It's no secret that it's a lot easier to spend than it is to save. Saving requires discipline to prioritize the future you in exchange for any instant gratification that you may get when making an impulse purchase. Plus, many of us rely on the mindset that we can always save later down the road.
Regardless of what we prefer in the moment, we know that saving is a smart financial move.
"Recent research shows that for each dollar that you have in a savings account, you're decreasing the likelihood of missing a bill, forgoing medical care if something happened, skipping meals, etc. if you have an emergency," says Mariel Beasley of Duke University's Common Cents Lab, a behavior science lab focused on the financial well-being of low- to moderate-income people.
The challenge is that we often see saving as sacrificing our happiness. But the good news is that there are ways to ease into saving while not forfeiting too much of everything else. Below, Beasley shares some tips to save money when you don't want to make big sacrifices.
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1. Save your windfalls
"If you don't want to — or can't — cut expenses, the next easiest thing is to save windfalls," Beasley says.
Financial windfalls are basically extra money in your pocket: a tax refund, a bonus at work, a cash gift, an inheritance or even "cost savings" when you refinance a loan into a lower payment, she explains.
Because this is unexpected cash that essentially "fell into your lap," you don't have to give up anything to then turn around and put it into a savings account.
While you may feel inclined to have the money go into your standard savings, consider putting these windfalls of cash into a high-yield savings where they can earn a bit more interest. The Marcus by Goldman Sachs High Yield Online Savings offers an above-average APY, no fees whatsoever and easy mobile access. It's the most straightforward savings account to use when all you want to do is grow your money with zero conditions attached.
2. Automate your savings
"Saving is really easy if you make it automatic and timed with when you get paid," Beasley says. When you automate your savings, you eliminate the decision of whether or not to save, and you forget about what you may be sacrificing to set aside those funds.
If you're paid through direct deposit, you can set it up so a percentage of your paycheck is automatically transferred into a linked savings account each time they get paid. Freelancers or contractors with more inconsistent income streams can schedule a recurring deposit from their checking account to their savings at a time in the month when they normally have a surplus of cash flow.
"If you are nervous about getting started, I'd set up an automatic transfer of just a little bit, like 1% from each deposit," Beasley says. "This way, you know that it will always happen when you actually have money coming in. And then after a month or two, you can try increasing it to 2% or 3% and then keep doing that every couple of months until it feels like you're saving what you can but still able to enjoy life."
Finance expert Sallie Krawcheck also highly recommends making a habit of automating your savings. Once you set it and forget it, over time your funds will grow and you will have become accustomed to living off of a budget that accounts for saving for your future — and you'll eliminate the urge to think about what you're giving up.
3. Make saving fun
The Digit app works by connecting to your checking account and automatically saving small, random amounts of extra cash from your transactions into a savings account until you decide how you want to use it.
The Qapital app allows users to create rules that trigger a transfer of money to their savings. For example, you can set a challenge that each time you dine out, a certain amount of money is saved in your emergency fund or travel fund, whichever goal buckets you choose. Users can also set up investing goals and have money go into low-cost index funds instead of a savings account.
Another way to look forward to saving is to set celebratory goals for yourself. "Move more into savings than you withdraw from savings each month for three months, and then celebrate by telling a friend or family member so they can congratulate you," Beasley says.
4. Cut off regrettable expenses
You know you should save but don't know what expenses to cut first. These expenses may not seem obvious but, first and foremost, Beasley suggests avoiding ATM fees and overdraft fees.
"Several years ago, we ran a study where we looked at what types of purchases people were most likely to regret," she says. "The number one thing was bank fees." To avoid these costs, consider opening a no-fee checking account, always use an in-network ATM and set up low-balance alerts so you don't overdraft on your account.
"The second most common type of purchase that people regret is eating out," Beasley adds. She suggests creating rules that limit how much you spend on dining out.
For example, if you normally eat out four days per week, cut it down to just three days per week. If you usually find yourself having two drinks and dessert with dinner, make a rule for yourself that you only have water with meals out or no dessert in exchange for one drink.
You don't have to give up a lot of what makes you happy to start saving. By saving your windfalls, automating your savings, making saving fun and cutting off expenses you might regret later, you're already well on your way to setting aside a decent amount of cash. Plus, knowing you have savings to fall back on lets you feel like you indeed won't have to make financial sacrifices in the future.
"Having a little financial cushion, even if it's fairly small, can give you peace of mind and a little bit of slack, which will help you better focus on the parts of your life that make you happy and healthy," Beasley says.