Boost Your Savings by Making Your Money Harder to Spend

By Emily Guy Birken on 19 June 2017 0 comments

When I left for my freshman year of college, I brought the graduation gift money I'd received with me. It was about $1,000, and I was carrying it in cash, intending to open a checking account. The cash never made it to the bank, however.

It wasn't stolen, nor did I lose it. In fact, I tucked the envelope of twenties away in a secure location in my dorm room — but I neglected to protect the money from myself.

From trips to the coffee shop to late night pizza delivery, I let that money flow through my fingers without paying any attention to where it was going or how quickly I was spending it. By the time I finally decided to open an account, there was less than $100 left.

My experience is hardly unique. Most people have a similar story of squandering money because it was too easy to access the cash.

The trick to being more careful with money is finding ways to make it harder to spend. If I had placed that cash in a checking account as soon as I got to campus, I would have had to walk to the ATM to make my unnecessary purchases — which would have been more than enough to prevent most of my spending.

These days, simply depositing cash in the bank is not enough to make money harder to spend. The availability of mobile banking, debit and credit cards, and one-click online shopping makes money even easier to spend than it was when I was a first-year college student. That's why it is so important to productively reduce access to your money. Here are five ways you can protect your money from your own worst spending impulses. (See also: 7 Bizarre Ways to Stay on Budget (That Actually Work))

1. Stop carrying credit or debit cards

Going out sans credit or debit card can feel weirder than going about your day naked, but it can be a very effective way to curb your spending. On most days, you probably don't actually need to have a card with you — it's just there in case you need it. Unfortunately, we then often "need" to stop for lunch, or in a favorite store, or meet everyone after work for happy hour rather than save the card for a legitimate need.

To make sure you are covered in case you need to fill up your tank on the way to work, or you encounter another true spending need, get in the habit of carrying $20 or so while leaving your plastic at home. This helps limit your ability to buy things while still giving you access to a little money in case you need it.

2. Move your savings to another bank

Trying to build an emergency fund or reach another savings goal can be difficult if access to your money is too easy. Having a savings account linked to your checking account in the same bank can often be too much of a temptation. It's so easy to dip into that savings account whenever your checking account is running dry or there is an incredible sale.

For many people, just making it slightly more difficult to access savings can be enough to stop this behavior. For instance, you can move your savings account to a different bank and establish a link between the two banks. While it's possible to move money between accounts in different banks, it generally takes two to three business days for the money to transfer, which can be inconvenient enough to foil your spending impulses.

3. Put your money in a restrictive savings vehicle

For some people, the inconvenience of separate banking institutions is not quite enough to stop them from accessing their savings when they shouldn't. Restrictive savings vehicles — accounts or assets that penalize you for early access — can be a great way to protect your money from yourself in that case.

Depending on your time frame, there are a couple of different types of savings vehicles you might choose.

Certificate of deposit (CD)

This is a savings vehicle that requires you to commit to keeping your money in the account for a set period of time. If you withdraw the funds earlier, then you will be penalized. You can generally expect to pay three-to-six months' worth of accrued interest if you access the money early, although some CDs also take a percentage of the principal.

Traditional individual retirement accounts (IRAs)

Traditional IRAs offer tax advantages, which means there are penalties for dipping into them before you reach age 59 ½. Specifically, you will have to pay taxes on both the distribution, as well as 10 percent of the amount of the distribution, to Uncle Sam.

4. Enlist an accountability partner

While it's pretty easy to break a promise to yourself, it's harder to break one you have made to another person. One method of making your money harder to spend is to enlist a friend or loved one as your accountability partner, to whom you will set up a credit card or bank statement alert. Many banks offer automated alert systems that will email or text you when your available credit dips below a certain amount or when a large transaction clears.

This information is useful to the cardholder, but it can be a great way to keep you from spending money if you send that information to your accountability partner. Knowing that your partner will immediately know that you have broken your promise can be enough to keep you from whipping out your wallet.

5. Remove your payment information from online retailers

It is far too easy to buy something without really thinking about it when online retailers "helpfully" store our credit card or bank information for us. The minor inconvenience of having to get up and find your wallet is generally enough time for you to reconsider your purchase.

When you can go from not knowing an item exists, to coveting it, to buying it in under 30 seconds, having just a little bit of time for a gut check on whether or not you need this purchase is crucial. Because if you want to buy something, but getting up to find your wallet doesn't feel worth it, then it's probably not a great use of your money.

Save your money from yourself

You are not the same person at every hour of the day. You contain multitudes, and often your goals and your impulses cause you to contradict yourself. Making your money harder to spend will ensure that the high-roller part of yourself doesn't bankrupt the saver part of yourself. You'll thank yourself later. (See also: 9 Simple Ways to Stop Impulse Buying)

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