You ever get the feeling that you’ve got your finances totally figured out? Bills paid, shopping done, and money in the bank? That is, until you look at your savings account. I know it can be hard to save up when spending is so tempting, but saving is definitely a must. A healthy savings account is great for when life throws you a curveball – and even better for when life flips your finances on their head. But finding ways to save money on a tight budget can be difficult at best, and demoralizing at its worst.
But I think you just need a little help getting creative. Below are just a handful of my favorite ways (some obvious, some not so obvious) to quickly build up your savings account in the next twelve months, listed by time it takes to implement each one. You may be surprised how a few simple, quick tweaks can yield big results!
Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget in Minutes
2 Minutes – Leverage the Latest Apps
An app that I am loving lately is Qapital, which has rules you can set to “save the change” from your purchases. I saved over $75 my first month of Qapital, which was really astonishing to me. Click here to give it a try. Here's a list of our other favorites.
5 Minutes – Open a Savings Account
Take the first step by opening up a high-yield savings account so you have a place to stash all this money! We like to recommend CIT Bank thanks to it's higher-than-average interest rate (25x the national average) and no-fee structure. All it takes is $100 to open.
I’ve learned the hard way that having all your money in one place can lead to dangerous habits. Your savings account should not be a backup to your checking account, and moving money too frequently can lead to fees and low balances. I’ve found that online banks typically offer higher interest rates, and having my savings somewhere where I can’t move the money over instantly in just a few swipes helps me avoid dipping into it.
10 Minutes – Cut Cable
Cable costs are ridiculously expensive these days and, despite massive competition from on-demand streaming, don’t seem to be getting any lower. Cutting your cable and opting for a subscription service is a great way to save money each month. Then take those savings and automatically direct them into your savings account for a $50-$70 monthly savings boost.
Extra Credit: Try out BillCutterz and see how much you can save off other monthly, recurring bills.
20 Minutes – Set Up Automatic Transfers
Another no-hassle way to save is by setting up an automatic transfer to your savings account from either your paycheck or from your regular checking account. Either way, by automating your transfer, you’re making sure that you don’t forget or pay your savings last–and as a bonus–automating your savings means you never “see” that money and subsequently makes it sting a little less.
It’s always tempting to say “Well, I’ll just save what I have leftover for the month,” – but trust me, savings doesn't really work unless you automate some (or all) of it.
30 Minutes – Review Your Entire Budget
I’ve always talked about how making a budget and sticking to it can make a huge difference in your finances, but sometimes that budget can change dramatically:
And funnel the savings into your separate savings account so you don't touch it!
2 Hours (120 Minutes) -Do a Big Purge and Sell What You Find
When I was doing my $8k in 90 days challenge, I did everything I could to hit my debt payoff goals each month, and one month I was able to sell a bunch of stuff for a cool $300 to assist in my efforts.
Sure, it took a lot of time to load everything into Ebay, but it was worth it. I still have a bunch of stuff from my big summer purge I'm meaning to sell and all this winter indoor-time is the perfect season to make some extra cash by selling your stuff. I sell items via Ebay or LetGo (and sometimes even sketchy Craigslist) and my clothes on thredUP or Poshmark.
If you're motivated, I estimate it'll take one hour to do a purge and probably another hour to list it all online.
Ways to Save Money on a Tight Budget in Just Months
30 Days – Do A No-Spend Challenge
Ooh, this is a fun one. I LOVE money challenges. They’re a great way to change your lifestyle for a short time which leads to increased savings and (hopefully) better habits. When trying to aggressively save, doing a no-spend challenge can help you meet your savings goals faster.
Extra Credit: 37 Ways to Save More Money
45 Days – Find Alternatives to Eating Out
Obviously going out to eat every night of the week isn’t saving anyone money. But are you still spending a large amount groceries that are just going to waste? There are a TON of creative ways to spend less on food. For those of us out of the collegiate life, try planning a potluck with your friends or roommates. It will encourage you to actually cook at home and you can eat the leftovers for lunch the next day.
For those who just have trouble with ordering Postmates too much (raises hand), I enjoy using HelloFresh to plan my weeknight meals and we've been able to shave hundreds off our eating out budget.
Other ways to save in this category:
- Order water
- Keep entrees under $10
- Fast Casual instead of Full Service
60 Days – Work the System to Accrue Points at the Places You Shop
So many stores offer rewards programs, as well as discounts for students or employees of certain companies. Be sure to check if your company offers a discount service for stores you frequent (your Payroll company may offer this), or if you can receive a student discount with an appropriate ID.
And though they may seem superfluous, getting a membership card at Kroger or a RedCard at Target can lead to serious savings if you shop at those stores enough. While this won't immediately fund your savings account like side hustle cash or an automated transfer, if you diligently put what's left over from shopping into your account you can maximize your shopping savings.
Other ways to save in this category:
- Research credit card rewards
- Only shop sales and when you have discount codes
- Shop Ebay or Craigslist for second hand items
90 Days – Make a Game Out of Using What You Own
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you probably know how much I love shopping. Correction – loved shopping..until I broke the bad habit. Unfortunately, it can be tough to get the clothes you want on the budget you can afford. That’s why I love the idea of shopping your closet.
Finding a new way to wear your favorite pieces can reinvigorate your wardrobe without breaking the bank. Pinterest offers great inspiration, and you can scout your own closet for similar looks. Maybe you have everything except for an item or two. Buying a new accessory or pair of shoes can totally change up an outfit – typically for less than buying a completely new look. Another great way to implement this is to swap clothes with friends who are also looking for a change. This way they get the stuff you don't want (and vice versa) and everyone gets to breathe new life into their wardrobe.
Other ways to save in this category:
90 days – Exclusively Save Your Side Hustle Money
Y'all know I have always been a huge fan of having a side hustle, and using the side income to increase your savings is a quick and easy way to pump up the balance. I love this method because it feels like you’re making progress quickly and gets you in the habit of setting money aside from each paycheck.
Extra Credit: How much could you save if you started a side hustle and didn't touch the money for a whole 90 days?
Editor's Note: This post was originally published Jan 18 2016. It was updated in July 2018