Benjamin Franklin was onto something when he said, “Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship.” Of course, large expenses can sink the ship, too, but the small, everyday purchases often sneak up and wreck your budget — and your ability to save.
Most people struggle to save money. According to a Bankrate survey , 49% of U.S. adults have less savings (39%) or no savings (10%) compared to a year ago. And more than two-thirds (68%) say they couldn’t cover their living expenses for just one month if they lost their primary income source.
The good news is that you can ramp up your savings by tweaking your spending habits. If you’re wondering how to save money, check out these 17 money-saving tips to help you get (and stay) on track.
Saving is exponentially more challenging if you don’t know where your money goes. Make a budget so you know what comes in each month, how much goes out, and what you could do differently (like minimizing restaurant spending). Cancel subscriptions and memberships you no longer use, and watch out for free trials that have rolled into monthly charges. In the future, set reminders to cancel those trials on time.
One of the best ways to save money is to set short-term and long-term savings goals. Common short-term goals include travel funds, car down payments , and emergency funds (three to nine months of living expenses). Long-term goals might be a home down payment , remodeling project, college fund, or retirement savings . Estimate how much you’ll need for each goal and build it into your budget.
Saving can feel like a burden, but there are ways to make it less painful. A money-saving challenge gamifies the task — it can also unleash your competitive spirit and boost your motivation along the way. Some challenges focus on stashing money, while others take a limit-your-spending approach. Either way, a challenge can be a fun (and effective) way to boost your savings.
Needs are things required to survive, like food, shelter, and essential clothing (many experts also consider an emergency fund a need). Wants are items or experiences you’d like to have but don’t need for survival. Your needs should always get top priority in your budget; plan accordingly to avoid overspending on wants.
Here’s a trick for avoiding impulse spending . Instead of buying something on the spot, wait a few days (or so) and revisit the idea. If you no longer feel passionate about the item or haven’t even thought about it in days, odds are you can do without it.
Interest charges can cost hundreds of dollars a month, so it pays to tackle your debt ASAP . One option is the avalanche method , where you pay off your highest-interest debts first. Alternatively, the snowball method prioritizes your smallest debts. Either way, the sooner you pay down your debt, the more cash you’ll have in your budget to spend, save, or invest.
One of the best tips for saving money is to make it automatic. Set up direct deposit to transfer part of your paycheck into your savings account or IRA — or automate regular transfers from your checking account into your savings. If you have a workplace retirement saving plan, contribute enough to take full advantage of your employer’s match (aka free money).
A certificate of deposit (CD) is a time deposit that pays a fixed interest rate for a set period (aka the “term”). CDs offer some of the highest interest rates for savings products, but you have to be willing to park your cash for several months to several years: A potentially steep penalty applies to early withdrawals. You can find the best rates at online banks and credit unions.
Late payments can trigger late fees and penalty (higher) interest rates, driving up your costs. Automating your payments helps you avoid these fees and keeps you from stressing about deadlines. Another bonus: A history of on-time payments helps boost your credit score, which helps qualify you for lower interest rates and better terms — both of which can save you money.
Most adults have stacks of monthly bills for cell phone and home phone service, internet service , cable or satellite TV, gym memberships, and the like — and there’s a good chance you’re overpaying. Call each provider and explain (nicely) that you’re considering canceling your service, then ask something like, “What can you do to lower my monthly bill?” Negotiating takes time, but it can be well worth the effort.
According to Bankrate , the average monthly cost for car insurance is $168 for full coverage and $52 for minimum coverage. You can save by taking advantage of insurance discounts, such as claims-free, good student, bundling, and safe driving discounts. Each auto insurer sets its rates, so the same coverage can cost more or less from another provider. Compare quotes from at least three companies to find the lowest price for the coverage you need.
Refinancing can help you lock in a lower rate , lower your monthly payment, or repay your loan sooner. It’s generally a good idea if you can lower your rate by at least 0.75%. Another money-saving option is to make biweekly mortgage payments (where you make half your monthly payment every two weeks). You’ll end up paying an extra month each year, so you’ll pay off your mortgage faster and pay less interest over the life of the loan.
Tax credits reduce the amount of tax you owe or increase your refund, while tax deductions lower your taxable income. Both can lead to significant savings at tax time, so claim the credits and deductions you’re entitled to. Hire a tax preparer if you’re unsure what to claim; the expense can more than pay for itself.
Shopping during seasonal sales can save you money on appliances, cars, electronics, furniture, and more. For example, you can get the best deals on TVs right before the Super Bowl, while appliance sales tend to coincide with holiday weekends like Memorial Day and Labor Day. School supplies and laptops usually go on sale during August — when you can also take advantage of tax-free weekends.
A little prep work can help you save money at the grocery store. Plan out your meals, check your pantry to see what you already have, and then make a list — and stick to it. Consider using a coupon app (like Flipp ) to find money-saving coupons by ZIP code. Be sure to take advantage of your store’s loyalty program for in-store discounts and savings at the fuel pump.
The average paperback novel costs about $14 to $18, which adds up if you’re an avid reader. Before buying a new book, visit your local library or used bookstore. Another option is to download a free library app (such as Libby ), which lets you borrow from a vast selection of eBooks, audiobooks, magazines, and more from your local library.
No matter how you trim your budget, consider where to stash those savings. A savings account pays interest and provides a safe place to park your cash (deposits at FDIC-member banks and NCUA-member credit unions are insured up to $250,000). Another bonus: Your deposits are less accessible than your checking account (no ATM card, debit card, or checks), so you may be less tempted to spend.
Choose a high-yield savings account (offered by online banks and credit unions) for the best interest rates and lowest fees. Savings account interest rates are the highest in years , so now is an excellent time to stash your cash in a high-yield savings account.
Editorial Disclosure: All articles are prepared by editorial staff and contributors. Opinions expressed therein are solely those of the editorial team and have not been reviewed or approved by any advertiser. The information, including rates and fees, presented in this article is accurate as of the date of the publish. Check the lender’s website for the most current information.
This article was originally published on SFGate.com and reviewed by Lauren Williamson, who serves as Financial and Home Services Editor for the Hearst E-Commerce team. Email her at [email protected] .
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