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Saving money can be difficult, especially if you’re just getting started. If you already have a tight budget, you may be wondering how it’s even possible to build up savings.
Considering how important it is to tuck money away for retirement early, save for emergencies, and pay off debts, learning how to save is imperative. Here are 24 ways that you can start saving today, no matter what your budget looks like.
1. Save First
You’ve probably heard the expression that extra money “burns a hole in your pocket.” There is some truth to that. So you can greatly improve your savings by never keeping that money in your pocket.
When you have money left at the end of the money just sitting there in your checking account, you’re more likely to feel like you’re flush. Seeing a higher balance might even encourage you to spend more!
Instead, make it a habit to save first each month. As soon as your money hits your account, transfer out a determined amount into a savings account. That way it’s out of sight and out of mind. Then, if you find yourself spending wisely throughout the month and wind up with more money left over than expected, transfer the excess out as soon as possible.
Getting the cash out of your daily spending account has an important psychological effect. It changes your viewpoint on your current financial status and may subconsciously prevent additional unnecessary spending. Plus, you’ll be building your savings account in the process.
2. Automate Your Savings
Not only should you be saving first, you should make it an automatic process. That way, you won’t be tempted to let life get in the way. And you won’t be able to talk yourself out of saving as much as you would like to.
There are a few ways to do this. If you have direct deposit, you can request that your employer automatically put part of your paycheck into your savings account. You can also set up direct transfers from your checking account. These can be set up to pull the money out the day after your paycheck hits.
Without automating your savings, it can be easy to overspend and under-save. Don’t allow yourself to spend first and then save whatever is left over. You will always save less that way than you would if you made saving an immediate priority.
3. Join Rewards Programs
There are options everywhere you look if you want to save money with rewards programs. Most are free, and there’s no reason not to join.
The best option is to get a cash back rewards credit card. These come in different flavors. Some give you a set percentage back of every dollar you spend. Some have varying categories, and others only give you cash back on specific purchases. Find the one that makes the most sense for you and your spending. Ideally find one without an annual fee, and start getting cash back.
You should also enroll in store-specific rewards and discount programs. My grocery store, for example, offers special discount pricing with its free store rewards card. I also get personalized coupons and earn per-gallon discounts on fuel purchases at partner gas stations. This year alone, I’ve saved over $500 on gas and groceries, just for joining this free program.
However, these savings don’t really serve you unless you set them aside. So, every time I leave the store, I look at my receipt and see how much the rewards program saved me. Then, I transfer that same dollar amount into savings right away. It’s made for a nice $500+ account boost this year!
4. Use Round-Up Apps
Quite a few of the latest apps and banking programs make savings easy and effortless. One of these options is the round-up spending app.
Round-up apps–like Digit or Keep the Change (by Bank of America)–automate your savings in micro amounts. They link to your credit or debit card. And when you buy anything, they round up the total to the nearest dollar. Then, the app or account routes the excess change into a savings account. So you build up your fund a few cents at a time. By the end of the month, though, it can really add up!
For example, let’s say you used your debit card three times today. You bought coffee for $4.07, gas for $37.50, and lunch for $11.38. This adds up to $52.95. If you were using a round-up app, you would actually see $55 deducted from your account, though. That’s because your coffee would be rounded up to $5, your gas to $38, and your lunch to $12.
This doesn’t sound like much. In fact, you’re unlikely to even notice the additional debits. However, you’ve just set aside $2.05 into savings without even thinking about it. Do this every day, and you would have almost $740 in a savings account at the end of the year this without forcing yourself to transfer funds and without really even noticing that the money is missing.
5. Transfer Balances to Save Interest
If you’re carrying small personal loan debt, credit card debt, or even student loans, a 0% APR balance transfer offer can be an excellent way to not only pay off the debt sooner, but save yourself money.
Credit cards regularly charge interest rates in the high 20s and even 30s. This can really impact your ability to ever climb out of debt, especially if you’re only paying the minimum due each month. A balance transfer offer can help.
If you’re approved for a new credit card that offers zero percent balance transfers for a period of time, take advantage of the offer while you can. You can transfer over other, high-interest debts and pay down the balance without accruing more interest. This allows you to pay the debt off sooner because more of your payment goes toward paying down the balance. And it costs you less in the end.
Either take that money you saved on interest and put it in savings each month, or redirect that payment amount toward savings once you finally pay off the debt.
6. Set Specific Savings Goals
Saving is hard, especially when you’re first starting out. By setting specific, smaller savings goals, you can make it easier to stay motivated. And motivated people meet their goals.
Instead of saying, ”I want to save money this year,” say, ”I want to save $200 a month this year.” This gives you a finite goal and can encourage you to work a little harder if it looks like you might fall short.
Instead of saying, ”I want to spend less on groceries,” say, ”I will spend less than $400 a month on groceries.” Then, follow your own rules. You’ll be surprised by how many more financial goals you hit when they’re clearly defined.
7. Windfalls Go Straight to Savings
Give Uncle Sam an interest-free loan, resulting in a nice tax return this year? Did your boss hand out generous holiday bonuses? Maybe you got a raise at work, whether it was expected or not.
Well, put it immediately into savings!
After all, it’s money you never really had in your pocket. By directing it to savings, you can pretend it never existed and continue with your usual budget and spending. However, you’ll seriously bulk up your savings account in the process.
8. Get a Side Hustle
The best way to earn extra cash–to round out your budget, pay off debt, or boost your savings–is to get a side hustle. This could be a second job, turning a hobby into a lucrative profit-builder, or even starting your own company. It can be something you commit a few hours a month to, or spend every weekend on (like driving for Uber).
Set a specific percentage of your earnings (or profits) to go toward savings automatically. If you really want to be an aggressive saver, say that every penny your side hustle earns goes toward emergency or retirement savings. If you’re trying to pay off debt, maybe you split earnings down the middle between the two causes.
Depending on your side hustle of choice, this could mean hundreds of extra dollars a month in your savings account.
9. Sell Unwanted Items
A great way to boost your savings and declutter is to sell unwanted items. You might be sitting on a lot more cash than you think.
If you have unworn or lightly used clothing (especially children’s), look into consignment shops or eBay. Garage full of neglected sporting equipment or electronics? Use a site like Craigslist or Facebook community pages to find buyers. You can sell jewelry, DVDs, furniture… the possibilities are endless.
Then, put that “surprise” cash away in your savings account, and watch it grow even faster.
10. Collect Bank Bonuses
Did you open your current bank account because your parents banked at that establishment, too? Maybe you’ve just had the account for years and think there might be something better out there. Either way, opening a new account at the right bank can be a great way to find free cash.
Many banks (online or brick-and-mortar) offer bonuses just for opening new accounts. Some require a certain minimum deposit and others require you to set up direct deposits. But you can easily snag a few hundred dollars just by meeting these guidelines.
Take a look at these current bank bonuses to see if any are right for you!
11. Opt for High-Yield Savings
Interest rates have certainly dropped over the years. But there is still a difference between high-yield savings accounts and, well… the other guys.
If you put your money into a savings account earning 1.25% APY, you’re going to earn substantially more each year than if you kept it in a checking account or even a low-earning savings account. I’ve seen some of these earn a mere 0.05% APY! You’d be losing out some free money, especially as your savings account balance climbs.
Put your cash away where it will earn the most. Then, watch the account grow even faster thanks to compound interest.
12. Take Employer-Matched Contributions
If your employer offers to pad your retirement account–called employer-matched retirement contributions—take it! Otherwise, you’re losing out on additional savings for your future by leaving free money on the table. Even if you don’t have much wiggle room for savings, you should at least save enough to take advantage of the full match.
If your employer offers a match on retirement funds, find out the details. These are often matched either dollar-for-dollar or $0.50 on the dollar, up to a certain limit. You may also have to be fully vested in order to take these additional funds with you, should you leave the job. It’s still worth putting this money into savings, in case you stay long enough to become vested.
13. Teach Yourself Patience
Many of us make unwise financial choices on impulse. You can avoid some of these–and save yourself a lot of money–by practicing patience. When it comes to spending money, it’s best to institute a waiting period.
Make a rule for yourself: anytime you want to buy an item over X dollars, you will wait a certain period of time. I’ve heard of 24-hour Rules all the way up to 30-Day Rules. Whichever you choose is up to you, but it’s smart to at least give yourself a cooling-off period. This allows you to sleep on whether that purse is really a must-have or simply a want.
Avoiding impulse purchases such as these can really impact your savings account and spare you a lot of wasted money.
14. Date Night, Save Night
In my home, we have “Date Night, Save Night” once a month. Instead of going out to a movie and dinner (which can add up to a pretty pricey night), we stay in and save that money. We make popcorn, rent something from Redbox, and cook up a nice meal on our own. Then, the cash we saved goes straight into savings. (For this particular challenge, savings go into our Jeep Fund, which is quickly growing.)
You can do the same thing with after-church lunches (maybe have a potluck with a few other families?), nights out with friends, etc. Find ways to socialize and enjoy life without spending a ton of cash in the process. Then, tuck your savings away.
15. Plan a Weekly Menu
I cannot tell you how much money I have wasted over the years by not planning out the week’s meals. Lunch, dinner, both… I always spend more if I don’t plan ahead.
Sit down each weekend and make a menu for the week. Then, set a grocery list to cover all of the meals, ganging up ingredients if you can. Only need half an onion for Monday’s dish? Plan something on Wednesday that uses the other half, etc.
This allows you to buy certain foods in bulk and avoids waste. It also prevents you from buying off-list when you actually get to the store.
Not that great at planning your own meals? Check out this list of affordable meal planning apps that will do the work for you.
16. Rate Shop
If you’ve had the same auto insurance policy for years, it may be time to shop around. Doing so could wind up saving you a pretty penny.
Use an insurance-rate aggregator to find out the best rates available. You may wind up staying where you are, or jumping ship and saving yourself hundreds of dollars a year. Any discounts you find? You guessed it: put ‘em in your savings account.
You can do this same thing with other insurance coverage, including your life insurance and home insurance policies.
17. Save Your Spare Change
One of the best ways to squirrel away savings is also the oldest in the book: Simply save your spare change. Put it in a container at the end of the day–perhaps with a specific goal in mind, like a Vacation Fund Jar–and watch it grow.
This is also a great way to teach your children about saving money. They can divide their coins into Savings, Spending Money, and Charity, learning the value of all balancing all three.
18. Keep “Paying” Cleared Debts
So, you just paid off that student loan, credit card, or auto loan? Great! Now, keep paying it.
Wait, what? That’s right, I want you to keep sending that check in each money. Except, instead of sending it to the lender, send it to your savings account. After all, you’re already accustomed to budgeting for that payment each month. So this is the perfect time to really boost your savings without feeling a new pinch.
You can also use this same concept if you have debts remaining, in the form of the Debt Snowball method.
19. Build an Emergency Fund
I’m sure you’ve heard the importance of building an emergency fund before. However, did you know that establishing one can actually save you money in the end?
If you have a sufficient emergency account built up, it will protect you from unnecessary fees and expenses should an actual emergency arise. If you have a big, unexpected expense, you can pull from your emergency fund and avoid overdrawing your checking account (resulting in overdraft fees). If your car breaks down, you can use this fund to cover the expenses instead of building up credit card debt–which, if not paid off right away, will result in high interest charges.
20. Challenge Yourself to Save
You may have heard of the 52-Week Savings Challenge before. If not, it’s where you save a certain dollar amount each week, beginning with $1 on week one. By the end of the challenge (week 52), you will have $1,378 saved up, and it won’t even be very painful.
This allows you to start low and slow–the first month, you will have only saved about $10. But you will get used to the idea of putting money away regularly. If you want to save more, you can. But at the very least, this $1,378 will be tucked in your bank account, and all you had to do was start with a dollar.
21. Make Money Hard to Touch
One way to avoid spending your savings while you allow it to grow is to put it where you can’t touch it.
No, this doesn’t mean burying it in the backyard. But it does mean moving it from your checking account-linked savings account and putting it in an account that isn’t as easy to access.
Online banks are great options for this. You can still keep your brick-and-mortar bank for checking. But put your emergency fund and long-term savings in an unrelated account. Then, if you want to spend some of your savings, you’ll have to deal with the transfer process, which can also take days to complete. By then, you may have talked yourself out of the purchase! At the very least, it will prevent you from transferring $5 here and $10 there for little “must-haves.”
22. Ban $5 Bills
The very first year I committed to saving, I stashed away over $450 in five-dollar bills. Why? Because I banned myself from spending them.
Another type of game, the $5 Bill Challenge allows you to spend any type of cash except… you guessed it, five dollar bills. Instead, every time you get a five back from the cashier, separate it in your wallet. Then, put this money away when you get home.
You’d be surprised by how easy it is to save by just banning this type of cash. The $450 I put aside? I didn’t even notice! I’m willing to bet you won’t, either.
23. Get a Raise? Pretend You Didn’t
This is similar to the suggestion above, that you put windfalls directly into savings. Except, this windfall will be monthly.
If you were recently awarded a raise at work, you can save a ton by simply pretending that the raise never happened. Keep budgeting the same and spending the same, all while diverting that extra cash in your paycheck into your savings. (Tempted to spend the money? Refer to tip #2. Have your employer put the “extra” cash straight in your savings account on payday.)
24. Trim Monthly Bills
One of the best ways to bulk savings and soften the budget all year long is to trim your monthly bills. Not only will you avoid wasting cash, but you’ll find wiggle room you didn’t know you had.
Every six months or so, call up your service providers (such as cable and cell phone) and ask if they have any new promotions. Sometimes, they’re happy to give you a lower rate they just started offering. Or they may even credit your account with a loyal customer discount. This is also a good time to evaluate whether you really need all of the services for which you’re paying or if you could trim each package down a bit.
Then–yep, put the money saved into your savings.
Saving money can be hard, especially in the beginning. However, taking little steps here and there can get that financial snowball rolling. Before you know it–with just a few smart choices and tucking cash away little-by-little–you’ll wind up with a healthy savings and great money habits.
Do you have another recommendation to get new (or bad) savers started? Share it below!