Published July 13, 2012
Saving for emergencies doesn't have to be about painful cutbacks or Draconian spending measures. Sometimes we get so focused on where we're going to find extra money that we forget the easy pickings are in setting up good savings strategies. Follow these 13 tips to save money without even trying.
1. Autopilot saving and bill pay. Have your savings automatically deducted from your paycheck before it even hits your checking account. It's easy -- most banks will let you set it up online in a matter of minutes.
Set your fixed bills to be deducted as well, either through automated debit or online bill pay, so you're not tempted to touch the money. The added bonus is you'll never get hit with late or missed payment penalties.
2. After paying off debt, keep paying yourself. Maybe your finances are tight due to a big car loan or credit card payments. Once you've paid off these debts, shift those payments to your emergency fund "bill," says Sharon Epperson, author of "The Big Payoff: 8 Steps Couples Can Take to Make the Most of their Money -- and Live Richly Ever After." Otherwise, she says, "You know you'll probably just spend it."
Because you're already used to living without the money, you can use the "extra" funds to build up an emergency buffer to keep yourself from getting into debt again.
3. Enforce 24-hour rule on impulse buys. Maybe splurging sounds like a good idea in the moment, but will you feel the same way the next morning? There aren't many things we truly can't live without and waiting 24 hours before making a purchase will help you avoid shopping hangover. Remember, getting slapped with the bill later is a real buzz kill.
4. Leave the credit cards at home. Spending surveys have found that people spend between 12% and 50% more when using a credit card versus cash. To see how much money you'll save by ditching the cards, Ruby Payne, an educator, researcher and author of "A Framework for Understanding Poverty," among other titles, recommends leaving your credit card at home. Then every time you don't make a purchase that you normally would have used a credit card for, note the amount. At the end of the month, tally your "potential" purchases to see how much you've saved; then pat yourself on the back for your virtuousness and shift that money to emergency savings.
5. Plan ahead, budget for fun. All work and no play is no way for anyone to live, so be realistic when planning your spending. To make your savings strategy work, you'll need to budget for fun. This will help keep you from going overboard when the fun-itch strikes.
Setting aside 10% of your discretionary income for fun is Epperson's rule. That way you know how much money you have to play with. Plan ahead to stretch your dollars because, she warns, "When the money's not there, you don't have the fun."
6. Make things interest-ing. Draw down no-interest checking accounts and move the money into high-interest savings. If you can't figure out where to cut back your expenses, this is a good place to look for extra money, says Epperson. "Most Americans keep too much money in checking accounts that earn zero% interest. That money's just wasting time."
7. Learn to save short-term splurges One trick that Bedda D'Angelo, a Certified Financial Planner out of Raleigh, N.C., recommends, is deferring the latte splurge until you've saved up enough for a massage. This way you're retraining yourself away from giving into immediate gratification and into saving for your real desires. "It's still pleasure," she says, "but now you're saving for larger things."
8. Reward yourself Allow yourself little extra perks for reaching savings goals. Taking a vacation without plastic is one reward-worthy goal, D'Angelo suggests. "Pretty soon you're going to say 'I really like it. I feel so secure with this buffer. I really like having money in the bank,'" she says.
Rewards sweeten the medicine, retraining you to take the smart but tough steps that will ensure your financial future. And the cost of the perks is outweighed by new money-saving habits.
9. Remove the temptation. Maybe skip a trip to the mall and go to a specialty store to pick up the item that's actually on your shopping list. Or go to the park for diversion instead of window shopping. It's not fun finding yourself on the wrong side of the window shopping experience, and in most cases the old adage "out of sight, out of mind" rings true for impulse buys.
Dieters don't do well sitting in a bakery sniffing mouthwatering treats all day. Why put yourself in the same position to fail financially?
10. Treat it like a friend Treat your emergency fund the way you treat your friends: Don't abuse it and don't use it except when needed. Payne suggests this trick when weighing spending decisions. No one likes a user. If you expect your emergency fund to have your back when trouble strikes, maintain a healthy relationship with your money.
11. Keep them separated. It's important to keep your savings in a different account than the one from which you pay your bills, but maybe a little extra space can be helpful. Epperson suggests keeping checking and savings accounts at different institutions. This strategy makes your savings just slightly less accessible because of the waiting time on fund transfers, and maybe that lag is just long enough to help you cool off your spending impulse.
She points out that unbundling your products gives you the opportunity to take advantage of high-yield accounts offered at online institutions, rather than the low-interest-paying brick-and-mortar bank where you keep your checking account.
12. Enjoy compounding for a change. Being on the right side of compound interest is a rewarding experience. Instead of the negative compounding (paying interest on interest) that often occurs with credit cards, you can watch your money grow effortlessly.
Earning interest on interest is a powerful tool that most people don't really understand, says Gail MarksJarvis, money columnist and author of "Saving for Retirement (Without Living like a Pauper or Winning the Lottery)."
"Here's how it works," she says. "Let's say you simply invest $200 this year, and nothing after that and you earn 10% on the money each year. At the end of the year you will have $220. That's $200, plus the $20 you earned." But here's the powerful part: After five years, the original $200 grows to $322. After 15 years, it mushrooms to $835.
Start saving now -- no excuses. Then when you're not able to save or not able to save much, your money will still be doing the work for you. The key is to start early for maximum gains.
13. Treat it like taxes. Most people are used to having taxes deducted from their paychecks, Payne points out. They accept both the mandatory nature and regularity of the contributions. So it might be helpful to think of saving to your emergency fund as a taxation that benefits you.
If you really hate taxes, it may be more helpful to think of your savings as a hassle-free insurance policy. The insurance pays out when you need it most.