget is $600 and it is Jan. 1. That will give you 12 months to save $50 each month, Garutti said.

“You could do a lot of things to save money monthly,” he said. “With interest rates at near zero percent, maybe you could go old school and get a five-gallon water jug as your `bank.'”

Every day, you could drop your change or small bills in it when you empty your pockets. He said if you dropped $1.65 into the jug each night, you would fund your goal.

One of Garutti’s favorite tips to tell young savers is that when they buy a luxury item or spend money on dining, it’s a good habit is to double pay for that item and pay yourself.

“For instance, if you go out to dinner and spend $50, then you should also put $50 into a savings account, thus making the cost of the night out $100,” he said. “If you get into this habit, then you will only spend the $50 if you truly have $100 to also pay yourself.”

If you’d like something more systematic, you can go to your local bank and ask them to set up a separate account, and then direct deposit money each month or each paycheck into that account, Garutti said.

“Watch for fees, though,” he warned. “Sometimes they charge for things like this. And remember, when all is said and done, pick out a little something nice for yourself. After all this work, you deserve it!”

Karin Price Mueller writes the Bamboozled column for The Star-Ledger and she’s the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Click here to sign up for the NJMoneyHelp.com weekly e-newsletter. Like NJMoneyHelp.com on Facebook and follow it on Twitter