Here are a few suggestions that may help you move the needle on your savings goals:
1. Make your cash work for you
Shopping for a savings account can get things moving in the right direction. You won’t get rich by investing in a money market fund or keeping your money in a regular savings account, but you’ll be earning more from your short-term cash as it yields interest, and that’s something to feel good about. Earning even a small return on your money can add up over time.
While you’re shopping for an account, make sure you read the fine print. Minimum balance requirements, transaction costs, penalties, and annual fees can all cut into your short-term savings—avoid them wherever and whenever you can.
2. Take advantage of credit cards
Using credit cards can be controversial, especially since many people associate them with high interest rates. You might wonder, do interest rates really matter? Yes, and here’s why: Imagine you make a $2,000 purchase on your credit card but can’t pay the balance at the end of the billing cycle. If you make monthly payments of $50 at an 18% interest rate, it’ll take you 62 months to pay off your $2,000 purchase plus the $1,077 of interest accrued over that time.**
However, when you use your credit cards wisely, they can offer a few advantages.
Since interest rates only come into play if you carry a balance forward, it’s ideal to pay your bill on time (and in full) each billing cycle. This is also a good way to build your credit score, which affects the interest rate you qualify for when you borrow money for a large purchase. An interest rate even 1 percentage point lower can save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan, so building a solid credit history is well worth it.
Some credit cards can help you save more by offering a unique perk like cash back on purchases. If you pay your bill in full every month, you can enjoy this benefit free and clear (as long as the credit card issuer doesn’t charge an annual fee).
For example, if you make a $2,000 purchase using a credit card that offers 2% cash back and pay your entire balance ($2,000) when you receive your bill, you won’t pay any interest. You’ll even earn $40 cash back, increasing your purchasing power.
3. When your budget’s tight, cut back on 1 thing at a time
Set yourself up for success by approaching saving realistically. You don’t have to overhaul your entire budget, clip every coupon, make every meal at home, or buy all generic products. Instead, try to focus on 1 thing at a time. Maybe it’s a subscription to a magazine you love but never have time to read. Try canceling it for a few months to see if you miss it. If you can’t live without it, think of a few things you can live without. The point is to save money on something.
If you’re successful in making 1 small change, celebrate the win! Then keep your money-saving momentum in motion by experimenting with other expenses to eliminate.
4. Be a smart money manager
Put your hard-earned savings to good use by:
- Saving for retirement. Contribute enough to your employer-sponsored plan to receive your full employer match. Then focus on increasing the amount annually until you’re saving 12%–15% of your income (including any employer match) for retirement.
- Paying off debt. Consider starting with debt that bears the highest interest rate and costs you the most money over time.
- Setting up an emergency fund. Aim to keep at least $2,000 in short-term savings to cover an unexpected expense.
- Creating an income shock plan to cover a few months of living expenses in case you lose your job. You can invest the money as part of your long-term savings strategy as long as you can withdraw it quickly without paying penalties or incurring steep tax liabilities.
- Saving for other goals like college tuition, a destination vacation, or a new car.
5. Take the next step
Saving more is hard, and it can be even harder if you’re already dealing with financial stressors like reduced income or job loss. Commit to making 1 small change today, and keep the other tips in your back pocket.
*Bankrate, 2019. Survey. March 14; available at https://www.bankrate.com/banking/savings/financial-security-march-2019/.
**Bankrate, 2020. Credit Card Calculator. May 14; available at https://www.bankrate.com/calculators/managing-debt/minimum-payment-calculator.aspx.