This year, I’ve spent more money than ever. I’ve been able to swing these extra expenses — including lots of fun new gadgets I’d put off buying for years — without hurting my budget. But now, I’m ready to pull back and start ramping up my savings again.
We all know that Americans are generally terrible at saving for retirement. But it turns out that we’re also pretty bad at saving in the short term, too. In fact, nearly 60% of Americans don’t even have $500 in savings. Yikes!
Here’s the reality, though: saving a bit of money doesn’t actually take much effort. I’m planning to use these ten low-effort ways to save money over the next year. Want to join?
1. Automate your savings
Chances are you already use direct deposit for your paycheck. If not, it’s time to get with the program. With direct deposit, your money goes straight to the bank. It’s more convenient for you and your employer. Plus, it lets you automate your decision-making about savings.
Instead of deciding how much to save each payday, you can set your account to automatically move money from checking to savings. Your paycheck will hit your account, and your savings will disappear from that account almost simultaneously. It’s much easier to save money that you never see in your checking account!
Even if you start by moving only $5 or $10 per paycheck to a high-yield savings account, you’ll have more saved at the end of the year than you would have otherwise.
2. Collect your excess coins
I enjoy looking through circulating coins, on the off chance that I discover a rare specimen, such as a silver quarter. No, it doesn’t happen often; most of the good stuff has been removed from circulation by other collectors or knowledgeable bank tellers.
But while I’m saving my daily change in a glass jar, I’m also saving myself from spending that money. Every so often, I roll the coins with free sleeves from the bank and take them in for deposit.
What if you don’t typically spend cash? If you usually swipe your card instead of spending cash, you may not have any loose change to save. In this case, check out apps like Qoins.
You can connect this app directly to your checking account. Each time you spend, it’ll round up to the next dollar and “save” the change from that transaction. Once you reach a certain threshold amount, the app will put that change towards a debt.
Other similar apps, such as Digit and Acorns, use this concept to sock away change in a savings account or investing account. These apps act like a virtual change jar, putting the dregs of your daily transactions towards important financial goals.
3. Use goal jars
You’ve seen those jars in country shops. They are short, wide-mouthed clay pottery or stoneware jars with cork tops.
On the outside of the jars, they are labeled using varying levels of wit. In these jars, you can set aside money you’d like to budget for “retirement,” “kids’ education,” “dreams,” or the “Harley fund.”
Again, these are a great option if you typically spend with cash. You can make them even more powerful if you dedicate certain “leftover” money to these jars.
Say you normally spend $125 for a weeks’ worth of groceries at the grocery store. One week, you get creative with meal planning and couponing and you only spend $115. Put the extra $10 — which you normally would have spent — into a goal jar.
You can do this virtually, too. More and more banks are offering free savings accounts, and some checking accounts offer unlimited free “sub-accounts.” Open several, then label them for specific goals.
You can split up your extra money at the end of the month to these accounts, or just throw in “saved” money whenever you can. For instance, if you usually spend $10 on your work lunch, but bring a lunch from home, toss the $7 you saved into one of your savings accounts.
4. Form a budget, but budget for fun
A budget can be the most depressing part of personal finance if you let it be. I tend to avoid budgets, but if my income fails to meet my expenses, I’ll have to reconsider this approach.
The key, though, is that budgets should be flexible. Budgeting isn’t about limiting yourself to only the most frugal spending. It’s about realizing that sometimes you have to sacrifice in one category to pay for another.
Want to eat out more? Great! Be a super frugal grocery shopper when you do eat at home. Want to travel? Awesome! You may have to give up purchasing some of those new electronic gadgets.
A budget that saves you money is usually one that has at least some “fun” spending built in. You can only seriously restrict your spending for so long before you make yourself more likely to go on a spending binge. So, make sure you write in some fun — whether that’s dining out, saving up for travel, or working on a hobby. Then, stick to it!
If you need a jump start, here are the best budgeting tools to track your money.
5. Find ways to make your hobby cheaper
Hobbies can be expensive. Just ask anyone with a Faberge egg collection! Many hobbies require materials and monetary investments, and this can really add up over time.
Just like budgeting for your “fun,” though, you should budget some money for your hobbies. Of course, moderation is key here. Try not to spend too much, especially to the detriment of the rest of your budget.
Here are some tips to help you manage that hobby spending:
- Get good at finding your supplies on sale or secondhand. If your hobby is crafting, sign up for coupons from all the local craft stores. You can often save 50% or more on your craft materials. Into biking? Consider buying your gear secondhand to save big.
- Figure out how to make money from your hobby. Turning your hobby into a side business is an excellent way to make money. But even if your hobby doesn’t turn a profit, selling what you create can cover most or all of the expenses associated with your hobby.
- Make the most of what you have. It’s easy to overspend on your hobby thinking you need the next big thing. If you sew, it’s tempting to upgrade your machine every couple of years, whether you need to or not. And if you hike, adding on ever more cool gear is tempting. The truth, though, is that you can probably enjoy your hobby without these things. I’d suggest instituting at least a one or two month waiting period before you can spend on pricey hobby-related items. In that time frame, you might just find that you don’t need the upgrade after all.
6. Sell stuff online
If you were thinking of having a yard sale, think again. By selling your unwanted items online, you’ll reach a much wider audience, including more of those who appreciate what you have to offer. Plus, online buyers will often pay more because they’re looking for exactly what you have.
Luckily, you’ve got a ton of options for selling online. Don’t want to mess with shipping heavy or bulky items? Check out your local Facebook sale group to make sales locally. Or list your items on Craigslist.
For smaller items that are easier to ship, you often don’t even have to take them to the post office for shipping. You can set up a package service to pick up the item from your home after you print the label. This makes selling items on eBay and other sites easier than ever.
Some sites, such as Swap.com and Thredup, will pay you for your old, lightly-used clothing and accessories. Swap gives you a shipping label to use, and Thredup will actually send you a bag for shipping your items in.
7. Start a new hobby
Are you currently working on an expensive hobby that’s draining your money? Consider starting a new one that actually makes money.
Some hobbies are great micro businesses. Maybe yours won’t make loads of money. But even if your hobby can pay for itself, you can have your leisure for free. Here are some ideas for hobbies you can turn into extra cash:
- Building or fixing computers: This one’s easy to turn into a money-maker. Just become the local go-to guy for fixing or customizing computers.
- Arts and crafts: Any sort of art or craft hobby likely has a market. And these hobbies can be expensive, so it’s a good idea to try selling your wares as you make them. Again, even if you just cover the cost of your materials to start, that lets you enjoy your hobby without spending loads of extra money.
- Gardening: You can, of course, save some money for your family by growing fruits and vegetables you’d otherwise buy. But if you’ve got an eye for planning out beautiful flower beds, too, offer your services at installing and maintaining others’ landscaping.
- Pets: One or two pets are great, but pets get expensive. If you love to spend time with animals but can’t afford to add any more to your family, consider starting a pet-sitting or pet walking business.
8. Ask for a raise
Sometimes it’s that simple. If it’s been a while since you’ve gotten a raise, or if you’ve recently taken on more responsibility, now is the time to ask.
First, put together your list of recent accomplishments. Hard numbers will often do more than anything else to actually get you that raise. Then, set up a meeting with your supervisor to talk specifically about your raise, or what you can do to earn one if you’re not quite there yet.
Of course, if the goal is to save more money, you should know what you’re going to do with that raise ahead of time. Adding it to your paycheck is a good way to start frittering away that extra money without even knowing where it’s going.Instead, consider directing that money straight to your savings account or 401(k), before it even hits your bank account.
9. Negotiate to work from home
More and more businesses are allowing or even welcoming their employees to work from home. And working from home can help you save loads of money.
Here are just some of the expenses that you can cut back by working from home, even one or two days per week:
- Gas and car maintenance
- Parking, if yours is paid daily, and toll roads
- Dry cleaning or other clothing expenses
- Less wear and tear on your more expensive work clothes
- Eating out for lunch, work coffees, etc.
- Time is money — if you cut out your commute, you have more time for side hustles or hobbies, and less time with the kids in childcare.
Plus, when you work from home, you can often find time to get extra things done around the house, which is just an added bonus!
Resource: Ten Tips For Cutting Car Expenses
10. Cut back on your monthly bills
Saving on things like groceries and dining out is great. But it takes a concerted effort and planning month after month.
An easier way to save right away is to cut back on those recurring monthly bills that you barely think about paying. This includes things like car and home insurance, phone and internet bills, recurring monthly subscriptions, cable, and more.
These are the types of bills that you should price shop at least once a year. So if it’s been more than a year since you last made sure you were getting the best possible rates in these areas, take a few hours to shop around. Start by calling your current providers and asking what they can do to lower your bill; sometimes, you can get a new discount just by asking for one.
Saving on these bills will save you money month after month. Just be sure to keep a running total of how much you’re saving, and then direct that amount to your savings account each month!
Learn More About Cutting the Cord
How else are you saving? Let us know in the comments.
Updated August 24, 2017 and originally published July 20, 2017.