12 Ways to Make Yourself Save More Money
Saving money isn't something that comes naturally to most people. In fact, research has shown people with less money tend to have a more difficult time making financial and time management-related decisions. (See also: Brain Hacks for Better Investment Decisions)
In short, the psychological factors involved with saving money matter — a lot. So it might seem like a fairly daunting task to simply keep your checking account above water so that you can pay bills and cover the necessary monthly expenses. The good news is that even when you're in a situation like this, there are some things you can do to essentially force yourself to save and increase your cash flow.
1. Figure Out What Your Actual Discretionary Income Is
If you sit down and add up all of your monthly expenses, then subtract that from your monthly take-home pay, you might be surprised at how much discretionary income you actually have. Most people don't even do the math, so it just feels like things are tight, when in reality, they have a lot of extra money that they're just not managing well. (See also: Money Management in 5 Minutes a Day)
Map it all out so that you know exactly what has to go out on a monthly basis, then give your best guess for things that fluctuate like gas and groceries. If the money leftover is around $400, then you can probably safely take at least half of that and put it away. If it's $200, then $100 every two weeks can go into savings.
2. Recognize That It Doesn't Take Much
A lot of people are under the impression that "saving money" means setting aside a high percentage of their weekly pay, which usually isn't something they can afford. That thought alone is enough to frustrate someone to digress into an attitude of "since I can't save a lot, I just won't save any at all."
Before you go into a savings plan, recognize that saving money is often just one small step at a time. In fact, financial advisors will tell you that the earlier you start saving for retirement, the less you need to put away every week. Someone in their mid-20s who starts putting $25 every week into an investment account can count on being close to (if not over) the $600,000 mark by the time they're ready to retire. (See also: Retirement Planning If You're Under 30)
If you can start at age 25 and manage $57 a week (or $3,000 per year for 10 years) in a retirement account with 8% return, that money would grow to over $470,000 by the time you're 65, without you having to contribute anything after you're 35 years old.
The longer you wait, the bigger that weekly number gets and the less time your money has to grow. It can still be done, but the pressure gets higher. The key is to get started as soon as possible, no matter how small the amount you have to contribute.
3. Cut Costs Somewhere and Put the Savings Away
You don't necessarily need to cut into the excess income that you already enjoy; instead, find an area where you can cut costs. A fairly typical recommendation is coffee; so instead of getting coffee four times a week, get it once. Better yet, make it at home for about 10 cents per cup. (See also: The Top 5 Coffeemakers)
If you skip out on coffee four times a week, that's anywhere from $15-$20 per week. Downgrade your gym membership (cut out tanning, pool, whatever), and you've got maybe another $10 per week to add to the pile.
Let's say conservatively that, overall, you can cut $25 out of every week. If you can put that away, there's your weekly retirement savings.
4. Set Up Automatic Savings
Almost all online banking systems have functions that allow you to set up automatic transfers that will send a certain amount of money every week from one account to another. In this case, it would be sending money from your checking account to your savings account. Or, sign up for a service like SavedPlus, which will automatically redirect a percentage of everything you spend into a savings account.
It's a good thing to put in place and then forget about for several months. If you can swing $25 per week (and you probably can!), you will have upwards of $600 saved by the end of six months.
If you can afford more per week, and you're comfortable sending it over to savings, the higher that weekly number is, the better. Just keep in mind that it doesn't really need to be high. You can even just do $15, if that's more manageable. It will all depend on your budget.
5. Contribute More to Your 401(k)
If your employer provides a 401(k) retirement plan, you'll be able to give either a percentage or dollar amount that they take out of each check. Many employers will match up to eight percent, so if you're able to do without that money, a matched 401(k) is a good place for it. Plus, it will force you to wait to take it out until retirement age.
Even if you just consider a smaller percentage, it adds up big over time, so set an amount and forget that you even make that money. In a few years, you'll be impressed with how much you've saved.
6. Stay Busy at Home
On a more practical note, the more time you're at home, the less of an opportunity you'll have to go out and spend money that doesn't need to be spent. It doesn't mean that you have to lock yourself away and avoid going out, but if you can find productive and engaging things to do at home, you'll likely have more money in your pocket at the end of every week that can be socked away into your savings account.
Take, for example, restaurants. There are few things in this life that drain money from our wallets like paying for restaurant food. Sure, it's fun and totally fine to do occasionally; but don't get into the habit of always relying on restaurants for your food, because the cost (compared to cooking at home) is exorbitant. Try to eat most of your meals in your home and allow for the occasional splurge with friends or family. (See also: Restaurant Dishes You Can Make at Home)
7. Start Using Personal Finance Software
Programs like Quicken usually cost a good bit of money, but Mint.com is completely free and works just the same. Keeping track of your finances as you go can help to keep your checkbook balanced, and it can also motivate you to actually save money and put some away at the end of the week. The bottom line is that if you have to watch your money go out, you'll be more careful with it as it's coming in.
8. Pay Off Your Credit Card
If you've been carrying a balance on your credit card, now is the time to pay it down and eliminate your monthly payment. Not only will the monthly payment be off the table, but the interest you're paying on what you owe will be a thing of the past as well. If you can afford to, pay it all off at once and leave the credit card alone unless it's an emergency.
If you're able to do that, you'll save money every month by default, simply because you don't have to worry about those payments. Take that sum (whatever it might be) and put it in a short or long term savings account.
9. Artificially Reduce Your Paycheck
We tend to live near the ceiling of whatever we make, staying close to the maximum amount of spending that our income can handle.
But what if that income was lower?
If it were lower, we'd make do. So the strategy to make yourself save is to “pretend” that you don't make as much as you do and designate a certain amount or percentage of your check to immediately be put into a savings account and adjusting your life to work around the remaining amount.
10. Drink One Less Beer and Pocket the Savings
If you go out for a drink once or twice a week and drink more than one beer, perhaps two or three, stick to one drink and pocket the savings. Put the extra cash in a jar, or keep a spreadsheet with a total if you make all your purchases through a debit card.
At the end of the year, grab your total and put it all in your savings account. Two less beers a week would be about $15, multiplied by 52 weeks is $780.
11. Go With Netflix Instead of TV
Paying for TV every month is about $60 on a good day. If you can live without it, a Netflix instant subscription is only $8 per month, giving you an extra $52. Multiply that by 12 months and you've got another $624 to your credit.
If you combine that with your beer money savings, over the course of 10 years, that total savings eclipses $14,040 — not too shabby.
12. Prioritize Saving Money
If you don't prioritize saving money, it's never going to happen. You've got to make it an emotional priority and something that you're passionate about in order to save on a consistent basis. Without that drive and desire to build up your savings, it's going to be a constant uphill battle to even stay in the black.
Motivation isn't exactly something that you can just call up, but considering the fact that you're reading this article, you almost certainly have at least some motivation to save. Translate that into action and get aggressive about putting money away.
Establishing Good Habits
Saving is a matter of small steps over a long period of time. It doesn't happen overnight, so make sure to fight the feeling that not being able to save big means you shouldn't save at all. As you see money in your account build, you'll be more motivated to put more away and allow it to grow, either in investments or as an emergency fund in a short-term savings account.
How do you trick yourself into saving more?