If you’re struggling to save money, you’re not alone. According to Bankrate data, less than half of Americans have enough in savings to cover an unplanned $1,000 expense. Of those who reported feeling uncomfortable with the amount they saved for emergencies, 75 percent said they either have no savings or not enough to cover at least three months’ of living expenses.
Saving money isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible, either. From big steps like refinancing your mortgage to small moves like using coupons, there are ways to keep more money in your bank account.
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. Put your smartphone to work
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 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 like Mint Mobile, Ting and Visible may offer comparable plans with lower monthly price tags than the biggest mobile companies. 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 a supersized — and expensive — 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. Refinance your mortgage
Housing is likely the largest line item in your budget, so it can pay to compare options for refinancing your mortgage. While mortgage rates have been climbing in 2022 following a series of rate hikes by the Federal Reserve, you still may be able to lower your rate, depending on what you’re currently paying.
Keep in mind, though, that refinancing comes with closing costs, which can add up to thousands of dollars.
6. Shrink your utility bills – or avoid letting them grow
In addition to saving money on housing, you can take steps to save on the costs of actually living there. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average household can save around $225 each year by switching to LED lighting.
Significantly higher heating costs may be a factor in the winter of 2022/2023. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that natural gas inventories are down, which could lead to heftier heating bills during the upcoming cold season. You can help reduce costs by lowering the thermostat a few degrees or sealing leaks around windows.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Be a strategic grocery shopper
You’re not going to be able to stop buying groceries, but you can make a more concerted effort to avoid throwing away unused food. A 2020 study conducted by researchers at Penn State University estimates that food waste could be costing the average household more than $1,800 each year.
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.
10. 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.
11. 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 15 times the national average rate — and up to 200 times more than what some big brick-and-mortar banks are paying.
12. 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.
13. 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 30,000 online retailers.
14. 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.
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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.
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.