It was shocking for me to read in the Report of Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2018 that 47% of Americans would experience significant financial distress in order to handle a $400 emergency. Apparently, nearly half of us just do not know how to save money.
I know how easy it is to think we are saving money by buying things on sale, turning down the heat, making our own cleaning products, and other ways we can think of to spend less. Heck, we congratulate ourselves on doing that, right? But hear me on this:
Unless you are diligent to take the difference between the regular price and the sale price—or say the amount you didn’t spend on your bills last month the way you have in previous months—and actually deposit that into a savings account, are you really saving money?
Nope. You’re just spending less. And you can “spend less” right through your entire paycheck. You can trust me on that because I’ve been there, spent that. Nearly ruined my life.
While being careful to keep spending under control is admirable, it’s easy to fool yourself into believing that you’re a money-saving genius, when in truth you’re just spending all that you earn, wishing you made enough money to save some of it.
Getting started with actual savings (and by that I mean money that is put away in a safe place), can be difficult if you have a spending habit, a small budget, or some of each. The secret is to start small—and then stick with it.
Whenever you get a $5 bill, do not spend it. Save it. Put it in a special secret place you have designated for $5 bills. Make this your new personal rule. You do not spend $5 bills. Ever. Just find a clever place to stash them and don’t look back. You are going to be amazed how quickly your savings will add up—especially if you receive tips in your job. Once you reach $50, take those ten $5 bills to a bank or credit union and open a real savings account.
Can’t possibly see your way clear to save those Abes? Then start with George—$1 bills! Just do it and watch how fat you’ll be saving the $5s, too.
If stashing paper currency doesn’t work for you, this could be an alternative or addition to saving paper currency. Think this couldn’t possibly turn into anything useful? Think again! In a single year, my husband and I saved more than $1,100 in coins. We were shocked because it was so painless. It helps that neither one of us can stand to carry around heavy change. We have several “dump stations” in our home and vehicles, too Try it but make sure you are diligent. The rule: Do not spend coins, period. Memo to self: Go count the 2019 stash!
This is cool. You’ll need a weekly calendar like this to pull off this trick. Look at each week’s placement in a year. Now save the number of dollars during that week that corresponds to its placement in the year.
For example, the first week in January you save $1 because it’s Week One. The second week in January you save $2 and so on. By the end of January, you will have saved $15 ($1 +$2 +$3 + $4 + $5 = $15).
Then, the first week in February you must save $6 because it is Week 6 of 2020. Continue without fail throughout the year and you will have saved nearly $1,400 by New Years. That’s a good start.
Another way to do this is to flip the plan so that you determine to save $52 in Week 1, $51 in Week 2 and so on until you reach Week 52, when you save $1. This puts the “heavy lifting” on the front end when your enthusiasm and determination are at a fever pitch.
Better yet, in no time provided you stick with it, you will have created a saving habit. You’ll be well on your way to building a respectable emergency fund.
Call it a bill
This may sound silly but just go with me here. Create a new monthly bill that you are obligated to pay and call it “Paying Myself First.” Make it look like an invoice of $5, billed to you. I don’t care how little money you earn or how poor you believe that you are. Anyone who really wants to start saving has $5 they can devote to the effort. Put this tiny bill at the top—ahead of the rent, food, or phone bill. Here’s my promise: Your smallest bill will soon become your favorite. Then watch what happens. Your favorite bill will get a raise. You won’t be able to help yourself!
Make payments to yourself
Once you make that last car, credit card or other payment, celebrate lightly, then just keep making the same payments every month. But instead of making them to the finance company or bank, make them to yourself—straight into your savings account. After all, you’re used to not having that money to spend, so don’t change anything. Tricky, no?
Cashback, coupon savings
As you leave the supermarket so proud of yourself for all of your coupon savings, make a note of the exact amount you “saved.” Now really save it by depositing that exact amount into a savings envelope, drawer or account. As you rack up cash in your Rakuten cashback account, see that as true savings. And when you get your Big Fat Check from Rakuten every 90-days, deposit it into your savings account. Do. Not. Cash. It.
Do you have a cashback credit card account that actually earns you cashback because you don’t carry a hefty balance from one month to the next? Don’t leave it that money—no matter how little it may be—in your account where it will sure evaporate into thin air. Instead, take the steps necessary to move that cash into your savings account!
Have a goal
While for most of us, having money in a savings account is its own reward, we’re all human. It’s easy to fall off the wagon if we are not being intentional with a clear-cut savings purpose in mind. The solution is to learn how to stay the course by setting a goal. Make it specific and measurable. Just saying, “I’m going to save money,” is so vague it’s a set-up for failure. But a goal that answers these two questions—why am I saving and how will I measure my success?—is the way to go. To that end, I have some suggestions:
First, you need enough money in your savings/emergency fund that you could pay all of your household bills without any paychecks for a full six months! That means every wage earner in the house loses his or her job. Got it? That’s serious and realistic. You want to live with that worst-case scenario covered. Sure you would get unemployment checks, but that’s not enough. Sure you wouldn’t have such big daycare expenses, but still you would need more money to get through. Things would change for you in drastic ways. Figure it out! If you don’t want to lose your home forcing you to move in with the parents, set the goal. How much money woul you need in that scenario? Write it down, lock eyeballs with truth. Now get busy!
Once your emergency fund is well established, you don’t stop saving. Set another goal. Is it a vacation? Get a glorious representative picture to post where you will see it every day.
Maybe it’s a sewing machine or fishing boat you dream of. Find out the cost. Picture that goal, then “dreamwash” every purchase, every financial decision. Are the sale shoes great enough to forgo your goal? Let the expectation of that dream vacation wash over the momentary temptation of the cute shoes.
Dreamwashing is a fun and effective way to stay on track with your savings goals.
Just do it!
If you’re above the poverty line, but even so are unable to handle any financial emergencies, you’re walking a dangerous tightrope that puts your future in the hands of luck. More than that, your inability to save money may be tying you to a job you hate because you are painfully aware that if the tiniest little thing goes wrong, you’re in deep trouble. You could not go even one week without a paycheck. That’s a lot of pressure, my dear friend! Break free. Get responsible. Your future self will thank you.