We’d all like to have a slightly larger bank account, and there’s no time like the present. It always seems as if our lives would be just a little bit easier if we had an extra financial cushion to put toward an emergency fund, pay off debt, or buy that new pair of shoes you’ve had your eye on. Of course, none of those things are possible — or at least financially responsible — without the option to save more money.
Aside from getting a promotion or asking for a raise, there are plenty of quick ways to make some extra cash. But if you’re not careful, you’ll spend that money just as quickly as you did the rest of your paycheck. The trick is to set up healthy savings habits, or continue building on the ones you already have.
According to previous reports, the average American has less than $5,000 in a savings account — and some people don’t have savings at all. Retirement accounts are also notoriously slim. In other words, you’re not alone if you have hopes of boosting your savings. The difference is you actually need to do something about it, versus everyone else who will drop their savings goals at the same time they stop getting on the treadmill in January.
You don’t need to be a cheapskate or win the lottery to put aside some extra money this year: Chances are, neither of those options is realistic, anyway. All you need to do is make some minor tweaks to your existing habits — or one or two larger changes to your lifestyle. Whether you treat them as resolutions or simply goals for the upcoming months, here are 15 simple ways you can save more money from week to week.
1. Set up direct deposit
If you somehow still have the option to get a physical paycheck, find a way to deposit it directly in your bank account. Set up direct deposit with HR, or request to use tools like a PayPal account if you have a less traditional job. The less time that money spends in your hot little hands, the better. You’re less likely to spend it immediately if you don’t even see it hit your account on payday — meaning you’re already on the right path to saving more.
2. Make a budget you’ll actually use
You might have tried and failed to use a budget in the past. If you’re serious about saving more of your money, it’s time to dust off your Excel skills. Make a plan based on your previous month’s expenses that outlines how much you can spend in major categories, and stick to those limits. If Microsoft Word is too old-school for you, download an app like Mint that can help you track your spending.
3. Pay off credit cards and other debts
Misery loves company, especially when it comes to credit card debt and other loans. But just because many Americans have a debt balance doesn’t mean you need to keep yours, too. Come up with a plan to make a dent in your debts, and dedicate resources to do so. If you can swing it, CreditCards.com recommends putting 15% of your monthly income toward paying off debt. This could take some of your money up front, but in the long run will help you save on hefty interest payments and less-than-ideal loan terms in the future.
4. Make credit cards work for you
If you have the previously mentioned debt, you might view your plastic more like a ball and chain instead of a financial tool. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Cash back rewards and sign-up bonuses can often be used as balance credits — meaning more money actually stays in your checking account, instead of going toward your balances. Know which cards get you the most cash back for certain purchases, and dedicate them for those uses. As long as you pay off your balances each month, the rewards can help you keep more of your paycheck in your bank account.
5. Use the sharing economy for deals
Companies like Airbnb and Uber are now well-established, and it’s time to seek them out if you haven’t already. Room rates are often more affordable using the popular room rental site, and Uber or Lyft often have cheaper fares than traditional taxis. Options like these are becoming more affordable in almost every sector, so know what’s available in your area before going the traditional route. And of course, you can always pad your wallet by exploring some freelance options in the gig economy yourself.
6. Start or increase contributions to your 401(k)
Truth time: If you’re not taking advantage of your employer’s 401(k) matching, you’re doing something wrong. Know how much your employer matches, and resolve to put aside at least that percentage of your paycheck to get that free money. Whether you’re using it, your HR department is likely adding that in as a somewhat hidden cost of hiring you. It’s time to take advantage of it. Once you do start the account, it’s a good idea to increase your contributions every time you get a raise or when a new year comes around. Use that compound interest to your advantage — the future retired you will thank you.
7. Take advantage of seasonal sales trends
Aside from a few items that rarely go on sale, there are cyclical seasons for almost anything you could want or need to purchase. Whether you’re looking to buy a car, a mattress, or certain clothing items, know what stores are likely to have deals. Take advantage of holiday sales, end-of-the-month quotas, and seasonal clearances. Some months are better than others for certain items, so do a quick Google search for the best times to buy — especially if you need a big-ticket item. Then, save up in the meantime until the deals roll in.
8. Use all of your HSA
If you have a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account from your employer, use all of it to cover your medical expenses before reaching for your own wallet. In some cases, that money might not roll over from year to year, and you’ll lose that free money. If you think that might happen, stock up on other health supplies you can use in lieu of using it for co-pays and more traditional uses.
9. Use coupons and apps effectively
You can go the old-fashioned route and snip coupons from your weekly circular, but there are plenty of ways to save right on your smartphone. Several coupon apps can offer you deals at the checkout, saving you extra money with the touch of a finger. Some stores, like Target, even offer their own apps that will offer you discounts and deals based on popular items or purchases you’ve made in the past.
10. Negotiate prices
Almost any price can be negotiated, anywhere and anytime. Everything from the price of a new car to your gym membership and medical bills are up for discussion — all you need is to know a little bit about what you can negotiate in the first place. In most cases, comparing prices and doing some research ahead of time are all you need to strike a better deal than the sticker price.
11. Switch your wireless/internet/cable providers
If negotiating with your current company doesn’t get you the savings you want, it might be worth it to shop around for a better deal from a competitor. New customer agreements are often swayed heavily in your favor — just know how your bills will be affected after the introductory package expires. As long as you’re happy with the fine print, you could pocket extra savings. As an alternative, consider non-traditional options like streaming TV that can significantly cut your cable bill and other costs.
12. Pack your lunch
Americans are now spending more on restaurant bills than their groceries, thanks to a shift in social culture in the country. Even your occasional weekly lunches out can rack up major costs. At last count, the average American spent $50 a week on their lunchtime meal. At least $20 of that is spent on meals bought at restaurants and for takeout instead of brown bagging it. That can rack up to thousands of dollars of a year, which you can cut by large margins if you make economical choices and bring leftovers.
13. Know your employment benefits and perks
Many of these money-saving techniques come from taking advantage of what is already offered to you. If it’s been a while since you looked at your employment contract, it might be time to dig it out. Aside from retirement matching and HSAs, you might be eligible for other deals from your workplace. Some employers have partnerships with health clubs or other amenities that can score you a hefty discount, while others might let you cash in your bonus vacation days for cash. That free coffee in the break room never hurts, either.
14. Rethink your prescriptions
If you’re still shelling out the big bucks for name-brand medicines, check with your doctor to see if you can switch to generic brands instead. Pharmacies often need permission to dispense the cheaper alternatives, but in most cases they work the same ways. (Obviously, your doctor will know when that’s not a good option, and tell you why.) In addition, those prescription prices can vary based on where you have them filled. Compare prices at your local drugstore, grocery store, and other locations, and consider filling them online with reputable companies. For extra savings at the pharmacy, consider purchasing store-brand over-the-counter medications instead of the national brands.
15. Set goals
You can likely make progress with saving your money if you take random steps along the way. But you’re far more likely to see tangible growth — both in your habits and your bank account — when you set goals you can work toward. Maybe your goal is to build up an emergency savings account this year. Or perhaps you’d like to have enough money to pay all of your bills on time each month. Maybe you’d like to grow your retirement accounts or save for an upcoming trip without relying on credit. Whatever your goals are, write them down and follow best practices for keeping them. That way, you’ll be able to track your progress along the way.