Savings Strategies: Little Moves That Equal Big Money

Photo illustration of money growing over time

So, you've decided to enact some savings strategies.

You've banned takeout, swapped all venti fat-free lattes for the trusty Mr. Coffee at home, staged the yard sale, cut the cable, dropped the landline, raised your insurance deductibles, brown bagged every single lunch for months, and … plan to limit the A/C all sweatin'-summer long.

But you still need to build your emergency fund. What can you do?

Make little changes for maximum impact

Not every tip will work for every person, but here's what contributor Donna Freedman shared with the GetRichSlowly community in a previous post, with a few additions:

Bank it!

1. Automate it . This is easier than ever and surprisingly effective. Have your bank, credit union or mobile app siphon off a small amount each payday. Learn to live on what's left. Increase the amount slowly to give yourself time to adjust your spending. One company, Digit, offers a free mobile app that you can connect to your bank accounts. The app checks your spending patterns and moves money it's calculations say you can afford to miss into a Digit account. If you need the saved money, you simply withdraw it for free. Acorns is another so-called micro-savings account that invests the spare change that it pulls from your purchases by rounding up and puts it into a diversified investing portfolio. Banks like Bank of America offer similar programs.

2. Bank your rewards. Switch to a cash rewards credit card and use it to pay for everything you can (but never more than you can pay off). Save the cash-back.

3. Bank your raise. If you got one, you lucky dog. Here's how: Pretend you didn't get one, and keep on keeping on with your previous take-home pay. Automate the rest into savings.

4. Bank your bonus. If you get any kind of extra cash at work, spend 10 percent of it on something you really need (or want) and save the rest.

5. Bank your reimbursements. Getting paid back for work-related expenses or a check from your flexible spending account? If at all possible, put it into savings rather than checking.

6. Bank your coupons. You saved $6 on the groceries? Swell! But it's not savings unless you save it. Tuck away those discounts from manufacturers coupons and/or your customer loyalty card.

Creature of habit?

7. Drop bad habits. It's tough to quit smoking or, for that matter, to stop buying comic books. But as you taper off, put what you would have spent on coffin nails or anime into long-term savings.

8. Recognize good habits. Rather than having a “swear jar” with a penalty for every F-bomb you drop, why not have a “Go you!” jar? Maybe you packed a lunch today instead of eating out — go you, then, and put a quarter (or more) in the jar.

9. Recreate favorite habits. Do you meet friends for brunch or lunch every weekend? Replace at least one of these gatherings per month with meals at home (and take turns hosting). Hooked on opening-night movies? Learn to appreciate the bargain Saturday matinee, right after a big breakfast that will keep you from dropping a fortune on popcorn.

10. Round it up. When you use your debit card or write a check, record it for the next dollar up (e.g., $7.29 becomes $8). At the end of the month, add up the differences and transfer to savings.

11. Pay it forward. Finally made the last installment to the auto dealer or the orthodontist? Keep making that payment, i.e., transfer it into savings each month. (Can't quite swing that? Save half the amount, then.)

Related >> How to Automate Your Personal Finances

12. Launder some funds. Every time my partner and I do a load of wash, we put $2 in a jar. Try this — you'll be surprised how quickly it adds up!

13. Swipe some cash. Look at your checking-account balance on the day before payday. If there's $117 in there, send $7 (or $17, or more) into savings.

Make it a challenge!

14. The spare-change challenge. Dump some or all of the change from your wallet/pocket into a jar every night. Once every couple of months, wrap it and bank it.

15. The dollar-bill challenge. Remove all the Washingtons from your wallet every night. And here's the super-flush version: Make it the $5 challenge.

16. Random number challenge. Pick a number, then check your wallet nightly for bills whose serial numbers end in the digit you've chosen. Set them aside to bank.

17. Weekly challenge. Actually a monthly challenge: Set aside $1 the first week of the month, $2 the second week and so on. Bank the resulting $10 to $15 per month.

18. Calendar challenge. The first week of January, bank $52. The second week, $51. Etc. This can be tough at first, but by the end of the year you'll have banked $1,378!

19. Savings buddy challenge. Get a mildly competitive relative or friend interested in building a cash cushion too. Set a time limit and a reward, e.g., “If I save less than you in the next six months, I have to pick up all the dog poop in your back yard.”

20. I Spy challenge. See a dime on the floor at the checkout counter or a quarter in the vending machine's coin-return slot? Once you start looking, you'll see money everywhere. (My found-coin totals dropped when I moved back to Alaska. But even so, I found $14.27 in past years. Mine goes to a local food bank, rather than into savings.)

Self-awareness works

21. Get symbolic. Deposit your age, or your children's combined ages, every week or every month. Suppose you want to retire by age 50? Deposit $50 into savings every month, or every week if you can swing it.

22. Bill yourself. Turn savings into a monthly obligation, and pay it. The “bill reminder” feature on sites like Mint make it easy to hold yourself accountable, so to speak.

23. Remind yourself. Rubber-band a picture of your dream (new house, backpacking trip, whatever) to your credit card to discourage in-the-moment spending.

24. Remind yourself, Part 2. Change an online shopping account password to something with personal resonance. Signing on with “Sept2016uClA” will remind you how soon your oldest kid starts college — which in turn might help you apply the want-or-need filter before you click “purchase.” Talk about password protection!

25. Opt for inconvenience. Don't pick the bank or credit union with a branch in your neighborhood. You don't want it to be easy to get at this money. There's no need to go there in person because you're using direct deposit. (Aren't you?)

26. Choose an online bank. That way it takes a couple of days to get the money. You might come to your senses by then and realize that a new fishing rod isn't the best use of your funds.

Related >> How to Open a Money Market Account

27. Name your bucks. Does your financial institution let you set up sub-accounts? (I've got two named for my great-nephews' college funds.) Contributing to the “new car for cash” or the “summer vacation” fund has its own special frisson.

28. Engineer discounts. Pay for the items you need most often with discounted gift cards bought on the secondary market. For example, buying a $100 PetSmart card for $87 and a $50 Walgreens card for $44 means you could transfer $19 into savings.

What are your saving tips?

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Bruce mesnekoff
Bruce mesnekoff
4 years ago

Thanks for Information about Stealth savings. Your Article is impressive and very informative. I am now regular visitor of your website and bookmarked it.

Liz
Liz
4 years ago

My husband loves to find change on the ground. It’s a game to him. We put it into a little bank (just for found change) and at the end of the year we empty and count it out. We usually treat ourselves to something (lattes, etc) but maybe this year we will drop it into savings. He’s already found a $10 bill this year!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
4 years ago
Reply to  Liz

I save all my found money, too. At the end of the year I round it up and donate it to the local food bank:

A few days ago I found a $20 bill. Woo hoo! Mostly, though, I find change.

Mauricio Gatgens
Mauricio Gatgens
4 years ago

All these small things have helped me soo much in my college life.
Even the cents I have left at the end of each week from my food money has gone to my savings account, and it’s definitely growing at a very good pace!
Thank you for the awesome tips, keep it up!

Ken
Ken
4 years ago

I automate my savings. It comes out of my checking every month and into an online savings account.

Mrs. Picky Pincher
Mrs. Picky Pincher
4 years ago

This is fantastic advice! We were tentative to use our rewards credit card for all of our monthly expenses (and pay it off at the end of the month). We tried it for a few months and it’s been awesome. If you’re responsible with your rewards credit card, you can earn great rewards and cash back. We plan to use our cash back at the end of the year to buy Christmas presents. We spent $500 last year! Sidenote: we also plan on making homemade, frugal gifts this year to offset the costs.

Mike Lenz
Mike Lenz
4 years ago

Heck yeah “Go you!” jar!! Have you seen the Tip Yourself app? It encourages exactly that!

T.C. Griffin
T.C. Griffin
4 years ago

I also keep a piggy bank in the laundry room and put any found cash from the dryer in it.

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