Faced with an unexpected expense, like a car repair or leaky roof, many Americans might not have enough money in the bank to cover the bill. Just over half of U.S. households currently have a savings account, and 29% of households have less than $1,000 saved, according to a MagnifyMoney survey.
Whether putting money away for a rainy day or retirement, good savings habits can prepare you for emergencies and life changes. There are countless ways to build up your savings, from finding ways to cut back on spending to looking for areas where you might be overpaying. The time and discipline you invest implementing them will pay off — quite literally.
How can I start saving money?
If you’re just starting out on the path of building your savings, small changes can add up over time. A review of your budget should uncover items that can deliver larger, immediate gains. Here are more than two dozen money-saving strategies you can adopt for the short-term and the long-term.
Tips for saving money today
1. Set an intention
According to Sergio G. Garcia, associate planner for Quest Capital Management in Dallas, Texas, “saving money is tied to behavior and psychology, so it is important to find a personal focus to drive the savings behavior that works best for you.” Write down the reasons you want to save money, such as buying a house or retiring early, and put it in a place you’ll see every day.
2. Save your spare change
Collect your spare change at the end of the day and put it into a jar — you’ll be surprised at how quickly it can add up. If you use a debit card, some banks, like Bank of America, offer round-up savings plans, automatically moving the change into your savings account. For example, if you spend $19.50, the program will round-up your purchase to $20 and move $0.50 into your savings account.
3. Get a micro-saving app
Similar to saving spare change, you can also link your bank account to a money-saving app that does the savings for you. For example, Acorns automatically rounds up your purchase and moves the change into an investment account.
4. Cut the excess
To save money, you need to know where you’re currently spending it, suggested Matthew Gaffey, senior wealth manager for Corbett Road Investment Management in McLean, Va.: “List and monitor all of your expenses to get a full picture of how much you’re spending and where.” Money management habits will typically shed some light on a few areas that you could reduce or cut, such as unused magazine subscriptions or gym memberships.
5. Adopt a waiting period
The ease of online shopping can be brutal to your budget. Instead of falling for the impulse to make a purchase on the spot, implement a wait policy, such as 24 or 48 hours. You might realize you can live without that item you’re craving.
6. Don’t fall for a “great deal”
It’s hard to resist the lure of a good bargain. But saving 50%, 75% or even 90% isn’t a good deal if you don’t really need it. Instead of focusing on the discount, consider the amount you’re spending and how much you’ll really use the item.
7. Use a cash-back credit card
Some credit cards offer as much as 5% cash back in certain categories, which can add up. For example, the Chase Freedom® card offers bonus categories each quarter that give 5% cash back on up to $1,500 qualified spending, with unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases. If you spend the full $1,500 each quarter in the bonus categories — which can include gas stations or grocery stores — you could earn $300 cash back a year. If you were going to make these purchases anyway, this is a good way to save money.
8. Find rebates
Before making an online purchase, check cash-back sites like Mr. Rebates or Ibotta and see if the store offers a rebate if you click through the site. You could earn a set cash-back amount or a percentage on a purchase.
Ways to start saving money every month
1. Automate monthly savings
Sign up for automatic savings withdrawals. “Direct deposit from a paycheck is great because then it happens automatically and you don’t even have to think about it,” said Amy Shepard, financial planning analyst at Sensible Money in Phoenix. In addition, she advised, “set reminders to increase your savings periodically, such as every six months or every time you get a raise.”
2. Create specific savings goals
Save for big things, like a vacation or kitchen renovation, by using a bank that allows you to set up separate savings accounts for different goals, said Bethany Griffith, senior financial advisor and partner at Abacus Planning Group in Columbia, S.C. “It can be a great way to jump start savings,” Griffith said. “The visual check-in each time you look at your accounts is a powerful driver for changing behavior.”
3. Do a 52-week money challenge
With the 52-week money challenge, you save more every week, and see clearly how savings can add up over the course of a year. Create a weekly savings challenge by saving $1 on the first week, $2 on the second week and continue until you’re saving $52 on the final week of the challenge. In a year you’ll have saved $1,378, not including interest.
4. Create a weekly meal plan
The average American household spends more than $3,400 a year on meals away from home. You’ll be less likely to eat out or order in if you’ve planned your meals for the week. Having a meal plan also helps you create a grocery list to avoid impulse purchases or food that goes uneaten.
5. Review your monthly bills
It’s irritating when your cable or cell phone bill goes up, but that extra $5 or $10 a month can add up to $60 or $120 over the course of a year. Pay attention to your monthly bills. If you see an increase, call and ask why. If you’ve been a customer for a long time, companies will often lower the rate instead of risk losing you.
6. Pay down debt
Americans pay $113 billion in credit card interest each year. If you’re among those that carry a balance, you can get an immediate return on your money by paying it down and eliminating it.
7. Adjust the thermostat
Save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by adjusting your thermostat seven to 10 degrees from its normal setting for eight hours a day. This can be while you’re at work or while you’re sleeping — or both, for even more savings. A programmable thermostat can do the work for you, easily paying for itself.
8. Use a price-drop refund app
Several retailers will give you money back if an item you bought goes on sale, but tracking that can be a chore. Use an app like Earny to do the tracking for you automatically. The app also takes care of the claim — Earny claims it saves the average user $75 each year.
Start saving money over the long term
1. Annualize your spending
A latte or vending machine habit might seem harmless, but when you multiply that daily expenditure by five days a week and 50 weeks a year (assuming you take a two-week vacation), it can add up to a substantial sum — one that might not seem worth it when you annualize your spending. Try this with your regular discretionary spending and see what you could do without.
2. Review your insurance
Make a habit to review your property and auto insurance each year. Jeffrey N. Tomaneng, director of financial planning for Sapers & Wallack in Newton, Mass., recently had an agent audit his policies and made changes to save $2,100 a year in premiums — “within a few days we were off to some much needed household savings,” he said.
3. Sell your stuff
The average American has 42 items in their home they no longer use worth an estimated $723. Sell them! Hold an annual garage sale, or list your items on eBay, Mercari or Facebook Marketplace. Someone else can use and enjoy them and you can pocket the money.
4. Shop around for higher interest rates
Your bank savings account may be conveniently attached to your checking, but if the interest rate is negligible you could be leaving money on the table. Look for higher interest-rate savings accounts that can help you build your balance.
5. Review your withholdings
Each year, review your benefits and withholdings and ensure you’re taking advantage of the benefits your company offers, such as flexible spending accounts or matching retirement. If you get a refund each year after tax season, consider adjusting your exemption amounts and stop giving the government an interest-free loan on your own money.
6. Look for discounts
If you’re a member of a professional or alumni association, you may get discounts on business services, insurance or travel. Make a point to review your benefits each year, and use them to find the best deals.
7. Review your credit card benefits
Before you buy that extended warranty or insurance on your rental car, check and see if the credit card you’re using offers it for free as a benefit of being a cardholder. You can save hundreds of dollars by knowing what you’re already offered.
8. Check your credit report
Each year you should order a copy of your credit report to make sure it’s accurate; you may find a discrepancy that could hurt your chances of getting better interest rates on a loan. You’re entitled to a free report each year from each of the reporting agencies, which you can obtain from AnnualCreditReport.com.
Developing any new habit requires behavior changes — changes that can be uncomfortable at first. But getting into the habit of saving money is worth it. Building a nest egg can provide peace of mind. Once you start seeing your balances grow, the numbers will give you the motivation you need to keep going and keep saving.