Whether or not you're a W2 employer or an entrepreneur, the best thing to do is to pay yourself first. You’ve probably heard that phrase before, but what does it mean?

Paying yourself first means setting up automated deposits into your savings or investment accounts — before paying for anything else. It’s a tactic sometimes called reverse budgeting, and frankly it reminds me of how I paid rent in college.

The "pay yourself first" method is very flexible, applying to salaried earners and small business owners alike. The saving or investment vehicles you choose can take myriad forms depending on your personal goals. Paying yourself first can also refer to earmarking a certain percentage of your direct deposit for retirement accounts such as an IRA — or a simple transfer from checking to savings on every payday. The point is to remove the temptation of not making that contribution.

Central to paying yourself first is having a robust and capable emergency fund. A Federal Reserve study recently showed that most Americans do not have enough money saved for retirement or health emergencies. Without an emergency fund, most people are forced into devoting more of their paycheck into emergencies when they happen, like a broken car or storm damage. When you’re forced to do this, you’ll likely have to pause paying yourself first.

The other side to the “coin” of paying yourself first is knowing your monthly spend. If you use plastic to pay for most of your things, this can be as simple as going up and down your monthly statement. Accounting services like Quicken or Mint can help you dig deeper into your spending habits by allowing you to categorize each charge, potentially illuminating trends in your spending habits that you didn’t know about.

Once you know your spending habits, it’s possible to make a realistic spending plan that keeps you happy and comfortable — while also making you more secure in the near and long-term.

Unfortunately, a lot of people never get past the pessimist stage of their financial transformation. They are hesitant to put all their effort into another attempt at getting their financial act together. Others think that they don't have enough money to start, and are fearful of not covering their living expenses.

Some of these fears can be alleviated when you consider that your money is still available to you, even if it’s in a retirement account. There may be penalties, but it should ease your anxiety to know that your money is still alive and well — and it hasn’t been sent through a time machine.

Eventually you will figure it all out, if only because you've completely wrapped your mind around the situation. Meanwhile, there is promising, morale-boosting value to start paying yourself ASAP, even if it’s a very small contribution of $10 a month. It’s an easy win for a person who is engaged in radical self-care.

Judy Heft is the CEO/founder of Judith Heft & Associates, a Financial and Lifestyle concierge celebrating 25 years in business helping people stay financially organized. She is a Certified Money Coach and the author of “How to Be Smart, Successful and Organized with Your Money.” For more information visit www.judithheft.com.