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If you’re struggling to save money, you’re not alone. According to Bankrate data, less than half of Americans have enough emergency savings to cover at least three months’ worth of expenses. While 57 percent of adults said they’re uncomfortable with the amount of emergency savings they have, 22 percent of adults reported having no emergency savings at all.
Inflation is slowing, yet prices remain uncomfortably high on expenses such as housing, food and transportation. In fact, 41 percent of economists don’t believe inflation will decrease to the Federal Reserve’s target rate of 2 percent until sometime in 2025.
Saving money isn’t easy these days, but it’s not impossible, either. Here are 13 practical ways you can bring down your bills, spend less money and grow your bank account.
- At a time when many Americans don't have adequate emergency savings, and inflation remains a problem, it's still possible to save money by paying attention to your finances and reducing spending, when possible.
- Practical ways to reduce spending include shopping around for better rates on insurance and other necessities, as well as planning your meals and being a more strategic shopper.
- In addition to lowering your spending, sure-fire ways to boost your savings include finding a high-yield savings account and setting financial goals.
1. Review your spending habits
If you want to determine how to save money, you need to figure out how to spend less of it. Many bank statements incorporate categorized spending reports. These can provide a good sense of where your money has been going and identify opportunities to reduce your costs. And if you’re married or live with your partner, making this review process a shared task can be helpful in cutting expenses and increasing savings.
2. Automate your savings
Setting up automatic transfers from your checking to your savings account each pay day is a surefire way to build up your nest egg. In order to be able to devote money to savings regularly, you’ll need to set up a budget to make sure your expenses are accounted for.
Having a budget helps you plan your spending and saving by looking closely at how much money is coming in and going out each month. Budgeting and money-saving apps can help automate your savings, issue overspending alerts and invest some of your funds.
Setting up a budgeting app may involve creating categories for your monthly expenses — such as mortgage or rent, transportation, groceries and entertainment. Once you’re set up in the app, reviewing your spending regularly can help you identify areas where more money can be saved.
3. Compare other options for your mobile service
Speaking of smartphones and budgets, one area where you may be able to trim expenses is mobile service. An increase in service providers has led to more competition and often lower prices.
Companies such as Mint Mobile, Ting and Visible may offer plans that are comparable to those from the biggest mobile companies — but with lower monthly price tags. Doing some research and price comparison may result in a better deal. Keep in mind if you spend most of your time at home, being connected to your Wi-Fi network can eliminate the need for an expensive supersized data plan.
4. Turn off notifications that want you to spend money
Your smartphone can be a powerful tool in helping you save, yet it can also be a big source of temptation to spend. Promotional emails and app notifications — including those announcing big deals — can persuade you to buy a product you might otherwise have skipped. Consider unsubscribing from those lists and disabling notifications.
5. Shrink your utility bills – or avoid letting them grow
There are various steps you can take to save on the costs of living in your home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average household can save around $225 each year by switching to LED lighting.
Significant heating costs may be a factor in the winter of 2023/2024. The National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA) estimates the average cost to heat a home this winter will be $1,106, which is similar to the association’s estimate for the previous winter season.
You can help reduce heating costs by lowering the thermostat a few degrees or sealing leaks around windows.
6. Evaluate your entertainment expenses
Rather than paying a high price for 400 cable TV channels, consider a more affordable streaming service such as Sling, Hulu or FuboTV. Amazon Prime members have access to the company’s expansive library of shows and movies, although its live TV options are limited.
An Amazon Prime membership also comes with the ability to listen to millions of songs and create playlists — which can save you the money of paying for a separate streaming music service like Spotify or Apple Music.
7. Take advantage of free local attractions
A little research can help you find fun, affordable attractions and activities in your local area. For instance, some museums and art galleries offer free admission on certain days of the week or month. Libraries may offer passes to zoos or museums on a first come, first served basis.
Your bank may even offer free access to attractions. For example, Bank of America’s Museums on Us program gives the bank’s debit and credit card holders complimentary access to more than 225 cultural institutions across the country.
8. Be a strategic grocery shopper
While you’ll need to keep buying groceries despite higher prices, you can make a more concerted effort to avoid throwing away unused food. U.S. households waste $408 billion in food each year, which comes out to 40 percent of all food in America, according to nonprofit organization Feeding America.
As you make your grocery list, think about what ended up being thrown away last time and how to avoid letting that happen again. The study found that those who made a shopping list before going to the store typically threw away less food, so take extra time to plan out your upcoming meals.
9. Break up with brand names
Speaking of groceries, consider whether you really need to pay for expensive brand-name foods. A comparison of ingredients and labels on things like noodles, cereal and spices may show generic alternatives to be just as nutritious and high-quality as their top-shelf counterparts.
The same concept may apply to non-food items such as paper products, hand soap and laundry detergent. Try to find more affordable alternatives for any such brand-name household items you may be buying. You can always switch back to your original choice if you’re not happy with the lower-priced alternative.
10. Compare other banking options
If you’re paying service fees for your checking or savings account, it’s time to figure out how to reduce those costs. For instance, online-only institutions like Ally Bank and Discover do not charge monthly service fees. Many other bank accounts do charge monthly fees, yet they might be easy to avoid by maintaining a low set minimum balance or by receiving direct deposit of your paycheck.
Additionally, online banks often pay some of the highest interest rates on high-yield savings accounts, money market accounts and CDs. For instance, various online banks currently offer savings account rates more than eight times the national average rate — and up to 500 times more than what some big brick-and-mortar banks are paying.
11. Compare car insurance rates
If you have a track record of safe driving, it can pay to shop around for another insurance provider that will do a better job of rewarding that good behavior. Compare other insurance quotes with what you currently pay to see how much you can lower your premiums for the same amount of coverage.
Those who don’t spend much time behind the wheel may be able to cut costs by going with usage-based insurance, which can match coverage based on how much you actually use your vehicle.
12. Use coupons and promotional codes
The concept of couponing might sound old-school, but finding deals doesn’t always require clipping portions of the Sunday newspaper. When you’re shopping online, take a few minutes to search for a coupon code when websites offer a “promo code” box on the checkout page.
There are also browser extensions like Honey and Coupert that automatically search for online coupons while you shop. Capital One Shopping is another tool that can find online deals automatically, and it’s available to everyone — not just Capital One customers. It works by searching for coupon codes, best prices and rewards at more than 100,000 stores.
13. Challenge yourself to a spending freeze
One way that can be effective in taking control of your finances is a spending freeze, during which you cut all unnecessary spending for a set period. This could help you get a sense of just how much you’re spending on nonessentials like trips to the coffee shop. The extra money you’ll have at the end of the month can be added to savings or used to pay down debt.
Strategies for time-specific goals
In addition to thinking about how to save money, consider what you’re saving for and when you’ll need the money. Some goals may be in the distant future — such as saving for retirement when you’re just out of college — while other goals like buying a car or taking a vacation could be much closer on the horizon. Your timeline can impact your saving strategy as well as where you’ll place the money.
How to save money daily
- Make coffee at home instead of going to the cafe.
- Take your lunch to work.
- Make most dinners at home instead of going out for meals.
- Disable notifications on your phone to avoid impulse spending.
How to save money monthly
- Follow a budget plan such as the 50/30/20 approach.
- Monitor your spending each week to track your progress.
- Pay your credit card in full to avoid finance charges.
- Automate a portion of every paycheck to be transferred to your savings account.
How to save money yearly
- Take advantage of employer-matching 401(k) contributions.
- Open an IRA if you’re eligible, and maximize your contributions.
- If you receive an annual tax refund, deposit it in your savings account, or invest it.
- Expand your financial literacy to understand investment options.
Saving strategies for specific goals
Saving money is often about working toward goals. If you have a deadline in mind for when you’ll need a certain amount of money, it’s important to create a savings plan and stick to it. In all, watching your spending carefully is key in building up your savings account.
Frequently asked questions
There are plenty of ways to save money on things you use on a daily basis such as food and gas. These include:
- Join loyalty programs. This can save you money at the gas pump, grocery store or restaurants.
- Make a grocery list. Bringing a list to the store — and sticking to it — helps avoid impulse purchases and buying things you don’t really need.
- Prepare your meals at home. With some advance preparation, you can have meals and snacks at the ready. This will save you the cost (and often extra calories) of eating restaurant food.
- Disable retailer notifications. Avoid impulse purchases by unsubscribing from promotional emails and turning off app alerts from retailers.
The 30-day rule is a simple strategy of holding off for 30 days before making a nonessential purchase. Waiting for such an amount of time before pulling the trigger gives you a chance to consider whether you want and need the item, whether you can truly afford it, and whether your money should be allocated toward a higher priority instead. Ultimately, you may decide you don’t really want or need an item, which in turn can lead to growth in your savings.
Look to your retirement account and tax refund for ways to increase your savings each year. Steps to do so include these ideas:
- Take advantage of an employer match for your 401(k). Many employers match up to a certain amount of what you put into your 401(k), based on how much you contribute. For instance, an employer may match up to 50 percent of what you put in, up to 6 percent of your pay. Get the most for your money by contributing enough to receive the full employer match.
- Open an individual retirement account (IRA). A traditional or Roth IRA is another place to invest in your retirement, and they each have certain tax advantages. Unlike 401(k) accounts, IRA accounts are not administered through an employer. They’re commonly offered by banks, credit unions, brokerage firms and mutual fund companies.
- Save or invest your tax return. If you’re getting an annual tax refund from the IRS, consider putting it into a savings account or investing it.
An emergency fund is money set aside for unplanned expenses. It can help keep you from going into debt when unexpected costs arise. To get started with building up your emergency savings:
- Create a budget and pay attention to areas where you can start saving more money.
- Open up a high-yield savings account, if you don’t already have one. Setting up automatic transfers to this account every payday helps ensure you’ll continue to save money.
- Save unexpected income or any windfulls, such as tax returns or work bonuses.
- Aim to ultimately save at least three- to six-months’ worth of expenses in your emergency fund.
This simple budgeting strategy involves setting aside 50 percent of your monthly income for needs, 30 percent for wants and 20 percent for savings. It’s covered in the book, “All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan” co-authored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts and former professor, and her daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi.
Allocating your money into these three buckets can be a simple and effective way to make changes to your spending and saving habits.
Increasing savings is attainable with some practical strategies, and it often starts with creating a monthly budget and paying close attention to how you’re spending your money. Whether you’re looking to build up your emergency fund or save toward other goals, following a budget and cutting unnecessary expenses can help you increase your bank balance significantly.
— David McMillin wrote a previous version of this story.