Is this the year to focus on saving more? If you've been disappointed when you've checked out your savings account balance, let's change that this year by figuring out how to save money each month.
How much should I be saving?
Actually, advice on the topic of how much you should be saving differs based on who's giving the advice. At a minimum, most people recommend saving 10 percent of your income. Dave Ramsey recommends saving 15 percent of your income as a good goal. Still others recommend 20 percent. However, no one will complain if you save as much as you possibly can.
For the purpose of this article, let's focus on 10 percent. And let's pretend that you're average, with an average salary, even though you're anything but average!
The median household income from 2015 was about $55,775 annually. Let's try to save 10 percent of that, which is about $465 per month. At the beginning of the year, we probably won't hit that much per month, but our goal is to save $5,500 by the end of the year.
Can we do it?
How much money to save each month (and where to put it)
To actually save money each month, you need to find the money in your budget to save. Don't even have a budget? Start there. Without a budget or spending plan, your savings goals will be covered by your bills and never see the light of day.
After you've created a budget and started to track expenses, you need to have a system for savings.
To leave your savings untouched by the end of the year, ask yourself:
- Do I have a savings account set up already?
- Are automatic deposits or manual deposits better for me?
- How will I keep myself accountable to my savings goals?
Once you have a savings system, let's break down our yearly goal into months. By concentrating on different savings goals for each month and creating a savings snowball, we should have $5,300 saved by the end of year … almost anyone, on any budget, can do this.
Spend this month focusing on all your fixed expenses. By cutting these fixed expenses, changes this month will impact the rest of your year.
- Cut your cable. This could save you $65 per month.
- Eliminate your landline. This could provide $30 in savings per month.
- Try a cell phone company like Republic Wireless that could easily cut your cell phone bill in half. Savings? Possibly $25 per month.
- Increase insurance deductibles. Some estimates indicate you can save 7 percent of your car insurance premium by increasing your deductible from $250 to $500. This is a savings of $56, according to my car insurance premiums. You may also be able to drop some of your insurance entirely.
- Keep the change … yourself. Throw all of your change in a change jar all month. It should yield $5 in savings.
Monthly savings total: $181 (This will be the base savings rate for the first few months.)
Running savings total: $181
This month is one of the coldest of the year. Nonetheless, make a commitment to drop your thermostat. By dropping your home temperature 3 degrees or so, you may save up to $20 this month. Wear heavy sweaters, if needed. If you feel tempted to warm up your house, just remember that February is also the shortest month of the year!
Monthly savings total: $201
Running savings total: $382
Your tax refund, if you're getting one, is coming soon. Last year, the average refund was over $2,800. Can you save just $500 in your online savings account?
Monthly savings total: $681
Running savings total: $1,063
This time of year is prime yard sale season. Declutter your house by having a yard sale and save the proceeds. $200 perhaps?
Related >> Learn how to prep for a yard sale.
Monthly savings total: $381
Running savings total: $1,444
Make a commitment to pack your lunch at work all month. If you normally eat eight lunches out per month at $10 per meal and you can pack a lunch for $2, this saves you $64 this month.
Monthly savings total: $245
Running savings total: $1,689
If you live in the northern hemisphere, you can exercise outside for the summer (if you're in a hot area of the US, use this tip for the cooler winter months). Cancel your gym membership for the next three months. Possible savings? $150.
Monthly savings total: $331
Running savings total: $2,020
Work on your grocery budget this month. First, create meals out of your pantry or any stored food. Next, meal plan ($5 Meal Plan can help). Then, use all the other grocery shopping tips: Don't shop hungry, stick to your list, use coupons, and buy store brands. These strategies, depending on your shopping habits now as well as your family size, can easily save you $150 this month.
Monthly savings total: $331
Running savings total: $2,351
Concentrate on your debts this month. Does it make sense to consolidate any of your debts? Can you transfer one credit card balance to a lower interest rate card? Can you refinance your home to get a better rate or get rid of PMI? This could result in savings of $200 per month, or more — much more. You're also still saving $100 per month in the food category from your strategies you used last month.
Monthly savings total: $481 (your base savings rate is now $481 due to refinancing and food savings)
Running savings total: $2,832
Cut your commute. The average commuter has a 30-mile, round-trip commute and the average car gets 23.6 miles per gallon. AAA reported the national average gas price was $2.22 per gallon as of Nov. 7, 2016. By carpooling one day per week, using public transportation one day per week, or working from home one day per week that's about $2.82 per day or $11.28 per month (calculated as $10 below). That's not even counting the wear and tear on your vehicle. You'll save even more if you carpool more often.
Monthly savings total: $491
Running savings total: $3,323
By now, you've probably created a little more wiggle room in your budget, not even counting your growing savings account! Take this time make an investment or two. Maybe you can buy some food in bulk, or even buy a quarter of beef if you have freezer space. Or you can stock up on sale items. This will add savings of $300 over the rest of the year.
Monthly savings total: $781
Running savings total: $4,104
Can you make this a no-spend November? Use the library for books and movies. Barter or trade goods and services. Don't eat at restaurants at all. Avoid the vending machines. And who knows? When you wait to buy something, you may decide you don't need it all when December rolls around. Estimated savings this month would be $600.
Monthly savings total: $1,081
Running savings total: $5,185
Simplify your gift-giving by carefully evaluating who needs a Christmas gift from you this year and what they need. Use discounted gift cards to buy the important gifts. Savings? An estimated $100.
Monthly savings total: $581
Running savings total: $5,766
Even making conservative estimates, we still exceeded our $5,500 savings goal. Even if all of these options are not available to you, my hope is that your year-end savings account balance will reward your hard work and sacrifice throughout this year.
Lastly, how can you stay motivated to save money each month?
Have a visible goal that you check frequently. Track your progress. Course correct as often as necessary. And keep coming back to GRS to mingle with your fellow savers!
Are you up to start saving money each month? How much do you think you can save, and how do you plan to do it?
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).