Updated: Nov 4, 2021
While the concept of saving may be simple, it can be surprisingly hard for us to do. This is why only 46% of Americans have a "rainy day fund," while two-thirds of Americans would be unable to come up with $1,000 in an emergency (FINRA). Most people can't even cut $100 out of their shopping budget, so how are they supposed to save $1,000? Without overcomplicating the savings process, below is a collection of seven old-school ways to save money that still work. No matter where you are on the journey of changing your financial habits, these tips are full-proof (with a little bit of effort).
Here are 7 old school ways to save money that (still) work:
1. Make Saving Your Money Automatic
We're well aware that saving is perhaps the most important habit you can develop for your finances. Not only does it let you weather unexpected costs, but it also gives you greater control over how you spend. Without developing the basic habit of saving, up-leveling your finances won't be possible. For instance, you can't invest unless you've developed the habit of saving. You can't create an emergency fund without first creating the habit of saving.
Making saving automatic allows you to build the good habits that will enable you to be truly secure in your financial future. Most people want to save hundreds and thousands of dollars at first. They often don't feel that they're making enough progress by only saving $1, maybe $5 or $10. However, if you're unable to conceptualize small amounts of money, it'll be hard to manage large quantities of it. Take a moment to automate $1-$5 and remember the power of the compound effect. Then work your way up.
Give yourself a goal by the end of the year. For example, "I want to save $100 per month and use the snowball effect to grow my savings contribution." By automating your savings, it becomes out of sight out of mind, and you won't be tempted to dip in it. Ensure to create a separate account that is unreachable to bask in all your hard work.
Another way to accelerate the saving process is to put a percentage of every paycheck into a savings account before you ever even touch it. Savings accounts typically only pay about 0.5-1% interest, which isn't much compared to what you can get in the stock market, but that small amount adds up fast when you're paying yourself first. This is also called "Out of sight, out of mind," which means that when your money is no longer visible in your checking account, you will feel less tempted to spend it.
2. The Envelope System
The envelope system is one of those simple approaches to save money that works. The fun part about the envelope system is its simplicity. If you're not familiar with the envelope system, it's a budgeting strategy where you put your paycheck into different envelopes based on your expenses. Each week you'd take money from the separated envelopes to pay for things like rent or mortgage, car payments, or other bills as needed. Seeing and feeling the money physically leave is what differentiates this system. You can use this method for both spending and saving. To monitor the purpose of each envelope, purchase envelopes in their specific color, so you'll know which category is which.
3. Zero-Based Budgeting
It's not easy to create a budget when you've never created one before. And the term Zero-based budget (ZBB) sounds more intimidating than it is. Primarily used for businesses, you can use this method for your personal finances as well. Zero-based budgeting is a method of budgeting where every cent gets accounted for. It ensures that each budgeted dollar has a specific purpose instead of a general purpose as in other methods. This gives every cent a value since it's tied to a particular cost instead of "floating" dollars tied to no tangible or tangible cost reference.
It's a methodology that forces people with a tendency toward overspending to think through every penny. Zero-based budgeting takes this process one step further by identifying every need and want of an individual or business and creating a category of funds for each of these needs and wants.
Traditional budgets usually allow for leftover money. For example, you'll take your income minus your expenditures equal to zero by the end of the month. If you have leftover money, it needs to go somewhere, like your savings. This allows you not to overspend.
4. Don't Forget To Pay Yourself First
Now, most people will tell you to pay your bills first and foremost, but they're only half right. And not paying yourself first is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Paying yourself first is like free money waiting to be invested in your future. It's a simple concept that can save you a lot of hard work and stress later on. So what do we mean by paying yourself first?
After every paycheck:
Put some money into a savings account. You will never get out of debt if money comes into your house that isn't already spoken for.
When you get paid, put some aside. Whether it's $5 or $10, start small.
Resist the urge to pay bills with that money. You'll have to rewire your brain to change these habits, but by doing so, you'll reap the dopamine benefits each time you look at how much your money increases.
5. Pack Your Lunch
It might feel like a hassle to pack your lunch every day. It's well worth the effort in the long run. Depending on how much you spend daily or a few times per week for lunch, you will see a considerable increase in what you save. For example, maybe you're spending between $5-20 per day on lunch. That seems high, but if you count the fries you want with that burger and that drink you want with that meal, oh what about dessert—it adds up.
The upfront cost of purchasing what you need might tilt the scales a bit, but take a moment to get honest with yourself about how much you're spending on eating out. Spend a Sunday to prep your meals and with your automated savings in action, treat yourself once a month to a nice dinner out.
For instance, by saving, let's say $120 per month or $1440 per year on eating out, you could put that towards your student loans, savings, or emergency fund. Use the compound effect to tackle both your savings and your debts. It's impressive to think about the compounding effect saving like this can have on your finances over time.
6. Cut Down On Nonessentials
Does your cell phone bill need to be $150 per month? Do you really need every last streaming subscription? One of the easiest ways to save money is to list everything you spend money on and then find ways to cut back on those expenses.
When you consider the differences between what you spend now and what you could save, you may be surprised that some of the things you do aren't necessary. For example, if you still have cable, you can get rid of your cable and purchase a $40 firestick that allows you to stream almost everything. Imagine how much money you would save per month? The average cost of a cable bill in America is $116. That equals out to $1,392 for the year. What could you do with that money? You'll need internet for the stream, which the average cost of that is about $60 per month—still huge savings.
7. The Simplest Emergency Fund
Unexpected expenses can be stressful enough to leave you doubting the very meaning of life. However, if you've not planned for them in advance, these same unexpected expenses can also turn into a financial breakdown. Whether it's a car breakdown, a trip canceled because of sudden sickness of yourself, or a member of your family that could derail your finances. It could be any other emergency that requires you to use the money you didn't plan on spending; having an emergency fund will be one of the most important things you will do for your money and peace of mind.
When you don't have an emergency fund, it's tempting to tap into your savings to cover large expenses. After all, it's better than racking up credit card debt. But if you use your savings for this purpose, you risk losing the bulk of your hard-earned cash and taking a long time to rebuild your savings.
Plan in advance how much you're going to need and what you're going to do for emergencies. The rule of thumb is to have two different emergency funds. For instance, you should have one account that you can immediately access with $1,000 available. The second account should be 3-6 months of your living expenses. That account should be tucked away somewhere without easy access in a high yield savings account.
These 7 old school ways to save money that (still) work will help you jumpstart your financial goals. You don't need to deprive yourself of everything. You might reduce or eliminate your cable bill but still go out with friends on the weekend. You might give up your daily Starbucks fix but still go out for dinner. You can enjoy life when you plan to spend it. Finding small savings like this can be achieved by taking the time to address your spending habits, cut non-essentials, and use the automation process to prevent any urges. You can make a pretty hefty dent in your debts or save up some emergency money with some careful planning and some old-fashioned frugality.