How to Save Money Fast on a Low Income
Saving money isn’t always the easiest or most fun thing to do, but that doesn’t take away from its importance. When we save money, first by building an emergency fund, and then through accumulating for investment and retirement, we build a cushion that partially insulates us from the uncertainties of life.
A little extra money in the bank provides flexibility and peace of mind, a little distance from the ongoing stress that can result from living paycheck to paycheck. In fact, the majority of U.S. workers – 78% – live from paycheck to paycheck in some form or another!
It is precisely in those situations when money is tight that saving more of it becomes even more important – even when this may seem difficult or impossible to do. So, are there ways to save money when you think you have none? Let’s take a closer look.
1. End Procrastination
It may sound obvious, but one of the most important steps toward saving money is to stop procrastinating and make saving money today a priority. All too often, we tell ourselves that we don’t have enough money to start saving today – but when that day comes, we will start saving.
However, this negative self-talk is a form of procrastination that reinforces our negative belief about saving money in the present day. As is the case with developing any good habit – the key is to take the first step – and this is something we do only after we have decided to make the new behavioral habit a priority.
If we’re not doing something yet, it’s simply because we haven’t yet made the decision to make doing that thing a priority. So, once you decide to make saving money a priority, you may be surprised at the result – even if right now you don’t think saving money is a realistic possibility. Decide to make saving money a priority in your life today.
2. Mind Your Budget
If you don’t have a clear, written, realistic monthly budget that delineates all forms of cash inflows and expenses, the time to create one is now. The 50/30/20 budget is a good place to start, in that its framework mandates that 20% of monthly disposable income be allocated to savings and debt repayment.
Getting out of debt is critical toward saving, as monthly debt repayments laden with interest expense are the single biggest impediment toward constructively saving for the future. Carrying debt is truly the antithesis of savings, as debt balances negatively compound with interest expense each successive month.
The 50/30/20 budget will force you to track where all of your money goes, whether it is the 50% that gets allocated to necessary expenses (housing, food, transportation, utilities etc.) the approximate 30% that can be allocated toward “wants” (restaurant meals, entertainment, etc.) or the 20% that must be allocated to debt repayment and savings. With the 50/30/20 budget, when necessary expenses exceed 50% of monthly disposable income, any shortfall goes to the “wants” category – debt and savings must always receive its minimum of 20%.
Even beyond the context of the 50/30/20 budget framework, embracing the idea of delaying gratification through purchasing fewer present-day “wants” in favor of building future-oriented savings is the important mental shift to make when deciding to make the behavioral habit of saving money today a priority.
3. Automate Your Savings
One of the easiest ways to begin saving is to “pay yourself first” through automatic transfers between your checking and savings accounts. This is something you can set up with a fair degree of accuracy after you have devised a budget and reached a clear sense of how your money is getting allocated each month.
Even if it’s ten bucks a month – and chances are, it’s more than that – you can put some amount of savings deposit on autopilot, and this makes saving money each month less of a choice and more of a habit.
You can also see whether your employer will arrange for 10% of your paycheck to be directly deposited into your savings account. Additionally, apps such as Qapital round up debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and automatically transfer the rounded amount over into a savings account.
4. Take the No-Spend Challenge
Cutting back on “wants” for three weeks can be an interesting experiment. Taking the focus off of things that you don’t yet have and placing it on having gratitude for what is already in your life can go a long way toward fortifying an emerging savings habit.
Cutting back on non-essential spending for three weeks may sound difficult if you’ve never tried it before, but it really is possible and starts with making the new behavior a priority.
Decide that for the next three weeks, you will spend very little money at all – only on necessities – even grocery spending gets curtailed as you work through what’s been sitting around idle in your freezer and cupboard.
Prepare meals at home with the food you already have and focus on gratitude and contentment with the trappings you find yourself surrounded by. It’s not that difficult to find contentment when we remind ourselves that true happiness only comes from within and is really the byproduct of a meaningful life.
5. Cut Your Expenses
There are any number of ways to reduce monthly expenses that can help get you on the road to saving money. For starters, get rid of that cable bill already. Many cable bills average $100 or more, and in this day of quality streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, it’s not difficult to save $80 or more per month with this one simple move.
Next, get a new quote on your car insurance, or switch insurers altogether if it will result in a money savings. Do the same with your cell phone carrier and internet service provider as well – spending thirty minutes on each could result in saving a thousand dollars or more over the course of a year. What about those high-priced coffee shop visits? Time to ditch them in favor of less expensive home brews, K-cups, or even coffee from fast food outlets.
Regardless, depending on how often you’re hitting Starbucks or something similar, you’re in line to save yourself several hundred dollars or more annually from this one change in behavior.
There are other ways to save as well – buy generic instead of name brands at the supermarket, pack a solid lunch to bring to the office instead of skipping out for those regular $10 lunches, eliminate restaurant visits and stop ordering delivery. This is what cutting back on “wants” looks like – and it becomes easier when you focus on what you already have and practice gratitude.
Try it for three weeks – will you be able to delay gratification in the present in the name of investing in your future? The only way to find out the true answer is to try – and deciding to make saving money a priority is the first step in the process.
About The Author: Steven Brachman
Steven Brachman is the lead content provider for UnitedSettlement.com. A graduate of the University of Michigan with a B.A. in Economics, Steven spent several years as a registered representative in the securities industry before moving on to equity research and trading. He is also an experienced test-prep professional and admissions consultant to aspiring graduate business school students. In his spare time, Steven enjoys writing, reading, travel, music and fantasy sports.
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