How to save money: 21 savings tips you can use to reach your financial goals

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Saving money doesn’t have to be so hard. It just takes practice.

Once you get into the habit of consistently putting money away, it’s possible to save enough cash for emergencies, retirement and other goals you’re hoping to reach. You can do it. All you need is a positive attitude and a winning strategy that’ll help you take your savings to the next level.

Ready to get started? Here are 21 savings tips you can use to boost your savings and transform your financial life.

Top ways to save money in 2019

Check out these expert tips on how to save money:

1. Start saving now

Though the economy is generally doing well, most Americans haven’t gotten a raise in a while. No wonder many of us are having a hard time saving money.

But saving something is better than failing to save anything. “The sooner you develop the habit of saving, the better off you’ll be,” says Mary McDougall, a wealth management adviser with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and a certified financial planner.

Start small and save often. If you can’t set aside $1,000 this month, try saving $20 per week.

“If you wait until the end of the month and try to save what is left over, nothing will be left over. And even when there is, there is no consistency to it,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate chief financial analyst. “So flip that around and establish the habit of saving first.”

2. Clearly define your goals

Some people aren’t motivated to save money. Others want to start saving, but don’t know where to begin. That’s why setting specific, realistic goals is important. Once you know why you’re setting aside part of your paycheck, deciding to save rather than spend your extra money should be easier.

Make sure you have enough money set aside to meet your immediate and future needs. Here are some saving goals everyone should have.

Short-term savings tips

  • Save for emergencies: Having at least three to six months worth of emergency savings is critical. Prepare for the unexpected by socking money away in a high-yield savings account.
  • Save up for a major purchase: Planning to replace your refrigerator or get a new car? Save as much as you can and use the right rewards credit card when you’re ready to make the big purchase.
  • Save for a vacation: Everyone deserves a break. Make sure you have enough money to enjoy your time away by cutting back on unnecessary expenses and putting the money for your trip in a separate account. If you can’t afford to go too far, a staycation is always an option.

Long-term savings tips

  • Save for a house: Ready to live the American dream? Start socking money away for your down payment, your monthly mortgage payments, property taxes and insurance premiums. If you’re still renting, consider finding a roommate in order to save money. Taking on a second job is another way to earn extra cash.
  • Save for your child’s education: It’s never too early to start thinking about your son or daughter’s college career. Parents should consider saving money in a tax-advantaged account like a 529 plan.
  • Save money for the future: Will you have enough money to survive your 60s, 70s and beyond? Create a budget for your future self and devise a plan for saving enough money to cover bills, medical expenses and travel costs.

3. Set daily, monthly and yearly goals

Having a list of goals you can generally work towards is a good start. But it’s best to turn saving money into something you do regularly.

Don’t just plan to save money because you want to travel to a different continent or afford a nice home. Find ways to spend less and save more every day, month and year. Here are some ideas in case you’re drawing a blank.

Daily savings tips

  • Save while you shop: If you’re constantly overspending when you’re shopping for groceries and clothing, the money you’re wasting will start to add up. Comparison shop to make sure you’re getting the best deal on everything you buy. Consider using apps like ShopSavvy.
  • Save on gas: Stop paying the price when you pay at the pump. An app like GasBuddy can come in handy when you’re trying to save money while you’re filling up your car.
  • Save on other daily expenses: Tips and tricks — like canceling subscriptions you’re not using and bringing your lunch to work — can go a long way toward helping you save more money every day.

Monthly savings tips

  • Save on electricity: If your utility bills are too high, it’s time to make a change. Find a way to reduce the size of your monthly electric bill. Switch to a provider that charges a lower rate and make changes that’ll save you money on heating and cooling.
  • Lower your debt payments: Spending too much money on credit card or student loan interest? Improving your credit score will help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Consider low-rate balance transfer offers and find out whether you could save on student loans by refinancing or applying for an income-based repayment plan.
  • Save on insurance: Shop around to see if you can get cheaper insurance from another provider. And do the math to find out whether you can afford to pay a higher deductible (and therefore reduce your monthly premiums).

Yearly savings tips

  • Save on taxes: Find out if you’re paying the IRS more money than you should. Make an appointment with a professional.
  • Max out your retirement accounts: If you can, plan every year to save as much for retirement as possible within the annual limits.
  • Boost your income: Anyone at any income level can save money. But there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make more money with the intention of saving more. During your annual performance review, see if you can secure a raise. Or look for passive streams of income.

4. Automate your savings

One of the easiest ways to meet your short- and long-term goals is to make saving money something that happens automatically.

Set up direct deposit so that a portion of every paycheck automatically goes into a savings account for your emergency savings, McBride says. If you haven’t signed up for your 401(k) or another employer-sponsored retirement plan, change that so that you’re making contributions and saving for retirement every time you get paid.

Once you are informed on the right savings strategy for your goals, take action. Bankrate provides an extensive list of the best savings accounts and rates, along with the pros and cons of each in order for you to make a safe and sound financial decision.

Don’t have a retirement plan at work? Open a traditional or Roth IRA. Look for a firm that lets you make automatic contributions, like TD Ameritrade or Fidelity. Consider using a cash-back credit card that lets you save money every time you spend.

5. Put your savings in the right place

Make sure you’re putting your savings in the right account. If your savings account pays less than 1 percent, you’re missing out on the opportunity to earn more interest and reach your savings goals faster.

The best savings accounts pay more than 2 percent APY. Many of the top savings accounts require a low minimum deposit and don’t charge any monthly maintenance fees.

Consider opening a CD if you’re putting money away for a short-term goal and you don’t mind tying up your funds for a year. And take advantage of the power of compound interest. Look for an account that indicates that interest compounds daily rather than monthly. That way, you’re earning the highest amount of interest.

You can compare rates on savings accounts and CDs on Bankrate to find the right account for you.

6. Budget and track your spending

It’s critical to know where your money is going after each payday, particularly if you’re trying to develop better financial habits.

“I don’t know anybody who really likes to track their expenses, but it is such an important undertaking to help you understand what you could potentially save or what changes you need to make in your spending,” says George Barany, national director of America Saves, a campaign under the Consumer Federation of America.

Keeping track of what’s going in and out of your bank account is easier than ever, thanks to the countless number of financial apps that have been created. Develop a spending plan and come up with a method that will help you keep tabs on how you’re using your hard-earned money. A simple change, like making your own coffee instead of buying it, could lead to other cost-cutting measures, like bringing your lunch to work or taking public transportation instead of driving.

“One step potentially could influence other actions,” Barany says.

Putting other tips and tricks into practice can also work wonders if you’re trying to save money. Consider applying the 30-day rule. Instead of buying something on the spot — like a flat-screen TV or a new wallet — go home and write down what the item is, how much it costs and where you would buy it. Keep the piece of paper with those details somewhere visible and after 30 days, decide whether you still want to buy that item.

7. Pay down and manage your debt

Debt can hold us back and prevent us from achieving other financial goals. But if we can pay down our debt more quickly, we’ll have more money that we can set aside for the future.

Making progress toward paying down debt — and making saving money a priority — can also improve the way you feel about your financial status and motivate you to keep working toward financial security and financial freedom.

“There is an empowering feeling when you begin to see yourself as a saver versus a spender,” says Jill Kismet, founder of a financial planning company called Plan for Joy. “You take on a new identity — you’re excited to see how you can make the money in your life work for your hopes and dreams. So, when you take back control through debt pay down, nothing will stop you from wanting to dynamically saving for your future self.”

8. Save your tax refunds

Besides the return of good weather, tax refunds are something many of us look forward to every spring. Your refund check may leave you feeling a little richer, but you’ll want to be careful and ensure you’re stretching those dollars and making the most of them.

Instead of spending your whole check right away, make sure you save a portion of it for the future. Putting it in a separate, high-yield account will help you avoid spending or wasting it accidentally.

9. Consider a savings account with a bonus

Some banks will pay you just for opening a savings account. You’ll have to follow the rules and meet certain requirements — like having a specific number of debit card transactions or making a direct deposit. But with some of the best bank account bonuses, it’s possible to walk away with hundreds of dollars in free cash.

But don’t be fooled. Just because a bank is offering to give you $300 doesn’t mean you’re getting a good deal. Often, the banks offering bonuses pay savers a low rate. If you’re planning to open a savings account, proceed with caution.

“You’re kind of getting that bonus, but you’re sacrificing the long-term return,” says Deacon Hayes, personal finance expert and founder of Well Kept Wallet. “So you just want to weigh those options.”

10. Take full advantage of your employer match

An employer match is one of the best perks a company can offer. But it won’t do you any good if you’re not doing your part.

Here’s how it works: Your employer will agree to contribute to your retirement account, for free, up to a certain threshold, depending on the amount you contribute. The rules can vary depending on your company policy.

Some companies, for example, implement a partial matching program. Your employer may agree to contribute half of your contributions, up to 5 percent of your salary. Or a dollar-for-dollar matching plan may be in place. Either way, it pays (literally) to contribute to your employer-sponsored retirement account so you can qualify for the company match and grow your retirement savings.

11. Turn saving money into a lifestyle

The key to saving money is having the right mindset. Unfortunately, the messages we receive often drive us to spend more and live beyond our means. “We’ve been brainwashed to think like spenders and not really value that old-fashioned habit of saving and thrift,” says Barany.

Thinking like a saver is all about making smart purchases and being more conscious of how you’re using your money, Barany says.

People who think like savers, he says, take the following steps:

  • Make lists.
  • Avoid impulse buying.
  • Avoid charging too many items to credit cards.
  • Avoid payday lending traps.

12. Consider joining a rewards program

Participating in a rewards program could be another strategy you implement to increase the amount of money you’re saving. For example, if you have a cash-back credit card that allows you to earn rewards every time you swipe or dip your card, you could rack up quite a bit of credits over time that can save you money and reduce the amount you owe.

Of course, you’ll have to be careful. Programs are typically structured so that you earn money by spending rather than saving.

“Any reward that causes one to spend more than would be considered normal consumption is antithetical,” says Scott Cole, founder and president of ColeFP Wealth Management. “Rewards programs on credit cards could lead to debt accumulation.”

13. Don’t be afraid to negotiate

As you’re trying to get better about saving money, there’s one mantra that can potentially work in your favor: Ask and you shall receive.

Charged a bank fee you’d rather not pay? Ask the bank if it can waive it for you. While this won’t work in every scenario, it may be something you can try about once a year.

If you have a good financial track record and are a loyal customer, see if you can talk other financial providers, like your credit card company, into lowering your interest rate. Being polite and being prepared can pay off immensely when you’re looking for a fast way to save more money.

14. Use excess cash wisely

Just got a raise or a bonus? Don’t spend it all in one place. While it’s nice to have extra money in the bank, you don’t want to go overboard and overspend.

If you have more money at your disposal, put it to good use. “Make a list of what your priorities are and attack the list and do the highest priority things first,” says McDougall from Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

Use the extra money in the bank to make additional loan payments. That way, you can potentially bump up your credit score and qualify for better interest rates (which will save you more money in the long run).

Bottom line: Use a cash windfall responsibly. And if you wish you had more money to save, start freelancing or find a side job.

15. Unsubscribe from marketing emails

If you’re trying to save money, another easy step you can take is going through your inbox and unsubscribing from emails that may tempt you to overspend. Until you gain more self-control, reminders about the next 50 percent off sale or a new buy one, get one free deal won’t be helpful.

There’s nothing wrong with using coupons and taking advantage of special discounts. But constant reminders about promotional events may not leave you with much money in your account. Do yourself a favor and do the kind of spring cleaning that will help you rein in your spending and concentrate on saving.

16. Download money saving apps

Advanced technology has made saving money a lot easier than it was in the past. At your fingertips are dozens of apps you could use to boost your savings.

If you’re looking for ways to automate your savings, try using apps like Digit that save money for you so you don’t have to think about it. Other options include savings and budgeting apps like Clarity Money.

17. Adjust your tax withholdings

Getting a big tax refund every year isn’t necessarily a good thing. Depending on your situation, you could be paying the IRS more than you should.

It’s customary to fill out a new W-4 form whenever you change jobs or something significant happens in your life (e.g., you get married or divorced). But you should take another look at your W-4 to see if you’re claiming the right number of allowances.

If you’re not claiming enough allowances, you’re essentially letting Uncle Sam borrow money from you without paying interest. Make changes to your tax form so that you have extra money to save throughout the year.

18. Sell unused items

If you’re strapped for cash and you need a way to quickly boost your savings, take a look around your own home. There’s a good chance that there’s something hanging in a closet or sitting in a drawer that you can potentially sell.

“Find productivity out of any asset,” Cole says. “If someone has something that is not being used, it is nonproductive. Monetizing that asset and applying it to something that can grow is good financial sense.”

19. Follow the 24-hour rule

We can all probably admit that we’ve made impulsive purchases in the past. Even when we show up to the store with a shopping list in hand, it may be tempting to splurge on a new designer bag or the latest gadget.

Abiding by the 24-hour rule can prevent you from wasting money and feeling buyer’s regret days later. Particularly when you’re thinking about making a big purchase — like investing in a new laptop or a flat-screen TV — it’s best to leave the store and wait a day before buying the item. For the next 24 hours, think carefully and consider whether the purchase you’re considering makes sense and whether it fits into your budget.

20. Save for retirement

Don’t wait until you’re preparing to leave the workforce to start saving for the future. Depending on the kind of lifestyle you plan to live, you may need a significant amount of money in retirement. That means you’ll need to start saving as soon as possible.

Getting into the habit of saving for the long-term is important. And putting your own financial needs first instead of paying most of your kid’s college costs, for example, is something worth considering.

“Your retirement is most important to you,” McDougall says. “Whether or not you pay for your children’s education is secondary. And here’s why: You can borrow or the child can borrow to go to college. You cannot borrow to retire.”

If you need help getting started, check out our guides for saving for retirement at every stage of your life:

21. Just say no

“No” is a powerful word.

If you’re tempted to spend more money than you should, walk away. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life or going out with friends and family. But turning down invitations every once in a while and limiting the number of days you go to brunch could eventually pay off.

Sign up for alerts so you can keep track of your bank account and credit card balances at all times. That way you’ll know whether it’s necessary to cut back on spending and focus on saving.

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