Most of us would like to save more money — in order to build a bigger nest egg for retirement or be able to pay for upcoming college expenses or just for a fancy vacation. Indeed, 59% of Americans enjoy saving more than spending, according to a 2017 Gallup survey.
Despite that, though, most of us are not saving enough. Thirty-eight percent of Americans surveyed by GOBankingRates.com recently said they had less than $1,000 socked away. If you’d like to save more money but need some ideas on how to do so effectively, read on.
Here are five money-saving tricks that actually work.
1. Play mind games with yourself
You can probably save a good deal of money by applying a little more psychology in your financial life. For example, make a rule that whenever you decide that you want to make a significant purchase — whether it’s a new suit or a fancy bicycle — you have to wait at least a day (or a week) before spending the money. By sleeping on it for a while, you might find that the urge passes and you’re not as eager to make the purchase.
Another trick that some people use before making a big purchase is envisioning someone with two hands outstretched: On one hand is the desired purchase, and on the other hand, a pile of cash representing what it costs. By trying to picture the purchase as a choice between your hard-earned dollars and the shiny thing you’re interested in, you may find that the cash is, overall, more appealing.
You can think a little harder about that financial trade-off, too. For example, imagine that you want to spend $1,000 on a large-screen TV. You can think of the decision as having $1,000 or a new large-screen TV — or you can look into the future and think of what that $1,000 could do for you over time. For example, if you socked that money in the stock market for 20 years and it grew at an annual average rate of 8%, it would grow to $4,661. Now you can think of your choice as being between a large-screen TV today or $4,661 in the future, when it can make your retirement more comfortable.
Another trick is to remember what your time is worth. If, for example, you earn about $50 per hour, and you want to spend $600 on a new grill, ask yourself whether that new grill is really worth working 12 hours for. You might instead decide to buy a display model that costs six hours — or no new grill at all.
2. Let small sums add up
A tried-and-true way to save more money, as long as you stick with it, is saving small sums here and there for a long time. A classic example is the famous fancy coffee you might order every weekday morning at your favorite coffee shop. If it costs $4, that’s about $1,000 per year. Another super powerful (but not super easy) way to save money is to quit smoking. Not only will it leave gobs of dollars in your pocket, but it will probably lengthen your life significantly as well. A pack of cigarettes costs $8 or more in many places, so stopping a one-pack-a-day habit would save you almost $3,000.
There are lots of ways you can save money incrementally. If you eat dinner at restaurants frequently and spend about $60 each time, on average, try cutting back by one dinner out per week. That can save you $3,000. Using coupons at the supermarket can save you $260, if you use $5 worth of them each week. If you eat lunch out every workday, spending about $10 or $12 each time, try brown-bagging two or three meals per week. That can save you more than $1,000 annually. If you live in a city and take a bus or subway to work when you could walk, you may be able to save hundreds of dollars per year (and get in better shape) by walking as often as possible.
Try these ideas: Every time you do laundry, put $5 in a jar (along with any change you find in pockets). Some people just bank every $5 bill they have. Over time, these moves can help you accumulate hundreds of dollars. A little creative thinking can help you come up with even more ways to save.
3. Make phone calls
This trick for saving more money surprises many people because it’s so easy: Make some phone calls. For starters, if you’re saddled with credit card debt and are being charged a steep interest rate on it, you may be able to get a lower rate just by asking. Negotiate lower rates on your credit card debt. That’s right — if you call one of your card issuers and ask for a lower rate, you may well get one. According to a report by CreditCards.com, 69% of cardholders who called their card issuers and asked for a lower interest rate got one. You might get your annual fee waived as well, saving you $75 or $100 or more per year. Fully 82% of cardholders who called and asked were successful in lowering or eliminating their annual fee (31% negotiated the fee to a lower amount, and 51% got it waived entirely), and 89% of cardholders were given a higher credit limit when they asked for one.
Another kind of profitable phone call is one you can make to a bunch of insurance companies. Each company uses different formulas in determining their rates, and each probably will offer you a different price for the same coverage. If you spend an hour calling a few insurers and shopping around, you may be able to save several hundred dollars annually on your home insurance, car insurance, and other kinds of insurance.
4. Automate your savings
This money-saving trick is also relatively painless, because it’s passive. Simply set up your finances so that money is automatically being saved for you. Many workplace payroll departments can help you with this, such as by rerouting a specified portion of each paycheck into a designated account. If you have, say, $300 deposited into a savings account each month, that’s a significant $3,600 per year.
If you save that $3,600 per year for 20 years and invest it in the stock market and earn an annual average return of 8%, you’ll end up with nearly $178,000. (You can probably increase your savings rate over time, ending up with even more.)
Be sure to also make the most of a 401(k) fund at work, if you have one. If your employer offers any matching money, contribute enough to your account to grab all the matching dollars available, because that’s free money. If you earn $70,000 and put away 10%, or $7,000, into a 401(k) annually, an 8% average annual growth rate will give you about $346,000 after 20 years. Plus, 401(k) accounts are tax-advantaged, with traditional ones reducing your taxable income by the amount of your contribution in the year of the contribution and Roth 401(k)s giving you tax-free withdrawals in retirement.
Note that many employers let you automatically escalate your contributions each year, too. If you’re socking away 10% this year, making it 11% next year probably won’t hurt much, and before you know it, you may be saving 15% or more of your income.
5. Match your spending with savings
Here’s one last trick: If there are some costly habits you just don’t want to break, such as that morning latte or packs of cigarettes or ordering more than one drink when you’re out, turn them into habits that both cost and save money — by matching the spending with saving. Spend $8 on a pack of cigarettes? Move $8 from your checking account into your savings account. Buy four $5 coffees in one week? Add $20 to your savings account. This can be especially effective when the habits are ones you want to break.
There are many other ways to save money, such as immediately putting any raise or tax refund or bonus into your savings account. Spend a little time reading up on money-saving tips and strategies and find a handful that seem likely to work for you. Doing so can save you thousands of dollars each year and can mean the difference between a stressful and comfortable retirement.