Many of us have felt the stress of living paycheck-to-paycheck. Ideally, we’re supposed to have the financial wiggle room to set aside money for both small pleasures and a sensible savings plan. But somehow, paychecks seem to get swallowed up like helpless prey.
The struggle with saving money is more normal than you might think. According to data from a non-partisan research organization at the University of Chicago, roughly two-thirds of Americans would have a hard time finding $1,000 for an emergency.
If this sounds like you, don’t fret. Just because saving money is difficult doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. Especially if you apply these small, easy tricks to free up some extra cash.
1. Use an app to analyze your spending
Yes, I know, the thought of putting together an overview of your purchases outside a tax return filing doesn’t sound sexy at all. But if you did it just once, you may be surprised to discover how much of your money goes to expenses you might deem unnecessary. Maybe you never saw how those extra take-out orders or daily lattes add up over a month.
A detailed look at your spending habits can help you address your most glaring issues. But don’t picture a boring night of bank statements and Excel sheets. Apps such as Mint and Goodbudget are a much less time-consuming way to categorize your spending and identify areas of concern. These apps also allow you to set budgets for specific categories. Whether it’s putting a cap on cab rides or taking out less money for take-out, it’s easy to trim those expenses. (We even have a printable worksheet to help you prioritize.)
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2. Automate your way to saving money
If you have a specific goal (a vacation, a new car, or a certain savings threshold), you can use those as the dangling carrots to entice you to save more. And there’s an app for that, too. Qapital lets you set automated rules to make saving money for specific goals much easier. For example, you can set the app to round up all your purchases to the next dollar or two so, whenever you’re spending, you’re also saving money too. And over time, those small amounts really do add up.
You can also use set rules to regularly auto-draft money to your savings, whether it’s $20 every Sunday or $2 each time you check-in at your gym.
3. Write down your purchases
For those of us who aren’t tech savvy (or even for those of us who are), there’s something to be said for writing down your purchases. Research demonstrates that recording your dreams down in writing makes you more conscious of them — and I would argue the same is true with your spending. (Remember the old days of balancing a checkbook?)
In the age of nano-second sales transactions, it’s easy to dismiss or overlook small, unconnected purchases. But if you take the time to quickly record them, whether by writing them down in a notebook or typing them into a smartphone note, you’re adding another step of financial cognizance.
4. Delay your gratification
While you’re using a notepad, let it also help you curb those impulse purchases. If there is something you’ve come across online or in a store, save the link or write it down to revisit at a later date. You may find after a day, a week, or even a few minutes, that you’ve lost interest in that purchase, which means you likely never needed it in the first place.
5. Plan out your deals instead
You planned to get one thing, but then you’re checking out a cart full of clearance items. Sounds familiar, right? When we happen upon deals, we’re spending money we hadn’t intended to spend. It’s hard to resist a good bargain, but those purchases can add up.
Instead, intentionally plot out your deals and discounts. For example, if you plan to go out twice a week, then try to make sure those dine-out dollars go toward a good deal — like a happy-hour special at your favorite bar or the cantina that actually has the taco Tuesday discount. Or set your browser to force you to look for better deals.
In other words, be the couponing, reward-chasing, money-stashing deal hunter that would make your grandmother proud. But whatever you do, do so with greater intention. Yes, some of these tips can be no-brainers, but just like any other life goal, a mindful approach to savings can make the difference in your success.
Nina Reeder is a journalist and media manager, who has contributed to outlets such as Ebony, AOL.com, Marriott Hotels, and more. She’s a self-proclaimed foodie, but also has passions for health/wellness (which doesn’t always work out well). You can follow her on Instagram here.