7 Easy Ways to Automate Your Savings

by Meg Favreau on 27 February 2014 2 comments

This post is Wise Bread's contribution to America Saves Week. You can discover more great ways to save on the America Saves Week website.

Anybody who has ditched plans to eat a salad to scarf down a plate of nachos instead (like I did, um, yesterday) can tell you that even though we humans usually know what's best for us, it's sometimes difficult to actually do the right thing.

This is especially true when it comes to saving money — for emergencies, for retirement, or for almost anything else. But there is some good news. Studies show that once we do set money aside, we're likely to leave it there. So how do we get ourselves to save in the first place? By automating! Here are seven easy ways to do just that. (See also: Get Paid for Saving Money)

1. Sign Up for Your Company's Retirement Plan

If your company offers a 401(k) or 403(b), this is one of the best options for automatic savings. Not only do these retirement plans automatically put money you earn into a retirement account before you have the opportunity to spend it, but most employers offer a contribution match. That means that for every dollar you contribute (up to a certain amount), your employer will deposit an equal amount into your account. That's essentially free money, and it's one of the biggest benefits you can get at a job. Take advantage of it. (See also: Retirement Planning if You're Under 30)

2. Split Your Direct Deposit

If you have direct deposit, most employers will allow you to split your check between multiple accounts — so, instead of depositing all of your money into your checking account, you can set some to automatically go into savings.

3. Set Up a Regular Deposit to Savings

Even if you don't have direct deposit, many banks will allow you to set up regular automatic deductions. For example, I have a checking account with a traditional bank, and I have a savings account with an online bank. I can set my savings account to automatically deduct from my checking account on every payday. The effect is the same as splitting a direct deposit — the money is in my savings account before I even know it's gone.

4. Pledge to Save Certain Cash

You're probably most familiar with this concept in the form of a piggy bank — at the end of the day, many people automatically put the change in their pockets into a jar, often to save for a specific goal, like a vacation. But there's no rule saying that you have to stick to coins. Instead, pledge to set aside every $5 bill that comes your way — or even every $10. This is a great way to reach medium-term savings goals, like buying new furniture. (See also: Saving Is Easy With the Right Goals)

5. Use a Cash-Back Credit Card

You should only follow this suggestion if you're able to pay your credit card off in full every month and you won't let credit card rewards and 0% balance transfer offers become an excuse for spending more than you normally would. If you fit this criteria, start making your purchases on a cash-back credit card. Then, at the end of every month, deposit that cash back directly into your savings.

6. Automate Your Bills

Most utilities, businesses, and even lenders now allow you to set up automatic payments. There are two ways that this helps automate savings. First of all, automatic payments ensure that you pay your bills on time, saving you from late fees and possible dings to your credit. Secondly, sometimes you can get a discount for paying automatically — for example, some cell phone providers will knock $5 off of your monthly bill if you sign up for the automated system. If you do begin paying automatically, just make sure to check your billing statements regularly to ensure there aren't any mistakes and you're not being charged for services you aren't using. (See also: How to Set Up Automatic Payments)

7. Sign Up for Your Financial Institution's Round Up Program

What if you could make yourself save a little bit every time you make a purchase? Several banks and credit unions offer "round up" programs that do just that. Every time you use a credit or debit card registered with the program, your financial institution will automatically deposit the remainder of your change into a savings account. To get started, ask your bank or credit union if they offer this benefit.

How do you automate your savings? Share your favorite money-saving tips for America Saves Week — an annual celebration of good savings behavior and financial responsibility.

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Guest's picture

Very good advice. Most people aren't aware of #2; splitting your direct deposit. This is a great way to automatically invest money. So by incorporating #1 (retirement plan), a portion of your money goes into your retirement plan, a portion goes into your "retail" investing account, the rest goes into your checking account for living expenses, etc. I mention this approach in my investing book as well.

Guest's picture

I'm a big fan of setting up automatic transfers from checking to savings using my bank's online services (as in #3), but I like to have the amount transferred differ each month. I think an easy way to save is by starting with a low transfer amount and having it gradually increase each month (the same principle as the "52 week savings plan" that's been floating around). If the increase is gradual and you start at a small amount to begin with, you almost don't even perceive that money going 'away' (to savings), but before you know it, you've managed to save up a good chunk of money. I don't set it up to transfer on a payday, but rather on the first of the month. I just treat it like a bill - a bill that I pay to myself.