If you find saving money a challenge, maybe the problem is that you’re not actually challenging yourself.
In other words, maybe you should take on a money-saving challenge — a sort of game to inspire you to save money.
Money-saving challenges 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 economizing in creative ways. Remember the challenge in which you aim to save $1 a week so that 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 each week is about as simple a challenge as one can do — and plenty of people 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.
[See: 35 Ways to Save Money.]
“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.
For many people who struggle to save, Harris says, “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, consider these money-saving challenges:
— 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.
— 365-day nickel-saving challenge.
— The “no eating out for a month” challenge.
— Weather Wednesday money challenge.
— The “save money at a different grocery store” challenge.
— The “trim 1% of your salary” challenge.
— The “kick a bad habit” money challenge.
52-Week Savings Challenge
This is the classic 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, and preferably something meaningful. If you save $5 a week, you’d have $260 at the end of the year, but you probably won’t feel that much satisfaction after a year.
But if you manage to save $100 a week, you’d have $5,200 by the end of the year, which could pay for a vacation or holiday gifts or serve as an emergency fund.
You could be a lot more creative with the 52-week savings challenge, too. Some people will save $1 a week during the first week, $2 a week the second, $3 the third week, and by the 52nd week, they’re putting away $52 a week. If you did that, you’d have $1,378 by the end of the year.
The “No Spend” Challenge
This can be more fun than it sounds. You pick a weekend or a week — whatever seems challenging and doable for you — and you spend no money. You need to allow an exception for paying for certain things like bills.
But you could commit to not spending money over the weekend or for a full week unless, again, common sense dictates that you need to.
The idea 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 tool that you need — or maybe you’ll dig deeper in your closet instead of buying new clothes. Maybe because 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 has been perfect for the pandemic.
The Pantry Challenge
This is also a good money-saving challenge for these times, and it’s a subset of the “no spend challenge.” The pantry challenge is a contest in which you declare that 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 the food is not expired, this is your chance to consume what you’ve already bought and save money for a few days or weeks.
The ‘Keep All the Change’ Challenge
A lot of people do this anyway, but you could formalize it. Any time you receive change at a store or stumble upon loose change in your house, put it in a jar. Do this 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 this 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, take that money and invest the spare change into a diversified investment portfolio. Acorns charges fees, starting at $1 a month.
The Holiday Gift Challenge
This idea has been around for decades. Many credit unions offer holiday interest-bearing savings accounts, to which you contribute $5 or $10 or another amount each week, every week, and then when December arrives, 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 to reach your target amount for holiday gifts.
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 financially foolish, you’ll put $5 — or whatever denomination you like — in a piggy bank or savings account. For example, if you pay a bill late, receive an overdraft fee at the bank or make impulse purchases — 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 your financial errors throughout the year. If you have almost nothing in the account, you can feel great about how financially responsible you are — and then come up with a new money-saving challenge to help you save more.
The 365-Day Nickel-Saving Challenge
This is a clever challenge that seems to have originated with the website SavingAdvice.com, although it might get a little wearisome on, say, day 111. But for those who can stick it out, you will be rewarded handsomely.
You’re saving money with 5-cent increments. Most checking accounts won’t allow you to transfer 5 cents from one account to another, and so it’s likely going to be a savings challenge that involves cash. But on the first day, you would put a nickel in a jar or some sort of container, and you are done.
The next day, you’d put 10 cents into your jar.
On the third day, 15 cents goes into the jar.
See how this works?
By day 365, you’ll be depositing $18.40 into that jar (and presumably throughout the year, you’ve been taking the money from the jar and putting it into a savings account). Anyway, by the end of the year, you’ll have $3,339.75 in your savings account — without ever having to put aside more than a $20 bill.
The ‘No Eating Out for a Month’ Challenge
In 2019, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the average household spent $3,526 on dining out.
Using that logic, if you don’t eat out in any given month, you might save $293.
Granted, you’re going to spend money on food, and so you may not be able to put $293 in a savings account; some of that money may go toward groceries. But given that it’s generally cheaper to prepare food yourself rather than dine out or order takeout — and that many of us have a pantry full of ingredients that we’re not utilizing — you should end up spending less if you cut out restaurants and delivery for a month.
This could be the easiest challenge on this list — or the hardest, if you order a lot of takeout.
Weather Wednesday Money Challenge
When a money challenge takes off on the internet, it’s sometimes hard to know where it began. This one seems to have originated with the personal finance website TrendyMoney.com.
In any case, it’s a great idea. Every Wednesday, you put money in your bank account — and you tie it to whatever the highest temperature is in your state or town. This means in the summer you will probably be saving more than the winter. So if in August the mercury is pushing 110 degrees on a Wednesday, you have to put $110 into your savings account. If it’s the dead of winter and only 17 degrees, you only have to save $17.
If it’s -3 degrees, you could arguably take out three bucks or put nothing in. In any case, with 52 weeks out of the year, by the end of this money-saving challenge, you should end up with several thousand dollars in your account.
Obviously, if you live in a state that’s warm year-round, you’re going to save a lot of money.
The ‘Save Money at a Different Grocery Store’ Challenge
If you spend a lot at the grocery store, as many of us do, maybe you’re shopping at the wrong grocery store.
If you tend to buy a lot of the same products week after week, hang onto the receipt from your last trip and then take your shopping list and go to a discount grocery store and hang onto that receipt, too, and see how you came out.
Obviously, you may find that you save very little — maybe your grocery bill is smaller, but so are the packages of food or laundry detergent.
Or maybe you’ll find that you saved a considerable amount of money for the same grocery items. We all get stuck in ruts. Maybe switching things up and simply challenging yourself to shop somewhere else will lead to a shopping habit that saves you more money.
The ‘Trim 1% of Your Salary’ Challenge
The name of this challenge sounds worse than it is. You’re not working for less. You’re effectively giving yourself a 1% raise.
Instead of saving money, you could trim your budget, which means you might spend less money and have more to save — or to spend on something else.
So do the math and figure out what 1% of your yearly salary is. For instance, if you make $80,000 every year, 1% of that is $800. So you’d start looking at your budget and find ways to bring down your budget by $800.
In other words, if you spend money on a streaming service that costs $10 a month, drop it, and you’ve saved $120 of your $800. Maybe you can call your insurance and report your teenage daughter’s good grades and get your premium lowered, and you save $100, and so on.
You’ll probably want to go for a manageable 1%, so it’s not so painful that you’re miserable. And if you fail, and you only cut half a percent of your budget, you’re still better off.
The ‘Kick a Bad Habit’ Money Challenge
Do you smoke? Drink a lot of soda? Go out for coffee every day? There are degrees of bad habits, of course. Going out for a coffee every day isn’t anywhere in the neighborhood of smoking, but still, you may consume excess calories in your daily coffee drink if it contains sugary syrup and whipped cream.
Whatever the habit is that you wish you could drop, this could be a good time to tell yourself that you’re going to finally end a pattern of behavior — and save money at the same time by not buying coffee or cigarettes. But arguably if you kick your habit at the end of the month, you should do something fun with the cash you’ve saved from this challenge to reward yourself for all of your hard work.
Just as long as the reward isn’t, you know, a blended coffee drink or pack of cigarettes.
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Update 04/28/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.