I do a lot of goal-setting when it comes to money, but the thing I’ve realized is that I often don’t have this one day where I “switch” and suddenly start taking money from my regular budget and putting it into savings to reach a goal. Often, the amount that I save directly correlates with the amount I earn, and I only really start dedicating more money to savings when I earn “extra” cash that I can put there. I do a lot of convincing myself that is is okay to wait to start saving until I’m earning enough that I can maintain my lifestyle and save, which is silly of me, because we all know that the best time to start saving is right friggin’ now.
So maybe my own system isn’t a great system, and I’ve been trying to figure out a slightly-better way to actively save extra out of my already-existing life, income, and budget to save instead of just waiting to come upon it someday via a side job or money-related gift.
I’ve come up with this list of random things you can do to start actively saving money — things that are simple and easy enough to start now (which means no excuses, I actually have to start). Here are five little things you can do right now to start saving.
1. Try one of those wacky Pinterest plans.
I wrote about this (twice!!!) because it is strange, cute, and weirdly effective. Printing out a brightly-colored graphic to hang on your fridge or bulletin board doesn’t exactly seem like it will be the key to financial health, but it actually made me very aware of my savings, since it was such an active process that involved changing the amount I tucked into my savings.
We’re about halfway through the year now, so if you’re a person with a lot of loved ones, now might be a great time to get started with one of the Holiday Savings Plans so you can greet Christmastime with a solid chunk of change set aside specifically for gift-buying and enjoying the season.
If that’s not your thing, set a savings goal to reach and use one of the plans to do so — you may be surprised at how well it works. There’s a good variety of short-term and long-term savings plans to choose from, and some of them require only putting a few dollars away per day. Whatever you find that feels like it will work for you and will allow you to incorporate active saving seamlessly into your everyday life is great — any savings plan is better than none.
2. Go cash-only for two weeks, then cash-free for two weeks.
I see a lot of advice about going on an all-cash diet to make sure you don’t spend more than you have. As someone who doesn’t tend to abuse credit (I’ve never ever carried a balance on my card), I don’t know if it is as applicable for me to go all-cash. However, I do see where swiping a debit card may sometimes have me feeling blissfully unaware of how much I’m spending because I don’t actually have to see the dollars leave my account as I’m spending them. However, I also would perhaps argue that using only cash may make me more likely to spend, just because it feels so easy to hand a small bill to a cashier and feel like it is nothing. There are strong arguments for both sides, so my advice is to try going hard on both for a few weeks each and tracking your spending habits to see which one really locks you down, and which one causes you to spend more. Once you’ve figured that out, you can gear your money-spending situation towards the method that works for you.
3. Try a few DIYs to satisfy your craving for new shit.
It is hard not to want the latest whatever that’s being sold, but it is also hard to keep up with ever-changing clothing, technology, and décor trends. While you can’t exactly DIY your tech stuff (unless you can, in which case you’re clearly a genius and don’t need my financial advice), you can do little things to update your home and wardrobe to prevent you from spending to satisfy your craving for all the “new” stuff in stores each season. Something as simple as getting a little fabric in a trendy pattern and making new covers for throw pillows is a nice, inexpensive way to get your fix without breaking the bank at a trendy décor shop. Not only does selecting a few fun projects throughout the year satisfy the craving for change, it gives you an activity to do that a) doesn’t involve going out and spending money on food/drink, and b) can lead to a new skill.
4. Scan your home for unused items that are worth something.
Chances are, you’re doing some sort of spring-cleaning right about now. ‘Tis the season, and boy do I love this season, especially because it is a good time to dig up buried treasure in your house — and possibly profit from it. More of your crap is sellable than you think. I drop clothes that I never ever wore at consignment shops, and am shocked when people actually buy them. I sell textbooks on Amazon from classes I took four years ago that I can’t believe professors are still actually teaching from, but they are! You might even find some sort of toys from your youth that are now “collectors’ items” that you can sell on Ebay for a ridiculous amount of money. Not too shabby for the weird action figures you had collecting dust in your parents’ basement!
5. Actually save spare change.
This sounds dumb, because it is probably the thing you did when you were a little kid and found a quarter between the couch cushions and got so amped to stick it in your piggy bank. But we actually often just leave change rattling at the bottom of our bags or wallets (or worse – hidden on the floor of the car, or between couch cushions), forgetting entirely that it is actual money.
This is such a basic tip, but such a game-changer if you don’t already do it. Get a big jar/bowl/bucket/whatever grown-up, aesthetically pleasing piggy-bank-like storage system you can find (for reference, mine is a really big mason jar) and empty your wallet every day, tossing all the change into the jar. Every time you scan the ground and see a few rogue nickels, toss those in too. Once the jar is full, you’ll have a nice little collection to exchange at the bank for a possibly-fat stack of cash. (Last time I went, I left with $75 – not bad for money that I literally completely mindlessly saved!)
The point is, no matter what you are doing, you want to seamlessly integrate more savings in passive ways. Yes, you will always have your more “serious” saving — where you’re automatically transferring whatever percentage of your income into your various accounts — but that kind of routine is easily stagnant. It also doesn’t leave a ton of wiggle room for short-term savings, like for travel or important life experiences. Little life changes and mindless savings tasks can be the difference between doing more things you really love throughout the year, and just barely squeaking buy on your goals.