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16 Effective Ways To Trick Yourself Into Saving Money

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Saving money can be hard for a number of reasons. Often, there is not a large margin between what most people earn and what most people spend. Without some type of strategy, that little bit that’s left over every month can be spent all too easily. Cutting back on your expenses is a great way to start saving money. However, if you’re searching for ways to tuck away a bit of extra savings, these 16 tricks might be the solutions to your saving problems.

Last updated: Nov. 1, 2019  

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Automate Your Savings

Perhaps the simplest way to save without even thinking about it is to set up an automated savings plan. Most financial institutions allow you to set up regular transfers from your checking account to a savings or investment account.

Read: 8 Tips From People Who Saved Millions

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Why This Works

Automation is a great way to save because it can be hard for most people to remember to make a savings deposit, let alone finding the will to do it. Automated transfers take that job out of your hands.

To save even more, consider transferring your funds to a high-interest savings account, such as PenFed’s Premium Online Savings Account. This account allows you to earn as much as a 1.00% annual percentage yield, whereas the current average savings account APY is 0.09%. There’s only a $5 minimum to open an account and start growing your money at a nice rate.

Rates are accurate as of Dec. 13, 2019.

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Increase Savings Incrementally

Once you’re on an automated savings plan, the way to really build your savings is to increase those savings by 1% every six to 12 months. For example, if you’re setting aside 10% of your paycheck, reset it to increase by 1% to 2% the following year, and every year thereafter.

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Why This Works

In such small increments, it’s easy to adapt to the higher savings level. And, before you know it, you’ll save a large portion of your paycheck automatically.

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Use Acorns

Acorns is a financial services app that rounds up your purchases and deposits the additional funds into an investment account. For example, if you buy a cup of coffee for $4.58, Acorns will round that purchase up to $5 and deposit the additional 42 cents into your investment account.

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Why This Works

These amounts are so small that they’re not likely to affect your daily life. Over time, however, these small amounts can add up to large savings.

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Keep the Change

If you don’t feel comfortable turning over your financial monitoring to an app, no problem — keep the change yourself. Whenever you come home, whether from a hard day at work or a fun night out on the town, toss whatever change you find in your pockets into a jar.

Cut Costs: How To Save Money on All Your Monthly Expenses and Bills

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Why This Works

Most people don’t like carrying change anyway, so this trick kills two birds with one stone. You’ll lighten your pockets, and before you know it, you’ll have lots of spare change saved up that you can deposit into a savings account.

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Bank Your Bonuses

This trick involves rewiring your brain to think of extra money as exactly that. Anytime you get a raise at work, a year-end bonus, a cash recognition award or any type of financial gift — put that money immediately into savings.

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Why This Works

If you’ve already been getting by on the money you’ve been earning, you don’t really “need” to be spending this extra windfall. Instead, most people are likely to blow a paycheck on “wants.” You can certainly use some of the money as a reward just to satisfy that urge, but the bulk of it should head toward your savings.

Name an Account

If you give one of your bank accounts a specific name, such as “Tahiti” or “Maserati,” you might be more likely to try to hit savings targets in that account. 

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Why This Works

Naming or defining goals could help you move in the right direction and has proven to be more effective than simply putting money toward that vague category of “savings,” according to a behavioral finance concept called “mental accounting.”

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Pay Yourself First

To really make savings a priority, don’t think of savings as an optional activity. Instead, make it one of your monthly bills, just like rent or your car payment. Also, make it your first priority.

Pay your savings account before you do anything else. Then, learn how to make do with the money you have left.

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Why This Works

When you treat paying yourself like a bill, this ensures that no matter what happens in a given month, you hit your savings goal. You’ll hit savings goals even faster if you put your funds into a high-interest savings account through a financial institution such as PenFed. A savings account there is easy to open online and comes with no monthly maintenance fee, which means you’ll keep more of your money.

Find Out: The Best Money-Saving Apps of 2020

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Use a Cash-Back Credit Card

Cash-back credit cards give you an immediate refund on your purchases, typically in the range of 1% to 2% but occasionally as high as 5%.

This savings tip is a bit trickier than the others, as you’ll have to be disciplined enough to pay off your entire balance every month to avoid interest charges. Play it safe by simply using your card for cash back and paying it off immediately.

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Why This Works

As long as you pay your balance on time and in full, you’ll be getting free money just from making purchases as you normally would. Although 1% to 5% doesn’t seem like much, it can really add up over time.

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Make Access Difficult

Convenience is great, and most banks now allow you to access your funds 24/7 — whether via a telephone call, a smartphone app or a web page.

However, being able to access your money so easily can be dangerous for some people’s spending habits. A good way to save money if you have issues with that is to make your money hard to get to. One option is to open an account with a smaller bank all the way across town. This way, you have to drive to the bank to get cash out unless you want to potentially deal with ATM fees.

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Why This Works

If you have to work hard to get your money, it can help dissuade you from spending that money on frivolous purchases. You might even decide you don’t need to take out that cash by the time you get to your cross-town bank.

The Ultimate Financial Planning Guide: Do It Like the Pros in 8 Steps

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Start a Competition

If competition is something that fires you up, get a savings buddy and set up a contest. Establish savings parameters and see who can stick it out for the distance.

The winner can get a nominal prize, such as a free lunch, or you can just award a badge of honor, so the savings game doesn’t cost anything.

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Why This Works

Some people are competitive in nature, so this is a productive way to make use of that trait. No matter who “wins” this competition, you’ll both be winners, as you’ll have saved during it.

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Enforce a Waiting Period

How many times have you had buyer’s remorse after you bought something? Impulse buys are one of the easiest ways to blow money that you should have saved.

To help protect yourself from this common tendency, give yourself at least 24 hours before you make a purchase, especially a large one.

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Why This Works

This waiting period will help you weed out “wants” from “needs” — which should provide some clarity about the way you spend your money.

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Visualize Your Future Rich Self

Visualization can be a powerful tool for achieving financial goals. If you’re having trouble saving, visualize yourself doing it as well as the end goal of the saving, whether it’s buying a house, taking a dream vacation or retiring rich.

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Why This Works

Research has shown that creating mental images of yourself doing something actually shapes your brain’s processes much in the same way as actually doing something does. Visualizing yourself as a good saver who achieves their financial goals can help you to take the actions necessary to actually do it.

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Quantify All Purchases in Terms of Hours Worked

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the “treat yourself” mentality. You might feel like you somehow “deserve” that $500 leather jacket you’ve been eyeing, and swiping a credit card is such an easy and painless action that you might not think twice about it. However, if you take the time to mentally calculate how long it took you to actually earn that leather jacket, you might be less inclined to buy it.

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Why This Works

Taking the time to mentally quantify purchases in terms of hours worked might give you pause before you whip out your credit card. If you make $20 an hour (after taxes), that means you’ll have had to work 25 hours — over three whole workdays — to pay for a $500 jacket. When you think of money through those lenses, you’re probably less inclined to make big splurges.

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Play a Game of 'Would You Rather?'

Another mental game to play before making a purchase is to take a moment to think about if you’d rather have the item or the cash it’s worth. For example, if you want to buy a $75 pair of jeans, take a moment to think about if you’d rather have a stranger gift you the jeans or $75 in cash.

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Why This Works

This is another way to pause and really think about a purchase before you actually make it, which can prevent any frivolous or impulse spending.

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Let Yourself Splurge Sometimes

This might seem counterintuitive, but one way to save more overall is to allow yourself planned splurges. Determine ahead of time how much you will splurge and how often so things don’t get out of hand. This can be anything from a spa mani-pedi every two months to a nice bottle of wine every couple of weeks.

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Why This Works

In some ways, saving is like dieting — there’s an aspect of deprivation involved. If you’re on a diet and you know you can never eat cake, you’re probably going to want it even more and will find yourself “cheating” every chance you get. But if you tell yourself you’re allowed to eat cake once a week, you’re less likely to crave it all the time and will be more inclined to stick to your healthy eating. The same goes for saving. If you tell yourself you can never buy anything fun and have to save every last penny, you’re likely to “cheat” with little splurges here and there. These little splurges can easily add up, so it’s better to plan ahead for your splurges and stick to your savings plan strictly the rest of the time.

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Keep Budgeting For Loans You've Already Paid Off

If you’re about to finish paying off a student loan, car loan, mortgage or credit card debt, congratulations! But before you start spending that money elsewhere, consider putting it right into savings each month.

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Why This Works

If you’ve been paying off this loan for several months or years, you’ve already found a way to fit this monthly loan payment into your budget. When that payment goes away, simply put that same amount into your savings account every month. You’re already used to spending that money every month so you won’t miss it.

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Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.