Do you find yourself asking, “why can’t I save money?” Or looking for some simple ways to do it? You’re not alone.
Saving money—by its very nature—is a simple concept. You don’t have to take a 30-minute personal finance webinar that explains how saving money works. But just because it’s a simple concept doesn’t mean it’s easy to start saving. Nope. Because to save more, you just have to do something, change something about your current behavior or mindset. And that’s why it’s hard.
Disclaimer: It may be even a little harder lately. This post was originally published in August 2020 and was refreshed and republished since it has money-saving information in it that feels especially relevant right now. Inflation and higher living expenses have made it especially difficult to meet savings goals. If you feel like you have a hard time finding leftover money these days, you’re not alone. Instead of feeling helpless or at fault, reevaluate your spending habits and your budget, and get creative about which money saving tips you can incorporate.
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Why Can’t I Save Money?
When it comes down to it, there are really only two main levers to pull when it comes to saving money: making more or spending less. And it’s possible to end up in a position where neither one of those options is easily available. If that’s you, you’re doing what you can—keep looking for opportunities but don’t beat yourself up about not being able to do more right this second. Just keep swimming!
However, if you suspect there is something you could do but you’re not sure what, consider these four challenges and solutions when it comes to saving:
PROBLEM #1: If you see money in your checking account, you spend it.
SOLUTION: Pay yourself first.
I’m sure you’ve heard it before: pay yourself first. The good news is that this simple concept can be executed with a few swift clicks of the mouse. Most bank accounts feature automatic savings plans. You can say, “On the 5th of every month, take $100 out of my checking and transfer it to my high-yield savings account.”
I read a story of a doctor who “regularly outspent his $200,000 salary”—but once he got on an automatic deduction plan of 5%, he didn’t even notice the difference. And your specific financial situation doesn’t need to include a six figure salary for this concept to take flight: this works for the guy or gal making $40k also.
So to reiterate: save money by having it auto deducted—and then DON’T TOUCH IT. (Just wanted to make sure that part was clear.)
PROBLEM #2: You get a windfall of money and then spend it.
SOLUTION: Treat all money the same.
Let’s say you get a tax refund of $1000. Or a stimulus check for $1200. You see the money as something “extra” that you normally don’t count on, and immediately think it’s fine to blow that amount of money somewhere. And sure, sometimes it’s healthy and smart to blow a bit of windfall money, but when you crave the security and safety of an emergency fund above all else, consider that cash well spent by letting it sit in your savings instead.
If you’re trying to get out of student loan or credit card debt, you can’t afford to think of any extra money as windfall money. It’s debt money, and part of the key to your financial freedom. Try sticking that money into a savings account for a month and consider how to spend it later. By the end of the month, that money will likely feel more like savings, and less like you want to use it on an online shopping spree. Prioritize your long term financial plan over short term fun (and we know that’s hard—we really do.)
Want to learn more about how to save money using YNAB? Watch the Budget Nerds break it down.
PROBLEM #3: You keep throwing away good money on bad decisions.
SOLUTION: Know when to cut your losses and move on.
What if you invest in some glitzy multi-level marketing gimmick and burn $1,000 buying super guava juice made by the rain people on a remote deserted island (it tastes like cardboard, but man is it good for you!). You’ve sunk a thousand of your hard-earned dollars into this side hustle, not to mention counting the time it has taken from you. But bringing money in? It’s done the opposite of that.
Not wanting to admit this bad decision, you continue pouring your time, and even some extra money into distributing fliers, hosting virtual events, building a website, etc. but it still doesn’t produce. It might be time to cut your losses and walk away.
This can also take many forms: maybe it’s the house that’s bigger and more costly than anticipated: you can downsize. Or a car that’s got you locked into high monthly payments: you can cut your losses and get a cheaper used car. Sure, the emotions will be complicated, but on paper it’s a simple way to save money: walk away from bad deals in the interest of meeting your financial goals more easily.
PROBLEM #4: You don’t feel motivated to save.
SOLUTION: Visualize something concrete your savings will buy.
This is another elegantly simple way to save money. If you find you’re lacking the motivation to really sock away the requisite amount in your retirement account, practice visualizing what that savings will earn for you later in life. Can you imagine a financial future that includes getting a check from your nest egg every month for several thousand dollars? And all you did that month was visit grandkids, play golf, and volunteer at the community garden center.
If that feels too far off, pick something that’s a few years out: a new car you’ll pay for in cash, or funding next Christmas completely in cash. Still feel too far out? Save for something just a month out: new dishes for your kitchen, or something fun. This baby step helps you practice delayed gratification and build your momentum and savings muscle for some of those larger savings buckets. Plus, those things are fun to save for. Setting specific savings goals can help you visualize the eventual payoff of your temporary sacrifices.
Problem #5: You’re just kind of stuck in a money management rut.
Solution: Reset your spending habits with the YNAB More Money Challenge.
Sometimes we just get stuck in a cycle of questionable habits when it comes to spending money. Overspending on Amazon, indulging in too much takeout, binge watching every subscription streaming service available, deciding the newest iPhone is an absolute essential. Buying stuff makes a lot of people feel happy, and that’s tempting in a world that feels unpredictable. It’s easy to “I deserve a little treat” yourself into spending a whole lot of money.
Reset your habits and save money fast by joining YNAB’s free 30-day More Money Challenge. It’s something anyone can do starting now!
Saving money is a challenge. It’s also a habit that can be worked on. Find your weaknesses when it comes to setting aside some extra cash and come up with solutions that work towards bringing more security to your financial future.
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