How to Start Saving if You’ve Never Done it Before
Dec 2, 2021 14 min read
- Don’t get discouraged if you’ve never saved before — there are many easy strategies for first-time savers to get started.
- By committing to putting yourself first and giving your money a purpose, you can start saving money based on your unique savings goals and financial situation.
- Here’s your ultimate guide to how to begin saving money and create a bright financial future.
When you have a lot of competing money needs, it’s understandable to feel like you’re unable to save for a special goal, a rainy day or the future. But it’s possible to build savings from any starting point — and it’s easier than you think. Here’s a collection of simple, time-tested strategies and new tricks to discover how to start saving money and help spark a savings habit that really works for you.
Make a Commitment
Pay yourself first
Every month, you have expenses that demand a piece of each paycheck. You pay the rent. You make the car payment and pay your car insurance. You pay your cell phone and utility bills. But do you pay yourself, too? The practice of “paying yourself first” makes you a priority by making your first payment of each month a deposit into your savings account. Rather than waiting to see what might be left over at the end of the month, you’re committing to putting your future self first.
Set short-term savings targets
A good way to start saving money is to set a goal because it helps focus your efforts on something specific and meaningful to you. It can be small and near-term. For instance, committing to saving $10 a week for three months is much more attainable than setting a goal to save $500 a month for a year. And if you miss the target you set, don’t worry. Try shortening the timeline or reducing the goal a bit. Starting small can give you a confidence boost to achieve larger goals ahead.
Put savings on autopilot
Getting into a savings habit is easier if you don’t have to think about it. That’s why it makes sense to set up an automatic transfer of a sum you choose from your checking to your savings account. Choose payday or any day of the month and ask your bank to set up a direct deposit or recurring transfer.
Define reasons for saving
Think about why you want to start saving money. Understanding how you would use your savings can help you estimate how much you need to set aside. For example, one reason to save might be in case your income drops. Or maybe it’s to be able to cover an unexpected expense. In those cases, having an emergency savings account can give you peace of mind and a financial cushion. Or, you can earmark money for an item you want but can’t quite afford now.
Give savings a purpose
To make the most of what you’re managing to put away, give your savings a job. Saving for one or more purposes helps you track your progress on each one. Plus, if you earmark a specific purpose, you’ll be less likely to use the money for something else. Then, when you use the money you saved on that intended purpose, you can feel good about it because you assigned a worthwhile job to those dollars.
Set comfortable goals
Savings of any amount is better than nothing. So, your goal should be something you feel that you can reasonably reach and achieve. Is there a best way to start saving money? There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. What’s important is that you start — and then connect savings goals, amounts and timelines to your financial life.
Keep it Separate
Give savings its own special home
Keeping your savings apart from your everyday spending account draws a physical line between the two purposes. Establish a separate savings account so that money earmarked for savings doesn’t get mixed in with money in a checking account that’s intended for day-to-day expenses.
Designate your dollars
Piggybacking on the advice of giving your savings a job, you can also open a savings account for each goal in order to make your special purposes distinct and easier to track. Some financial institutions offer savings accounts that let you name each goal and divvy up your savings between them. Others even allow you to set up separate, or sub-savings categories within one account using different “buckets” that you label.
Pick the right bank account
To help your savings grow faster, stash them in a high-yield savings account that pays a higher rate of interest than traditional savings accounts. The national average interest rate for regular savings accounts is currently 0.06%, but some high-yield savings accounts may earn as much as eight times that rate.
Try New Tricks
Round up spending to the next dollar and put the extra in savings
For an easy way to create savings, round up your purchases to the nearest dollar and put the spare change in savings. For example, if you pay $35.07 for groceries, 93 cents would go into savings. This “microsaving” idea might not seem like much, but doing it consistently will have a noticeable impact. And you’ll be regularly adding to savings without the pressure of trying to tuck away a big amount of money all at once.
Earmark rebates, gifts or other “found” money into savings
Instead of spending extra money you receive from product discounts, items you return, or money gifts from relatives, direct that cash into savings. Another great source of instant savings: your income tax refund. Over the last five years, the average individual income tax refund among taxpayers who filed amounted to more than $2,600. Putting some or all of that into your savings account could significantly boost an emergency fund or other goal.
Match the cost of small, nonessential splurges in savings
There’s nothing wrong with an occasional splurge. At the same time you’re treating yourself, give to your savings account, too. Say you grabbed a croissant and a latte at the coffee shop or bought a new purse that you loved. Save that receipt and put the same amount of money into your savings account.
Audit and eliminate unnecessary monthly expenses
Review your spending on living expenses and ask yourself if there’s anything you can trim. Check bank and credit card statements to spot areas of overspending or avoidable costs. Could you save money by committing to eating out one less time per month? Cut out magazine subscriptions and view them online instead? Make a list and prioritize your actions by how much it could save you.
Buy budget brands and optimize sales
Trading brand-name goods for store or private-label brands (think Amazon’s recently launched house brand “Aplenty” and Target’s “Favorite Day”) saves money that you can direct toward savings. In fact, their growth is outpacing name brands, and a growing number of Americans say store brands have equal quality for less cost.
And rather than pay full price, step up price comparison on what you need to buy, using sales, coupons and discount codes to find the most competitive value. Just be aware that research shows sales shopping and couponing can lead to overspending.
Monetize hobbies, sell stuff, take on gig work
Think of quick ways to create cash that can help you start saving money. Could you land some gig work, make money off a side hustle tied to a hobby or sell things you no longer use? Turn a portion of those extra funds into instant savings. For example, you could earmark what you earn for one shift a month of gig work for your savings account. Or, allocate the money you make from your crafting hobby toward saving for a future purchase.
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Stay Motivated and Get Support
Plan purchases and visualize goals
To stay on budget and strengthen a savings mindset, plan financial decisions one at a time and wait a few days or weeks before you make the purchase. Letting some time pass allows you to consider your bigger money goals and focus on whether it’s really a necessary buy — now or later. You may find you’ll let it pass — or decide you’re ready to save up for it. Similarly, visualizing what you want your savings to do for you can be motivating, too. Hope to take your kids to Disney World next year? Make a photo of the Magic Kingdom your laptop’s background theme.
Recruit a savings buddy
Just like it can help to have an exercise buddy when trying to stick to a fitness routine, it can help to enlist an accountability partner when it comes to reaching financial goals. To start saving money, try recruiting a friend or relative with similar money goals. That way, they can celebrate your wins with you, keep you motivated and learn and compare progress together.
Launch a savings club
Gather some close family and like-minded friends to focus on saving — using the motivational benefits of strength in numbers. For example, each person commits to regularly saving a specific amount for a period of time. Make it fun by creating a savings challenge or seeing how many of you can pull off a no-spend day.
Taking the savings club idea one step further is a lending circle. A group of friends or family saves together, agreeing on a monthly amount that each member contributes to a combined pot. Every month, one person receives the pot of savings until everyone in the circle gets a chance. For example, say you and three friends each put in $25 a month. Every fourth month, you would get $100. There’s strength in numbers with this strategy, too: The bigger the group and/or each person’s contribution, the bigger the payout will be for everyone.
Start Small, Think Big
When it comes to finding the best way to start saving money, it’s important to remember that any amount counts. No matter what you’re saving for, everyone begins at zero and works their way toward the goals they choose. By creating a reasonable savings plan and recognizing where you are in your financial journey, you’ll be on your way toward the savings purposes you want to set — whether it’s building a rainy day fund, buying a pet or saving for a down payment on a house. Use these tips to your advantage and start saving money today.
About the author
Jonathan Walker believes improving our personal financial resilience is about living our best lives.