“Pay yourself first” and “automate your savings” are two of the most common pieces of financial wisdom. And it’s great advice.
You should put money away in savings first by routing it directly from your paycheck into your bank account to reduce temptation.
But sometimes you might want to save just a little bit more, and just feel like you can’t. Or maybe it’s that you find yourself raiding your piggy bank. Whatever the reason, here are nine ways you can up your savings game today.
It’s best to set a percentage to automate directly from your paycheck into savings, but then you can also challenge yourself to save a little bit more.
“I gamify savings by trying a different challenge each month,” says Natalie Graham, founder of Go From Broke. Graham has done a no-spend challenge, in which you don’t spend money outside the essentials for a period of time, and a keep-the-change challenge where you round up your purchases to the nearest dollar (there are apps for this too).
“It’s not always easy, but knowing it’s just for the month keeps me motivated,” says Graham, who saved over $4,000 last year with her gamification strategies.
Can the Fed save your 401(k):Can the Fed save your retirement investments from the coronavirus?
Make savings a game
Another way to gamify your savings is with cash.
“Every time I go to the grocery store or Target I will get $20 cashback,” says Blair M. Scott, an oncology nurse. “I tuck that away in a drawer and use it for vacation fun or bigger purchases like my annual ski pass.”
Personally, I’ve used the five-dollar cash challenge. Anytime I got a five dollar back with change after making a purchase, I had to put it in a jar at home. That method gave me an extra $1,000 in savings in 18 months.
Do an annual financial audit
Everyone could benefit from doing an annual financial audit.
Brenton Harrison, a financial advisor at Henderson Financial Group, prints out his credit card and bank statements to identify all the subscription services and bills his family has set to autopay. Then he price-shops or negotiates a rate decrease on the bills the family intends to still use and cancels the ones they no longer need.
“I keep a running tally of how much money we save throughout the process so that once we’re done, we can then contribute that amount to our savings each month instead,” says Harrison, which is a critical step in the actually saving your savings process.
Save the money you actually saved
How often do you use a coupon or shop a sale and tell your friend how much you managed to “save”? But is it really saving? Eric Nisall makes sure to actually put the money he saves into his high-yield savings account.
“Many times it was easy to tell because stores put a ‘total savings’ number at the bottom of the receipt,” says Eric Nisall, founder of EricNisall.com, who even puts money into savings that he has decided not to spend on a potential purchase.
Save your new salary
“Most employees get annual raises each year,” says Robert Farrington, founder of The College Investor. “An easy way to save is simply save your new salary amount. Don’t let lifestyle eat it up. You’ve already lived the prior 12 months at your past salary, so having the extra cash is just a bonus!”
Michael Quan, a financial coach at FinanciallyAlert.com, also recommends saving your raise, but is willing to allow you a dash of lifestyle creep. He points out that you should save a large percentage of your raise, such as 10% of a 15% raise.
“This leaves you 5% excess to adjust your standard of living and it allows you to increase your savings rate without ever feeling like you ‘lost’ anything,” says Quan.
Give yourself penalties (and rewards)
Emma Neale, a senior clinical research analyst, uses a self-imposed match program. Anytime Neale makes a “treat myself” purchase like shoes, makeup or a want instead of a need expense, she transfers the price of the purchase into her savings account.
“By asking myself if I love the treat myself item enough to pay double for it, then it’s worth the expense,” explains Neale.
Danielle Flores, founder of iliketodabble.com, uses the same strategy as Neale with an additional step.
“We have different buckets [for savings] but the hot item lately is our designated savings nicknamed ‘GTFO of the Midwest’ which is our savings for our upcoming move this year from the midwest to the Pacific Northwest,” says Flores.
Remember the swear jar penalty? You had to put a dollar in the jar each time you said a naughty word? Well, Kelly Smith, blogger at “Freedom in a Budget,” decided to use the same technique to break other bad habits.
“For each bad habit I added a dollar amount to it and when I failed I had to transfer the money to my savings account,” says Smith. “For example every time I pressed snooze I had to transfer five dollars.”
Need a deterrent to not swipe the credit card?
“If you are saving for something, write it as a goal on all of your credit and debit cards,” suggests Jim Wang, founder of WalletHacks. “It makes it so that rather than saving for saving’s sake, you are making trade-offs between spending in the moment and your savings goal.”
For those who like to also encourage positive behaviors instead of just punishing bad ones, you can also give yourself a financial reward.
Holly Duffy, a program and policy analyst, pays herself one dollar each time she exercises. The dollar goes into a jar and she then uses that money for things like a new pair of running shoes or a race entry fee.
Work your cashback rewards
“I use a credit card on everything to take advantage of my cashback rewards,” explains Whitney Bonds, a personal finance blogger.
By using her credit card on everything and paying off the monthly statement in full, she accumulated over $600 by the end of the year and used that money toward Christmas gifts. Any leftover went into savings.
Bonds points out that the only way leveraging credit card rewards in this way works is if you’re responsible enough to pay your bills on time and in full. Once any interest starts to accrue on a balance, you’ve really voided the benefit.
Got more than one credit card in your wallet? Then you need to stay organized!
Riffing on Wang’s idea to write a savings goal on your plastic, you could also make note of which card you should use for different purchases. This is especially effective if any of your credit cards have rotating cashback categories.
Bethany McCamish, a writer and designer, keeps her savings in a high-yield savings account that’s at a separate bank from her checking. This means she doesn’t have quick access for an instant transfer into her checking account if and when she’s feeling tempted. Plus, she’s earning competitive interest on her savings.
Save until it hurts
Josh Overmyer, a floodplain coordinator, intentionally began to contribute more to his workplace 457 plan than he felt comfortable with after reading the advice “save until it hurts” on the blog Financial Samurai. Overmyer’s strategy was to force himself to find other means to come up with spending money so he could save more of his primary income, like driving Uber on nights and weekends.
“I think anyone can do it to varying degrees,” says Overmyer. “Don’t try to max out an account and then not have cash on hand to pay your bills. But I think we can mostly all find a way to bring in a bit of cash on the side.”
Not quite ready to feel the pain? You could take the exact opposite approach.
Jackie Beck, a personal finance blogger, uses the 1% rule in which she gradually increases the amount she has automated to go to her savings.
“The idea is to find the threshold where you don’t really notice the change, and then gradually increase that by 1% every few months,” explains Beck. “This lets you painlessly adjust to small changes while having a big impact on your savings goal.”
No matter which strategy you use to save money, adding a dash of public accountability can help keep you honest about reaching your goal.
Emma Leigh Geiser, founder of Nurse FERN, uses color-in savings goal trackers that she posts in public places in her home some visitors can see and ask you about your goals.
But you can also get public in a digital way.
“Once I put my savings/money goals out on social media, I felt committed to achieving them and more motivated to be successful because I wasn’t the only person rooting for me,” says Sarah Wilson, founder of BudgetGirl.com. “And people would ask how it was going or tell me their money goals. It became a mutually positive arrangement.”