Latest posts by R.J. Weiss, CFP® (see all)
Ever put your alarm clock across the room, so you have to get out of bed to turn it off? Chances are it worked.
As hard as we try, we often don’t have our best long-term interests in mind when it comes to decision making. So it helps to use little tricks, like where to place your alarm clock, to help make things easier.
One of the more difficult things in life is saving money. It always seems like there’s a more immediate need today.
Fortunately, there are many tricks to save money. Ways that make saving money less like depriving oneself and more enjoyable.
Here’s 21 tricks to get yourself to save more.
21 Tricks To Save Money Without Really Trying
# 1 ) Buy Your Freedom
If you like to buy stuff, why not buy your freedom?
That’s exactly what you’re doing when you’re saving money.
Once you buy your freedom, you can stop making decisions optimizing for money. Instead, you can optimize for happiness.
So, reframe saving for retirement for buying your freedom. It has a much better ring to it.
# 2) Learn Investing
Understanding the power of compound interest is a powerful motivator to save. Saving $5,000 a year in the stock market for 40 years, will make you a millionaire.
That’s just 10% of a $50,000 income.
The other barrier to investing is the supposed risk. But long-term investing is actually very safe.
Over a 15-year period, the WORST the S&P Index has returned has been 4.31% (after 1950).
Over a 25-year period, the WORST the S&P Index has returned is 7.94%.
So, study up on what successful investing actually is.
# 3) Make Your Purpose About Other People
When it comes to motivation, a wide body of research says that making your purpose about other people is more effective than making it about yourself.
Use this to your advantage.
Think of writing a large check to charity and all the people that would benefit.
Imagine taking your family on a once-in-a-lifetime trip..
Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar taped pictures of his kids on his rearview mirror to remind him of his purpose.
# 4) Never Touch It
Set up automatic transfers from your paycheck to your 401(k). The goal is to never see the money.
If the money gets to your checking account, you’ll think of all the different ways you can use it. Don’t give yourself an opportunity to have those thoughts.
# 5) Let Trim Do The Hard Work
Business owners many times hand off work they dislike to an assistant.
You can use this same concept with your personal finances.
The financial app Trim is like having an assistant that saves you money.
Trim will cancel your subscriptions, negotiate your Internet bill, get you money back for past purchases, and more.
Most of this at no cost to you.
You can signup for free.
# 6) Make Decisions in the Morning
Researchers who study decision making describe willpower as a muscle that gets fatigued with heavy use. Meaning by the end of each day our willpower reserves are wiped out.
Whether you’re deciding how much of your income to set aside in your 401(k), setting your financial goals, or simply browsing your favorite online store–do it in the morning.
You’ll make better decisions.
# 7) Save While You Spend
Even with all these “tricks to save money”, there will come a time when you do need to buy something.
And when that times comes, it’s important to get the most out of it.
One of my favorite tricks is to use eBates to get cash back on any online purchases. With eBates, I get cash back (sometimes upwards of 6 to 7%) for my purchases on Amazon (and 1,000+ other partner websites).
You can signup for free.
# 8) Immediately Save All Raises/Bonuses/Gifts/Side-Hustle Cash
When you increase your income–there’s a tendency to spend that income differently.
What you’re trying to avoid here is suffering from lifestyle inflation–e.g. when small luxuries start to become a necessity.
So, when you find yourself with a little bit of extra cash–save it immediately. Don’t think twice.
Tip: Put it in a retirement account like an IRA, as the penalties for taking it out will make it even harder to withdraw.
# 9) Save Money For Doing Stuff You’re Already Doing
Want to save money by changing one little thing?
Swagbucks allows you to earn gift cards for doing everyday things online like using a search engine.
So, just do what you were doing before, but this time you can earn giftcards.
# 10) Increase Your Savings Rate Quarterly
Most of us can’t jump from saving 0% to 20+% of their income overnight.
But all of us can save 1% this quarter.
Then, 1% the quarter after that.
Then, 1% the quarter after that.
If you were to increase your savings rate by 1% a quarter–in 5 years, you’ll be saving 20% of your income.
Increase your savings rate by 3% a quarter and in only 1.5 years you’ll be saving over 20%.
Tip: One thing that helped me increase my 401(k) contributions was to set a quarterly calendar alert to raise the amount.
# 11) Do A Challenge
Even if you maintain healthy habits, there are still times when it makes sense to focus on your health. This is where you might complete a challenge like Whole 30 or P90X to take your health and fitness level up a notch.
The same is true for your finances.
While most of the time you want good financial habits helping you reach your goals, sometimes it makes sense to put a lot of focus on money
A few ideas:
- Commit to only using one tank of gas for a month
- Try to find $1,000 of annual savings from your budget over the next week (Here’s over 100 ways to do that).
- List one thing a day on Craigslist for an entire month
# 12) Track Your Net Worth
What get’s measured, gets managed. And one of the most important indicators of your financial health is your net worth.
When you track it over time, you can’t help trying to increase that number. It also makes it easier to correct course if something isn’t going right.
Tip: Use Personal Capital’s Free Net Worth Tracker to track your net worth overtime.
# 13) Go Cash Only
It’s well researched that credit cards increase your spending. One study by Dun & Bradstreet found that people spend 12 to 18% more when using credit cards.
Cash is a real, tangible thing. When you’re handing over $150 to buy clothes, compared to using Amazon’s-1-Click-Buy, it’s a different feeling.
If you’re having trouble getting your spending under control–go cash only.
# 14) 30-Day Rule
If there’s something you want today, give yourself permission to buy that item in 30 days if you still want it.
Good marketing has a way of making everything feel urgent. Of making us feel like we have to have something right now.
By putting off the decision for 30-days of whether to buy something–you’ll eliminate urgency from the decision.
# 15) Study Happiness
If there’s a better trick to save money then studying happiness, I haven’t found it.
A lot of what makes us happy is free (think great relationships, fulfilling work, and good sleep).
When these things become a priority in your life, you’ll spend less. This makes saving money a natural habit, not an uphill battle.
Two books on happiness I’ve enjoyed lately are from ex Google Engineer Chade-Meng Tan:
Two of my favorite all time classics are:
# 16) Don’t Store Your Credit Cards Online
The idea here is to make it harder for you to make a purchase.
Amazon invests a lot of money into making their checkout process as easy as possible for a reason–the easier it is, the more you’ll spend.
To avoid this try deleting the credit card you have on file. Adding a little bit of friction to the checkout process will give you more time to make a better decision.
# 17) Transfer Your Monthly Budget To Your Checking Account
Say, your monthly budget is $4,000. Try transferring that amount to your checking account at the start of the month.
Then, pay everything out of that account.
The catch is--you can’t transfer more. Once it’s done it’s done. So, use that amount wisely.
# 17) Track & Categorize Spending
You need to know where your money is going.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.”
You need to uncover those small leaks.
# 18) Set Maximum Happiness Expenses
If you could buy anything in the world for $10 what would it be?
For me, I get a lot of value from books. So, I can ask myself, “Would I rather have this thing or a book?”
Most of the time, it’s a book. Which makes it easier to avoid buying that thing.
It’s also helpful to have a higher dollar “maximum happiness expense.”
For example, we have family in Florida and San Francisco.
So, when I’m comparing big ticket purchases, say a car, house, remodel, I can look at in terms of “how many trips to Florida/San Francisco a year will this cost me?”
# 19) Calculate The 10 Year Cost
Calculate what every expense costs you in 10 years.
If you save $100 a month and instead invest that $100 monthly at 8%, in 10 years you’ll have $18,444.
So, we can make a rule:
For monthly expenses, multiply each expense by 184
Cable? At $100 a month, that costs you over $18,400 in ten years!
Lower your grocery bill by $200 a month? You’ll have saved $36,800.
# 20) Make It Harder To Withdraw
If you want to withdraw savings from a 401(k) or IRA pre-retirement, you’ll pay a 10% penalty. This makes you think twice about withdrawing that money.
You can use this same concept in any taxable funds you may have.
For example, you may want to carry your emergency fund at another bank. A bank which you don’t have online transfers setup (so, you have to physically go into the bank).
# 21) Countdown the Days to Financial Freedom
There’s a general rule of thumb that says, one can withdraw 4% of their savings each year and not have to worry about running out of money.
For example if you saved $1,000,000, you can withdraw $40,000 a year and not have to worry about running out of money.
There’s a lot of useful ways to look at this equation:
- You can track how close you are to financial independence
- You can see how much slashing your budget by a certain amount of dollars can get you to financial freedom quicker
- You can use it to calculate how many more years you’ll have to work to afford a certain thing
For example, if you were able to live off $40,000 a year, you’d only need to save $1,000,000.
Let’s say your expenses increased to $50,000. Then, you’d need to save $1,250,000 a year.
We can also work this equation from the other side.
Say your driving habits (taste for luxury cars and your life isn’t optimized to minimize driving) cause you to spend $500 a month.
That’s $6,000 a year of driving expenses. If you multiply that by 25, you’ll need to save an extra $150,000 to continue this habit.
Want more insight into when you can reach financial independence or retirement? Use Personal Capital’s Free Retirement Planner to track this complex mathematical equation for you.