If you find saving money a challenge, maybe the problem is that you’re not actually challenging yourself.
In other words, maybe you should do a money-saving challenge. As in, play a sort of game to inspire you to save money.
Money-saving challenges are a trend that have become popular online and are likely to become even more so if the economy continues to sputter. Seen everywhere from Pinterest to personal finance blogs, these challenges encourage spenders to become savers by hoarding money in creative ways. Like the famous challenge where you tell yourself to save $1 a week and by the end of the year you’ll have $52. Of course, that was probably a more impressive money-saving challenge back in, say, 1958.
Still, putting a buck away a week is about as simple a challenge as one can do, and plenty of people likely aren’t even doing that, if you believe the numerous surveys that have found most Americans don’t have $300, $400 or $1,000 saved for an emergency.
If you don’t save money, it may not be for a lack of money. It may be that you simply haven’t trained yourself to get into the habit of saving.
“The primary problem that keeps people from starting to save money is not that they don’t know where to find money to save. Rather, it’s their mindset around money. It is having thoughts like, ‘I’m never going to be able to save enough money or earn enough to make a difference,'” says Nev Harris, a financial coach in Pittsburgh who works with business owners and freelancers across the country.
Harris says that with many people who struggle to save, “Mentally, they don’t see the benefit of finding that money by changing their current spending, and so they don’t start saving for the future because in their mind they feel it won’t amount to anything significant.”
So if you’re looking to save money, you may want to try some of these money-saving challenges. Because, after all, as Harris says, “How do you become wealthy? By saving $1 at a time.”
— The 52-week savings challenge.
— The “no spend” challenge.
— The pantry challenge.
— The “keep all the change” challenge.
— The holiday gift challenge.
— The “pay yourself when you make a money mistake” challenge.
[See: 35 Ways to Save Money.]
52-Week Savings Challenge
This is the classic savings challenge alluded to earlier. It’s been a savings challenge that existed long before people were posting money-saving challenges on social media. Simply decide that you’re going to save $1 a week or $2 or $5. Something manageable is the key, but preferably something meaningful. If you save $5 a week, you’d have $260 at the end of the year, which is nice, but you probably aren’t going to feel all that satisfaction after a year.
But if you manage to save $100 a week, you’d have $5,200, which could pay for a vacation or holiday gifts or serve as an emergency fund and so on.
You could be a lot more creative with these 52-week savings challenges, too. Some people will put $1 a week the first week, $2 a week the second, $3 the third week, and by the 52nd week, you’re putting $52 a week away. If you did that, by the end of a year, you’d have $1,378.
The “No Spend” Challenge
This can be more fun than it sounds. You pick a weekend or a week — whatever seems challenging and yet doable for you — and you spend no money. That should allow an exception for paying for certain things like bills. Not paying your water bill or mortgage so you can win a “no spend” challenge isn’t really winning.
But you could tell yourself for the weekend or a week that you aren’t spending any money, unless, again, common sense dictates that you need to.
The idea, obviously, is to save some money by not spending. And it can be fun. You might be forced to come up with some creative workarounds because you suddenly can’t buy a specific tool that you need — or maybe you’ll dig deeper in your closet instead of buying new clothes. Maybe since you’re going to drive less and not gas up the car, you’ll end up doing more fun things at home. Yes, the no-spend challenge is perfect for these pandemic, sheltering-in-place times.
The Pantry Challenge
This is also a good money-saving challenge for these times — and is a subset of the “no spend challenge.” This is a contest in which you declare you won’t buy any food until you’ve exhausted all the possibilities from your refrigerator and pantry. You bought those artichoke hearts and that coconut oil for a reason, even if you can’t remember the reason, right? As long as it’s not expired, this is your chance to use and consume the food you’ve already bought and save money for a few days or weeks or however long you can stand not going to the supermarket.
The “Keep All the Change” Challenge
A lot of people do this anyway, but you could formalize it. Any time you get change at a store or stumble upon some change in your house, find a jar to put it in. Do it for a year, and see how much you have at the end — and then take it all to a coin counting and collection machine or your bank.
You could also do the spare change challenge in a more modern way and download an app like Acorns. Any time you make a purchase, Acorns will round up the total and take that money and invest the spare change into a diversified investment portfolio.
There are monthly fees for Acorns, starting at $1 a month.
The Holiday Gift Challenge
This is an idea that has been around for decades. Many credit unions offer holiday interest-bearing savings accounts, where you put $5 or $10 or whatever a week, every week, and then when December comes, you have money for the holidays.
It’s pretty simple — and smart. Think about how much you spent on the holidays last December, or better yet, go to your bank account or credit card statements and tally it all up. Assume that you’ll spend that much, or more, this December. Then take however many weeks are left and figure out how much you need to put away every week in order to have whatever holiday gift amount you’d like to have.
Yes, it may not be fun to put away $15 or $20 or $50 or whatever you feel you need to every week. But in December, you’ll have bought yourself one of the best gifts you can — the peace of mind of knowing everybody’s gifts are paid for.
The “Pay Yourself When You Make a Money Mistake” Challenge
This doesn’t seem to be much of a national thing, but it could be, and it makes a lot of sense. You could promise yourself that whenever you do something foolish financially, you’ll put $1 — or $5 — or whatever denomination you like — in a piggy bank or an additional checking account. If you pay a bill late, or if you receive an overdraft fee at the bank, or you do some impulse shopping — whatever rules you come up with — you punish yourself with a fee.
By the end of a year, you’ll win either way. If you have a lot of money, you’ll be thankful — but chastened by all of the financial errors you made throughout the year. If you have almost nothing in the account, you can feel great about yourself and how financially responsible you are — and try or invent a different money-saving challenge.
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