Sixty-three percent of Americans list developing good saving habits as an important financial goal. However, knowing that saving is important and actually saving your pennies are very different things! Don’t despair, though. Although lots of people struggle with saving, there are simple tricks you can use to make frugality and saving part of your daily life.
Define Your Goals
If you want to be successful at saving, start by setting financial goals. Everyone’s goals will look different: Some people might want to save up for a new car, a vacation, or the down payment for a house, while others hope to build an emergency fund or sock away some money for their retirement. Try to create a mix of short-term (holiday gift-giving), medium-term (a down payment), and long-term (retirement) goals. Knowing why you are saving money makes it easier to stick to the plan.
Check Your Spending
Next, go over your spending with a fine-tooth comb. Pull up your bank accounts and credit card statements and figure out where you are spending your money. Do you grab lunch out or order delivery a lot instead of buying groceries and cooking meals? Are you paying for a lot of subscriptions, some of which you might not need or use? Knowing where your money is going can help you spot where it’s being wasted.
Make a Plan
Now that you know your goals and understand where you have been spending money, it’s time to make a plan. If you’re paying for subscriptions you don’t use, cancel them. If you’re spending too much on grabbing coffee or lunch out, buy a coffeemaker and/or block out time in your week for menu-planning and grocery-shopping. If you’re paying endless fees to the bank, switch to a bank that offers free accounts. A concrete plan will make changing your spending habits much easier.
Set Up a Budget
It’s unrealistic to think that you’ll never splurge on event tickets or dinner out again. But a budget that begins by covering necessary expenses and setting aside a healthy amount for a rainy day can include a little room for fun stuff, too. There are a few different types of budgets. One popular type is one where you assign a “job” to each dollar you currently have. When you run out of dollars assigned to buying food at restaurants, you know that you can’t go out for lunch, even if you have a healthy amount in your checking account: Those dollars already have other jobs they are waiting to do.
Learn to Check Your Apps
If you use banking and credit card apps, get in the habit of checking them regularly. Many people find their greatest success when they check their budget daily; at a minimum, give it a look before you spend money. It’s also important to keep tabs on your financial status so you can catch mistakes like double-charges.
Eat at Home
Food is a major expense. Groceries are expensive enough, but eating out can be a real budget-buster for many people. Learning to save eating out for a special treat instead of a quick convenience will make a huge difference in your financial life. When you went over your spending, you should have identified patterns to where and when you eat out. Do you routinely get take-out when you find yourself out and about with no food at hand or too tired to whip up dinner? Throw some protein bars in your bag and work some quick dinners (frozen meals or rotisserie chicken) into your grocery order. Are you spending a lot on coffee and socializing with friends? Invite them over instead, or plan a low-cost outing like a hike or a potluck picnic.
We all get a lot of emails and app alerts every day, and many of them are from companies we’ve bought things from in the past. A great way to save money is to unsubscribe from those text messages, emails, and alerts. Often, reading about these “sales” and “great deals” will persuade people to buy things they don’t really need or have the money for. When you are in the market for a new appliance, hiking boots, or prescription glasses, you can sign back up for the notifications to score a great deal. (Just don’t forget to unsubscribe after!)
Make Do, Use Up, and Wear Out
One major way to save money is to not rebuy things you already own. During World War II, those who weren’t fighting abroad planted gardens, saved grease, and collected scrap metal to help stretch resources. It’s when the notion of “use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without” became a slogan. Although our circumstances are very different today, we can apply these ideas to our own lives to save money. Just because a new phone (or gaming console, or television, or whatever your particular favorite gadget is) came out doesn’t mean you need to run out and buy it. Making the stuff you already paid for last goes a long way toward getting your finances under control and keeping more money in your pocket. Sure, you’ll have to replace your phone eventually, but wearing it out before you do gives you more time to save up for the upgrade. You can apply a similar mindset to cooking. Lots of recipes call for special ingredients you’ll use once and end up tossing when they turn into a science experiment in the fridge (produce) or sawdust (hello, spices I used once and never touched again!). Use the Internet to figure out how to use up the ingredients you already have. Your wallet will thank you.
Impose a Cooling-Off Period
Impulse purchases are budget-busters. When you find yourself tempted to buy something you hadn’t already planned on buying, make a rule that you’ll think about the purchase for at least three days before you pull the trigger. Once you’ve had time to think about it, you might realize that you didn’t really need to spend the money.
Know the True Cost
Many people like splurging on things from time to time, like a fancy coffee that costs $5. But really, it doesn’t really cost $5. That’s not the true cost.
If you think of it purely in terms of dollars spent, you might spend 50 cents to make your own coffee at home; if you were going to have a cup of coffee anyway, the fancy coffee really costs $4.50 (the amount beyond the minimum you had to spend for a cup of coffee). If you buy coffee twice a week, you’ll be spending an extra $468 per year.
But if you don’t have cash and put those coffees on a credit card, the true cost starts to climb because you’ll have to pay interest. And what’s the value of what you could have done with that money instead? You could have invested that money, or you could have put it in your savings account so that the next time you have a financial emergency, you have cash available. If you don’t have emergency cash, you can always get a personal loan to cover costs.