Saving money seems so straightforward in theory: spend less than you make every month and tuck away the difference into a savings account. However, this can be easier said than done. There are so many objects vying for your money, each one trying to tempt you off your savings plan.
Sometimes, conventional wisdom (like that trusty ol’ piggy bank) just doesn’t suffice to keep you on track. Assuming you’ve already established a budget, you may be looking for some alternative ways to save. With that in mind, here are some less-conventional savings ideas that might help you keep more cash in your account.
Setting time limits when you shop
Here’s a common scenario: Someone walks into their favorite store to “just get a few things,” only to end up at the checkout aisle with a cart full of stuff they didn’t even come for. Whether you’re shopping online or in person, casually browsing is often a gateway to buying extra items you likely don’t need.
One way to minimize this effect is to set a time limit when you shop. The extra sense of urgency can help motivate you to focus on getting in and out as efficiently as possible, leaving less room to be distracted by unnecessary temptations.
Treating savings like a non-negotiable bill
Many people are good at paying their bills (like rent or insurance), but not as good at paying themselves. They may talk themselves into starting their savings “later.” But what if you treated your contributions to your savings account as being equally important as your monthly bills?
The good news is once you decide to implement this mentality, you can automate your savings efforts so that you don’t have to keep thinking about it. Perhaps you’ve already automated your bill payments. If it helps you save, think of automated deposits to your savings account as the same thing — but this time, you’re paying yourself!
Saving specific denominations of change
This can be a potentially fun way to “gamify” your savings efforts. Instead of trying to cut costs in any specific area, this method of saving relies on you simply choosing any denomination of change (such as pennies, singles, fives or tens) to save any time you get it.
For example, let’s say you choose $5 bills. Any time a cashier hands you back your change, you’d put any $5 bills you receive straight into your savings. Found a $5 bill in your couch cushions? Into the savings it goes. A customer left you a tip with a $5 bill in there? Savings! You can keep and spend any other bills you get, but you may be surprised by how quickly just saving a certain denomination can add up.
If you don’t carry a lot of cash and prefer to pay for things with a card, don’t worry. There are apps that connect to your account, round up your debit and credit transactions to the nearest dollar and deposit that “spare change” into a savings account. For example, if you spent $9.95 on a debit card purchase, the app would round your overall charge up to the nearest dollar (in this case, an even $10) and deposit that five-cent difference to your savings.
Auditing subscription services regularly
Subscription services are a dime a dozen these days. While each one may not seem like a major expense on its own, they can quickly drain your accounts if you’ve got enough of them stacked up. Let’s not forget those “free trials” that’ll start costing you if you forget to cancel them in time.
Since these payments are automated and happen in the background, it’s possible to lose track of which services you don’t use anymore but are still paying for. To avoid this pitfall, it can be helpful to audit your subscriptions on a regular basis. A quarterly review, for example, could help you ensure that you’re only paying for subscriptions you’re still using.
Planning meals to save on food costs
A common problem for many is completing their work day only to find they have no energy left to think about dinner. The quickest solution is often to eat out or order in, both of which are quick ways to spend money you might’ve saved otherwise. To compound the damage further, your fresh groceries may start going to waste as you reach for the takeout menu over and over.
One time-tested method to help you avoid this money trap is to start meal planning. By creating a plan for the week or month, you’ll have a better idea of what to get and how to use it to minimize waste. You won’t have to spend mental energy trying to decide what to eat after a long day because you’ve already decided in advance. Having a meal plan can help avoid those takeout temptations.
Taking advantage of midweek grocery sales
Speaking of meal planning, you might be able to save a little bit on your groceries if you take advantage of the midweek sales that some stores offer. Many stores start new sales mid-week, so shopping at that time could help you get first access to potentially limited promotions. Some may even offer storewide discounts during certain hours.
It may be helpful to note that one reason these discounts launch midweek is because they’re meant to lure customers in during less busy times. As such, they might not always be entirely convenient to your work schedule. If you can get to the store during that window, however, it could be a way to cut down on your food costs without cutting back on your tastes.
Creating “no-spend” holidays
In a nutshell, the idea is to take a sabbatical from spending money. This can be a day or two where your financial goal is to not spend any money other than on regular bills or in an emergency. As your discipline builds over time, you could try challenging yourself to even longer “no-spend” holidays lasting a week or more.
Volunteering at events you want to see
One frugal way to save some cash while still attending some of the events and activities you love is to consider volunteering at them. Sure, you’ll have to help people find seats or answer questions, but you’ll also get to attend the event for free. You may even get the kind of backstage access other people pay big bucks for!
Not treating savings like a cash reserve
If you’re running a little low on cash, there may be a temptation to dip into your savings and transfer some funds over to give you some breathing room. This isn’t so bad if you’re facing an emergency, but it could drain your savings if it becomes a regular practice.
If the temptation to use savings like a backup checking account is too great, it may be helpful to open a savings or deposit account where the funds aren’t instantly accessible.
Fixing small problems before they get bigger
Ignoring a problem rarely makes it disappear. In fact, it often just gets worse. Take a car, for example — not getting a wobbly tire checked and re-inflated today might mean a full blowout tomorrow. Rooting out problems before they get bigger might cost you a little today, but it may also save you from having to spend significantly more later.
Building up your savings doesn’t have to be boring. There are ways to save that don’t have to feel restrictive, and some methods can even turn it into a game of sorts. Small changes to your savings strategy, like rethinking when and how you shop, can have a bigger positive impact than you might think.