Starting to save money is like going on a diet. You are much more likely to reach your goals if you make lifestyle changes that lead to gradual improvements. It isn’t healthy to try to lose 20 pounds in a week, and saving money is not going to happen overnight, either. However, just as experts have determined that dieters are more likely to stay the course if they see some early progress, meeting your financial goals will be easier if you can see that those all important lifestyle changes really are going to be worth it.
The following suggestions are ways to jump start your savings so that you will have the willpower to keep up the slow work of wealth building.
1. Troll for change.
Those moldy quarters rolling around your car and the collection of pennies in the sofa cushions are doing no one any good where they are. Gather up all of your loose change and start a savings jar. Once it’s full, roll the coins and deposit them into your savings account. As a bonus, print out a picture that represents your savings goal and post it on the jar. The daily visual reminder can really help with maintaining your willpower.
2. Go on a financial fast.
This can be a painful exercise, but it can really help you save and learn what your spending habits are. For a set amount of time—anywhere from a week to a month—decide that you will spend absolutely no discretionary money. Only eat food that you have already purchased. Go shopping for clothes in your own closet. Visit the library for books and DVDs. Check out local papers for free entertainment. Once you have completed the fast, you will have a better idea of where you spend most of your discretionary money, because that will be what you craved the most while you were fasting. You will also have a tidy amount of money set aside. You might also find that you had fun finding creative ways to save money while going on your financial fast.
3. Clean out your closets.
And your basement and garage and bookcases. How many things do you own that you never use or look at? Craigslist and eBay make it very easy to sell unwanted items. Getting rid of your unnecessary stuff will not only score you some cash, it will also help clear your house of clutter. It’s a win-win.
4. Adjust your tax withholding.
If you end up with a hefty refund every year, you could be using that money to work for you in an interest bearing savings account. Adjust your withholding so that what you owe and what Uncle Sam deducts ends up being roughly the same. (Always err on the side of a small refund. You don’t want to be caught flat-footed on April 15). Use the money that frees up in your checking account to fund your savings.
5. Pay yourself when you spend money.
Whenever you spend money on something non-essential, pay 10% of the purchase price into your online savings account. This will help you in two ways: That money will add up quickly, and it will make you think twice about non-essential purchases.
These exercises are not all going to work for the long haul, but they can help you see quick progress in that savings goal that seems impossibly far away.
Published or updated February 17, 2011.