You've told yourself that now isn’t the time to think about saving money. But I'm here to tell you that it’s always the time to save money.
You'll always find an excuse not to save … like you're in college. Or you're paying off college debt and have a car loan on top of the rent. Soon enough you might add childcare costs to your list.
There’s also quality of life to consider. Maybe you opted out of a car so you could pay your student loans, and you don’t want to deny yourself life’s little pleasures after a day’s work. You want to live in the style to which you were accustomed when you were growing up. Maybe you strive to live a bit higher than that.
But here’s the thing. Emergencies happen all the time. And they don’t care about your loans or being InstaFubulous.
I hate to say this, but everything you’ve heard about saving early and often from your parents, college professors or favorite personal business website is true. You need to train yourself to save, no matter what. Because, inevitably, you will be faced with a situation where you need money to fix your car or your computer so you can keep working or you will need to pay for a necessary and expensive medical procedure. It’s not a question of if. It’s when.
Almost 20% of U.S. households have no money set aside for emergencies and 31 percent do not have $500 to cover an unexpected expense, according to a HomeServe USA poll.
Here’s how to set aside enough money in a few months to keep yourself from being a statistic.
And if you think you don’t make enough to save aside about $100 a month, these tips on how to grow an emergency fund might show you where you are losing money every month, and how to harness those lost funds.
It’s not so much about giving up a lifestyle, it’s about living smart. And you can still enjoy yourself. Just maybe not as often.
Without further ado, here’s how I keep myself in the middle class.
Save close to $10 on your monthly electric bill
If you want to save money without giving up other privileges, this tip could net you up to $10 a month.
The EnergyStar.gov website, organized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, states that “even when turned off, electronic and IT equipment often use a small amount of electricity. U.S. households spend approximately $100 per year to power devices while they are in a low power mode, roughly 8% of household electricity costs,”
Use a power strip or unplug your electronics from the wall when you aren’t charging them. Use a power strip as a central “turn off” point when you are done using or charging your phones, tablets, computers, laptops, electric heaters, the toaster – whatever. The power strip eliminates “standby” power consumption.
And, as my dad said, turn off the lights!
Get smart about food and save up to $100 a week on lunch
Food can really suck up your budget, especially if, like me, you lean towards preferring organic products. The key to my method is using sales and buying staples in advance. Also don’t shop, extract. Make your list before heading to the store and stick to it.
To get the organic dry goods that I prefer, I wait for a sale and I stock up on products I tend use a lot like lentils, beans, coconut milk, and tomato sauce. Beans and lentils are healthy, ridiculously versatile and cheap. You don’t have to be a vegan to get into cooking with them either. Using a mix of meat with beans or lentils is a great way to stretch an extra meal or two out of a recipe.
This style of shopping acts as a food safety net, in case there’s an emergency. It ensures that no matter what, you’ll have something for dinner. It might not be as tasty as ordering in, but it’s sustenance. I don’t think all meals are meant to be a reward. Sometimes, it’s just fuel, and that’s okay. With plenty of spices, you can find satisfaction, especially if you can get your meal costs to under $3 per serving, like a pot of chili.
Here’s a recipe and cost list for my basic chili:
Two cans of pinto beans @ 5 for $4 = $2.50
One 14.2 oz can of brand name organic diced tomato @ 5 for $5 = $1
One 8 oz can of brand name organic fire roasted tomato sauce @ 3 for $5 = $1.67
1 onion and 3 garlic cloves = < $1
Spices which I’ve accumulated: dried chilies, cumin and etc = < $1
This recipe makes over 7 servings of chili for just over a $1 a serving. If you add top quality ground meat, you’ll still be under $3 a meal. Compare that with buying lunch or getting take out which can too easily cost up to $20 per meal or about $100 per week.
Drink water, save $20
I’m serious. Drink water. Why do you need bubbles and flavors every time you put something in your mouth? Think about how weird that is. Water is, for now, the cheapest thing we have going if you carry around your own refillable bottle. Get a filter for your faucet or buy it by the gallon in reusable containers.
A can of La Croix, Guayaki Yerba Mate or a bottle of GTS Kombucha are expensive for everyday, if you are broke. One specialty beverage a day can easily add up to more than $20 a work week. Maybe limit yourself to two or three a week.
Go to happy hour
Happy Hour is your time to shine. Get that $2 beer or $4 well drink. You aren’t there to explore the intricacies of the hop profile, you are there to laugh and relax with friends. If they care about what you drink, let them buy it for you.
When happy hour ends, drink water and head out. You can have just as much or more fun riding your bike under the stars or gathering at a friend’s place around a fire.
Keep your change and convert your purchase into points
No matter how you purchase something, you can translate that into savings.
If you still use cash for purchases, bring back the piggy bank. Before I started racking up points on my credit card so I could convert my purchases into a plane ticket, I collected $50 in my change tin in just a few months. That $50 helped me scrap through a tight spot at the end of a bad month.
It’s super easy to save using online banking platforms
When you check your online checking account on your device or computer, you can manually transfer money to a savings account. You can also set your online checking account to automatically send a prescribed amount to savings every month.
I’m going to reveal my age here and prompt you to look up Superman III. I saw it at a little movie theater in a town called Swampscott when I was about 9-years-old. In it comedian Richard Prior created an algorithm that sent all the tiny fractions of a cent from his company’s paychecks into his bank account. He was drunk on cash at the end of the pay period, cue villains!
I am not condoning theft. I just want to point out that little bits add up.
-$5 from the electric bill
-$80 in lunch money
-$10 from specialty drinks
-$5 from top shelf bar markup
Total = $100 savings
And that’s it. It sounds pretty basic, but these are a few ways I save every month and how I created my own emergency savings fund.
Go even farther!
My next step will be taking some of my emergency money and investing it using Apps like Stash, Acorn. or Robinhood.
It’s also a good idea to find out what your monthly spending looks like by creating a budget. This will help you keep track of how much you typically spend versus how much you are saving.
Maybe you can get a buddy to save with you or organize your friends and see who can save the most. If nothing else, you will have proved you can do it!
–By Nic Desmet