Saving money can feel like a complicated, daunting task, but it can be much easier when broken down into a few simple money-saving tips to get you started. And you should get started. Too often people put off saving, feeling like they have too much debt and too many expenses and just can’t afford to do it. The truth is, saving any amount of money, no matter how small, will improve your financial well-being.
“The important thing is that you start and do it on a regular basis,” Tara Alderete, director of enterprise learning at Money Management International, tells SELF. “It’ll grow, and it’ll surprise you.”
Savings also provide an important safety net when something unexpected happens, like a job loss or emergency medical bill, adds Jeff Arevalo, financial wellness expert at GreenPath. “To have savings to fall back on just helps with your stress level,” he tells SELF. Many Americans lack the savings to cover an emergency. In a 2021 Bankrate survey of 1,003 people, only 39% of respondents said they could cover a $1,000 unforeseen expense with savings.
Setting realistic goals, creating a plan, and sticking to it will kick-start your savings. If you’re not sure how to save money or where to start, here are 23 money-saving tips from both financial experts and savings-savvy people.
1. Know exactly how much you make and spend
Having a good grasp of how much money you have coming in and going out is the first step toward saving money. Otherwise, it’s hard to implement a comprehensive savings and spending plan, Arevalo says. Use a budgeting app, like Mint, or even just a notebook or spreadsheet to track everything you make and everything you spend. You might be shocked to see where your money goes.
That said, crunching these numbers can be anxiety-provoking for so many reasons. If the thought of getting a good look at the state of your finances makes you nervous, check out this advice for managing that kind of discomfort. Also, here’s some reassurance from a financial therapist who knows firsthand that financial anxiety is far from uncommon—and who has some excellent advice for dealing with it.
2. Automatically allocate some of your paycheck to savings
Immediately divvying up each paycheck into separate pots to cover bills, regular expenses, and savings is an important savings tip, says Katherine Salisbury, cofounder and co-CEO of Qapital, a saving and investing app. “Allocate funds to each bill or savings goal you have, rather than waiting and potentially overspending,” she tells SELF.
Even better, automate savings to go directly into a separate account, preferably one with a high interest rate. Lindsey Allard, CEO of PlaybookUX, automatically transfers $25 into a savings account every week. “I barely notice the $25 comes out of my regular account and, over time, it has risen to be quite a nice sum of money,” she says.
3. Set concrete savings goals
Yes, it sounds obvious. But how much you should save depends on how much you can actually afford to save! It can be a fixed monthly amount or a percentage of your income. Whatever you decide, set a savings goal that’s realistic for you, after accounting for necessary expenses. Alderete says smaller, incremental savings goals are more achievable and less overwhelming—and no amount is too small.
4. Create a realistic budget
Creating a budget ensures “every dollar has a purpose” as you meet your savings goals, Alderete says. It reveals where to cut expenses and which debts to pay down. “People are oftentimes very surprised at what you can save and what you can accomplish by just cutting expenses here and there and reducing the amount of debt that they have,” she says.
5. Try the 50-30-20 rule
The 50-30-20 rule is a money-saving strategy that calls for 50% of your paycheck to go toward needs, including rent or utilities; 30% to wants, like dining out or travel; and 20% to savings or investments. “It’s a good reference point so you can know if you’re overspending or undersaving in certain areas,” Salisbury says, adding that even then, it’s better used as a guideline than a rule. You may need to tweak it based on your specific financial and lifestyle needs and goals.
6. Use cash-back and coupon apps
Abigail Akinyemi, a travel blogger at The Lady Who Travels, says she saves about $40 a week through cash-back apps. She uses Fluz, which offers cash back on purchases, and Fetch, which provides awards gift cards when you photograph your receipts. A few other cash-back apps to check out: Ibotta (shopping, groceries, travel) and GetUpside (gas).
Some apps also offer coupons you can “clip.” Before shopping online or heading to the store, look for coupons or discount codes to save here and there, Arevalo suggests. Apps like RetailMeNot or CouponCabin are a good place to start, or just google a retailer’s name and “coupon code” to find discounts. You can also try the Honey plug-in that automatically identifies when you can save money on an online shopping purchase as you check out.
7. Save your spare change
Tossing spare change into a jar adds up. Apps like Acorns and Chime do it digitally by rounding up your purchases and saving the difference. “You can save a lot of money without even knowing it,” Alderete says. Again, even if it’s small bits of change here and there, it all adds up over time.
8. Cancel subscriptions you don’t use
Never use your gym membership or watch one of the streaming services you subscribe to? Harriet Chan, cofounder and marketing director at CocoFinder, says she keeps track of her subscriptions to know how much she spends on them and cancels ones she’s not using very much to save money. For example, she chose to cancel her gym membership and started doing free workout videos online instead.
9. Invest in insurance
Purchasing renter’s insurance or pet insurance and upgrading your health plan may be an extra up-front expense, but if you can swing it, Salisbury says it can save money in the long run. “It’s better to pay a bit up-front, little by little, than having to scramble for unforeseen expenses that could be much higher,” she says.
10. Never grocery-shop without a list
We all know the most important grocery shopping rule: Never go to the grocery store when you’re hungry. You shouldn’t go without a list, either. Meal planning and making a list before grocery shopping will prevent overspending and help you stick to your budget, Alderete says.
11. Leave your online shopping cart overnight
Impulse buys often lead to overspending. Darla DeMorrow, a certified professional organizer and owner of HeartWork Organizing, says she adds items to online shopping carts but waits a day or so before purchasing. “You aren’t depriving yourself because you can’t afford it; you’ll get it later,” she tells SELF. Plus, some retailers will even email you a discount code as an extra prod to make the purchase. If it’s something you really want or need, that’s a great bonus!
12. Don’t save credit card information with online retailers
When an online shop asks if you want to save your credit card details for next time, say no, says Tiffanie Gonzalez-Quevedo, founder and brand manager of High Maintenance Media. It makes it too easy to just press “purchase” without really thinking about it. Gonzalez-Quevedo tells SELF that she used to have her credit card numbers memorized, but actually called and ordered new cards so she couldn’t order items on a whim. “I now have to actually take time to get my wallet and reflect on whether or not this purchase is necessary,” she says.
13. Take the 52-week money challenge
This method involves saving $1 the first week, $2 the second week, and so on until week 52, when you save $52. After a year, you’ll save $1,378. The process gets you in the habit of saving, Alderete says: “That incremental saving helps you build momentum and see your savings grow.”
14. Ask creditors for lower interest rates
High-interest rates and fees increase your credit card and bill payments. An overlooked money-saving tip, Alderete says, is to contact creditors and service providers, like cable and phone companies, and ask if they can lower interest rates, waive fees, or offer discounts. The worst that can happen is that they’ll say no, so it’s definitely worth a try.
15. Stash away unexpected lump sums
Extra, unexpected money, such as the new child tax credits or a tax refund, is an opportunity to save. Lisa Sanchez, fashion editor at The Nines, puts at least half of any birthday money and cash back from apps into a Chime savings account, which she says has a relatively high interest rate. “I’ve been able to save money for trips, mortgage payments, and car repairs,” she tells SELF.
16. Use step-down spending
Step-down spending refers to tweaking spending habits incrementally. “It’s the idea that you do something that you want to do, but you spend less money doing it,” Alderete says. For example, instead of going to the movies at night when tickets are more expensive, go to a cheaper matinee. Step it down further by renting the movie at home.
17. Leverage credit card rewards
Getting a credit card that offers a solid slate of rewards when you purchase can help you rack up some extra money without trying. Sanchez leverages credit card rewards to purchase gift cards at Target, where she shops for essentials, and Starbucks, which she gives as gifts. “I end up saving hundreds of dollars a year,” she says. Credit card rewards money can be used to pay down your bill, pay for plane tickets or hotel bookings, or simply be transferred to your checking or savings account.
18. Set a specific “de-stressing budget”
Saving money can be stressful, so Monica Davis, founder and editor in chief of the blog My Straightener, sets a “de-stressing budget” to designate money for items or activities, like unplanned eating out, spa days, or other self-care activities. “That way, you will keep your savings safe from impulsive spending and reach your goals,” she tells SELF.
19. Save money by bartering
Have a skill or offer a service? Bartering, or exchanging services or items, is another money-saving tip that can work for some people. For example, Alderete says she has a friend who owns a carpet-cleaning business who uses bartering to save money, including getting free school tuition for her child after cleaning the school’s carpets. Of course, if you have a skill that you do for a living, you want to make sure you’re being paid your worth. But ideally, bartering can be a way to get a great deal on something you really want or need that’s worth more than the cash you’d get for the job.
20. Sell items you don’t use
Selling clothing, household items, or anything else you’re not using on sites like Poshmark, Facebook Marketplace, and eBay can bring in some extra cash. Arevalo recommends saving the proceeds or using them to pay down debt.
21. Lower your utility bills
There’s a reason parents love setting the heat at borderline-unreasonable temps in the winter. Lowering your thermostat by 7 to 10 degrees for eight hours a day can save up to 10% a year on your utility bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Jen Stark, founder of Happy DIY Home, says installing a tankless or on-demand water heater can save you even more. “This extra money can go straight into your savings account,” she tells SELF. Of course, this is another tip that may involve some significant up-front spending to save in the long-term, so your mileage may vary on how realistic that is to actually implement.
22. Use spending as a reward
Focusing on saving doesn’t mean never buying something you love or spending money on an activity you enjoy. But consider delaying the purchase as a reward for meeting your savings goals, Salisbury suggests. “By delaying that purchase, you’re giving yourself more time to save for that special splurge or treat-yourself item,” she says.
23. Plan for the future
As you plan your savings strategy, you want to make sure to save for retirement too, Arevalo says. It’s a good idea to set both short-term savings goals, such as a vacation or a home down payment, and long-term goals, like retirement. You can read about the different types of retirement savings plans on the IRS website, but this stuff can get confusing. If you’re struggling to figure out the best retirement savings plan for you, talking to a financial adviser can help. A good place to start is with your company’s H.R. department. Find out what retirement savings plans your employer offers (and if they chip in some contributions on your behalf), and then go from there.
Original source: SELF