Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.
Increasing your savings is easier said than done. The National Endowment for Financial Education’s most recent annual consumer survey found that saving money is the biggest cause of financial stress for more than 51% of Americans. If you feel the same way about your savings, don’t despair. There’s a way to manage your money instead of letting it manage you.
Top 14 money management tips
Have enough income to cover your monthly expenses, but can’t seem to gain traction when it comes to building a college savings fund, saving for a down payment on a home or growing your retirement nest egg? Start by taking charge of your finances by using these simple, yet practical, money management tips.
1. Use a budgeting app
Tracking your spending on the go is easy when you use a budgeting and personal finance app, like Mint or YNAB. Simply download your app of choice and, if you want to, link it to your bank account. You can then input your fixed and variable expenses and monitor your spending with the swipe of a finger. Keeping your budget within arm’s reach also helps you to stay on top of your daily spending and stick to a monthly budget.
2. Trim unnecessary expenses
Examine your spending habits to determine where you can cut unnecessary spending. Food is a common expense that can be reduced with a little planning. A grocery shopping list can be your first line of defense against overspending, as it’s easier to make impulse buys at the grocery store when you don’t have a shopping list to guide your purchases.
3. Commit to a written savings goal
Establishing a clear savings goal can keep you motivated and put a stop to impulse buys. Make your goal SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. For example: “I will transfer $100 a month to my savings account so that by Month 20YY, I will have $800 to put toward a new television.” Post your written goal in visible locations to help reinforce your commitment to achieving it.
4. Live below your means
Spending more than you earn is a recipe for financial heartburn. When you have more bills than money with which to pay them, you could be subject to late fees and other financial penalties which make it harder to save. Cancel services you no longer need or can access at a lower cost. For example, nix the gym membership if you haven’t used it in five months or downgrade your cable package to only include the channels you actually watch.
5. Pay off debt
Eliminating debt may allow you to save more money. By bringing your balances to zero as quickly as possible, you’ll save on future interest charges. To potentially save money now, consider refinancing your debt to a lower interest rate or transferring your debt to a credit card with a lower interest rate.
Once your credit cards and loans are paid in full, you’ll have additional funds to contribute toward your financial goals. Use the same amount you were paying your creditors each month and deposit those funds into your savings account.
6. Build an emergency fund
Financial experts recommend stashing three to six months of living expenses in a liquid high yield deposit account in case of an unexpected job loss or another financial emergency. If this sounds overwhelming, start with a smaller goal of $500 for your emergency fund.
You can grow your emergency fund account by setting up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your emergency savings account each pay period. To grow your emergency fund faster, consider cutting unnecessary expenses, selling unused items around your home, depositing your tax refund or starting a side job.
Without an emergency fund, you risk paying for your next dental emergency or major car repair with your credit card or a personal loan, which can keep you in a debt cycle that’s hard to escape.
7. Increase your income
As long as you save the money instead of spending it, increasing your income with a side hustle, part-time job or more hours at the office is one of the quickest ways to reach your savings goal.
Before adding additional work to your already busy schedule, determine how many hours you have available along with how many months or years you’ll need to commit to the side hustle. When searching for side jobs, be wary of jobs that require an initial outlay of money to get started.
8. Plan for a regular review
Block out time on your calendar to evaluate your progress toward your savings goals. Consider establishing a monthly or bi-weekly financial review. Asking yourself if you’re still on track or if you’re able to contribute more towards your objectives is key to meeting your goals. A quick assessment of your savings plan can also help identify areas where you may still need to reduce expenses.
9. Never pay full price
Online and mobile coupons make it easy to save on groceries, clothing and big-ticket items like televisions and computers. When saving money is convenient, you’re more likely to stick to your savings plan. Do you do most of your shopping online? Install browser extensions that give you cash back when you shop through their online portals. Is mobile shopping more your thing? Download your choice of mobile app that offers cash back, gift cards and notifications of online and in-store deals.
10. Eat out less
Brown bag lunches and meal planning are smart money management strategies that can save you thousands of dollars annually, but sometimes you’ll want to treat yourself. To keep your spending under control, be selective about when and where you eat out. Make a list of local happy hours, upcoming culinary events and prix fixe restaurants to reinvent what it means to eat out on a budget.
11. Bank your financial windfalls
While it may be tempting to go on a shopping spree, upgrade your ride or take a weeklong vacation in the Caribbean when you get a financial windfall, that might leave you with a financial hangover. Once the thrill has subsided, you’re no closer to your savings goal. Instead, be strategic with any unexpected funds that come your way. Commit to adding at least half of these funds to your savings account.
12. Make savings automatic
Contact your financial institution to sign up for electronic funds transfer. This allows you to designate a set dollar amount for transfer from one account to another before you spend it on something else. For example, set $50 to automatically transfer from your checking account to your savings account on the fifth of each month.
If you have multiple savings goals, use a money savings app connected to your bank account to help to make auto transfers goal-specific.
13. Entertain your options
Movie buffs and avid readers rejoice! Free and low-cost services are available that allow you to binge-watch or read the latest big hit without busting your budget.
Movie rewards programs are available across the country. These programs allow you to earn points based on the amount you spend. Points can then be redeemed for additional movie tickets or concession items. Movie clubs allow fans to consume at least one movie per month at a discounted rate in addition to concession discounts.
The public library is an often overlooked resource for endless media entertainment. Look beyond the hardcover and paperback books, and you’ll find CDs, DVDs and magazines. Many libraries now provide a portion of their catalog online, which means you can access e-books, audiobooks, movies and music on your device of choice — for free.
14. Become rate savvy
Online search tools can reduce the time it takes to locate financial institutions offering the best returns on savings deposits. Use the Maximize Your Bank Savings tool from DepositAccounts, another LendingTree company, to help you identify the best place to park your funds to meet a specific goal. The higher the annual percentage yield (APY) the account pays on deposits, the faster your money can grow. Generally, certificates of deposit (CDs) limit withdrawals but offer higher APYs over savings accounts.
A consistent savings habit is necessary to reach both short-term and long-term financial goals. If you’re intentional with your money, you’ll see the results. Recognize each achievement for what it is — documented proof that you’re in control of your financial future. Open a dedicated savings account today, and you might only be a few months away from achieving your first savings goal.