25 Ways to Save on a Shoestring


Ask a financial expert how people can save money and you're likely to hear the phrase "pay yourself first." This means immediately setting aside money, when you earn it, rather than waiting to see if anything is left at the end of the month. With PYF, savings gets top priority in your budget, like rent or a loan payment.

What if you don't have money to save? You get creative and find it! Below are 25 tips from my book Saving on a Shoestring.

Savings Strategies

Saving more doesn't have to be complicated or painful, but it does need to be intentional.

1. Automate It

Use an automatic deposit plan such as an employer 401K or 403B plan, mutual fund automatic investment plan, or credit union paycheck deduction to put money into savings before you miss it.

2. Grab Free Money

Take the savings that your employer offers. Some employers match workers' 401K savings twenty-five cents, fifty cents, or even a dollar for every dollar saved. This is "free money" that should not be missed.

3. Up Current Savings

Kick your existing savings up a notch (e.g., from 2% to 3% of pay). The best time to do this is when you receive a raise or a household expense (e.g., loan payment or child care) ends.

4. Bank Your Windfalls

Save all or part of "windfalls" you receive — retroactive pay, lucrative "side hustles," prizes, or gifts.

5. Bank Your IRS Refund

Save all or part of your income tax refund. Earmark savings automatically on your tax return by using IRS Form 8888 or save it yourself after your refund arrives.

6. Start — and Finish — Savings Challenges

Complete a savings challenge that gradually ramps up savings deposits over time. Try any of these four challenges.

7. Bank Your Pocket Change

Save your pocket change. Throw it into a clear jar (so you can see your savings) and label the jar with a savings goal for added motivation. Ramp up to $1 to $5 a day, plus loose change, for added savings.

8. Build a Budget

Develop a spending plan (budget). Include savings for emergencies and future financial goals as fixed "expenses." Then automate savings deposits so they don't require ongoing self-control.

9. Keep Making Those Payments

Keep making monthly "payments" for soon-to-be paid-off loans — to yourself. You're already used to living without this money (e.g., a $280 monthly car loan payment), so put it into savings.

10. Commit Half of Your Raise

Save half of your next pay increase (e.g., raise, bonus, overtime, freelance income, or additional income from changing jobs). Your net pay will still go up and the additional savings will be painless.

11. Save Your Extra Paychecks

Save part of your "extra" paychecks. Workers paid weekly have four months with five paychecks, instead of four, and those paid bi-weekly have two months with three paychecks, instead of two.

12. Bank Supermarket Savings

Save the amount of money you save at the supermarket by using "shopper cards," sales, and coupons. Your receipt will show how much you saved. If you save $20 a week, that's over $1,000 a year!

13. Snowball or PowerPay Your Debt

PowerPay your way out of debt. Visit PowerPay to calculate the time and interest savings available from faster debt repayment. As each debt is repaid, remaining debts receive larger payments until all debts are zeroed out. Afterwards, the money that you spent on debt can be saved.

14. Bank on Your Health

Take care of yourself by eating healthy meals and getting adequate physical activity and sleep. The greatest wealth is health, so take care of yourself and protect your ability to earn money and save.

Expense Reduction Tips

Cutting costs is the quickest way to find more cash to save.

15. Cut 10% From Extras

Adopt the 10 Percent Solution: find ways to cut 10% of current spending for variable expenses such as food, utilities, gifts, entertainment, and transportation.

16. Buy Only the Necessities

"Crash save" by deciding, for a month or two, to buy only absolute necessities and save the difference.

17. Take Aim at Big Expenses

Reduce large expenses such as housing (e.g., refinancing mortgage), income taxes (e.g., tax credits and tax-deferred investments), and insurance (e.g., policy discounts).

18. Brown Bag It

"Brown bag" lunch to work on most days, instead of eating out, and buy packages of soda or bottled water on sale instead of using expensive vending machines.

19. Skip the Boutique

"Step down" when buying clothing, from high-end to moderately priced department stores to discount stores, factory outlets, consignment stores, and thrift shops. The more steps down, the greater the savings.

20. Plug Your Spending Leaks

Add up what you're spending on "little things" such as snacks, coffee, soda, candy, fast food, lottery tickets, magazines, take-out dinners, beverages, and more. If you can "find" $5 per day from reduced spending, that adds up to $1,825 of savings per year and even more with interest.

21. Use Employee Discounts

Take advantage of rebates, discounts, and/or wellness incentive programs provided through your employer. Talk to your boss or human resources office to find out what perks your company offers.

22. Don't Smoke

Quit smoking, or don't start. Assume a pack of cigarettes costs $6. Multiply $6 by 365 days and you could save $2,190 a year, plus interest (not to mention all of the positive health effects!).

23. Cut Home Energy Costs

Save on home energy costs. Check weather stripping and caulking for leaks, upgrade attic insulation, shift energy use during "off-peak" hours, and turn the thermostat down a degree or two.

24. Be Smart About Smartphones

Choose a cell phone plan that best meets your needs (e.g., number of monthly minutes and texts, data usage, number of linked callers) or use low-cost prepaid telephone calling cards as needed.

25. Find Free Entertainment

Seek out free or low-cost community resources such as summer concerts, health fairs, state parks, rabies clinics for pets, and inexpensive adult education classes such as those offered by Cooperative Extension.

Even small amounts of savings will grow to significant sums with compound interest over time. When there's a will, there's a way. Consider combining several of the above savings strategies for greater impact. It is also important to have a reason to save. Write down one or more specific financial goals (e.g., a new car in 2019). Having an eventual use for your money in mind will increase your motivation to save.

How are you saving more and spending less?

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