Do you have an emergency fund? Did that question make you snort with laughter? If so, you are like millions of others who are finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet let alone socking away hard-earned cash in a savings account. With interest rates at some of the lowest in history, you may think you have no real ways to build savings this year, but that’s not actually true. The first step, of course, is to figure out how and where to cut costs this year and then start to figure out if those savings can go into the bank or serve you better elsewhere.
Just where is elsewhere? Well, let’s start to consider the valid ways you can begin to build savings this year by looking at what it takes to get you to that point.
- Do you have a budget? It is surprising that so few of us have a formal budget worked out. This is not just tracking where the money goals but also sets a few attainable goals within the budget, too. For example, how much do you really want to spend on food? How much are you spending on food? How can you make changes to reach your goal or at least stay closer to it? That’s all part of budgeting.
After all, let’s say your goal is $100 per week for all of your food, household cleaners and other grocery items. You are now around $180 per week. Are there items that can be cut? Maybe you are buying too many pre-made meals or costly pre-cut veggies? Maybe you don’t shop with a list and “wing it”, then end up tossing spoiled food?
That means that you can honestly dig into the weekly shopping lists to find areas of waste. Maybe switch to store brand toilet paper, eliminate plastic bags and purchase storage containers instead, and do a meatless day or two. Just simple steps like this can eliminate a lot of waste. Read up on cost-cutting and money saving blogs, start to use coupons, join loyalty clubs and you’ll see fast and radical savings.
Do this with every part of the budget – phone bills, subscription services, utilities, gas and auto expenses, insurances and more. It is pretty shocking to see how much we waste. In our recent article about subscription services we recommended apps and sites like Trim, Truebill and ClarityMoney. Each of them lets you open up your expenses to assessment and see where you are spending lots of money – often wasting it. Your bank might have a tool such as FinanceWorks that migrates all of your shared information into a financial assessment tool that lets you look at trends, transactions and an overview while also setting goals.
Understanding what you spend and where you can cut costs this year is a huge part of making that proverbial breathing room essential for you to also be able to build savings this year.
- Build a foundation for effective savings – You never want to just simply start to save any extra money if you can use it to first eliminate debt. Financial experts usually advise a three pronged approach that begins with paying off debts such as credit cards, car loans and installment loans other than mortgages. Next, they suggest you create a safety net of savings that equals six to 12 months of living expenses. Then, once those goals are met, you can start to consider the best way to save money, i.e. savings, investment account, and so on.
Once those two steps are accomplished, you can start to set aside savings for that famous “rainy day”. It could also be money you want to use for a specific investment, a trip, realizing a dream and more. You can do it entirely passively, such as having your primary bank make an automatic transfer into a savings account. However, you want to really shop around for the best interest rates available.
According to the experts at NerdWallet, there are excellent online banking options with great deals in savings account – even those with small balances – they include:
- Cit Bank’s Premier High Yield savings accounts have a 1.55% on any balance
- Marcus by Goldman Sachs with a 1.50% rate on a balance of at least $1
- Barclay’s strictly online savings account brings in 1.50% on balances over $1
- Synchrony Bank’s High Yield Savings has 1.45% with a balance of at least $1
- Discover card’s online savings earns you 1.40% on any balance and comes with a $200 bonus on certain deposit amounts
- Ally bank’s online savings accounts earn 1.35 on any balance
You’ll also want to do your own research to see if local banks or credit unions are even more generous. Just be aware of one incredibly sneaky trick that some use. They might offer something like 4% interest on your deposit, and cap the amount at a relatively low level. This looks great until you see that there is a steep monthly service charge that would gobble up most of the interest, even if you were at or close to the monthly maximum amount.
So, you’ve taken steps to cut costs this year in order to build savings this year. You have done the foundational building that gives you a safety gap of at least six months of living expenses and you’ve eliminate most debt. That leaves you with the need to find the right bank for savings to earn the most interest. What next? Next is to find ways to be rewarded for spending money. And there are several ways to do this:
- Use a rewards credit card that pays you cash back when you make eligible purchases. If your goal is to begin enjoying some savings in the bank, avoid a travel miles credit card and stick with a rewards card option. Some cards, like Discover, rotate the way they pay higher than average rewards and some always make awards available for specific purchases. Explore those options that are the ideal fit to your financial goals. As an example, you might have a card that is generous with travel rewards and if your savings goal is to set aside a specific amount for a dream getaway, then go ahead and use it to buy everyday items and pay bills. Just be sure you pay the balance in full each month or the rewards are cancelled out in interest fees.
- Use rewards websites like Ebates, Ibotta or ev’reward. These pay you for almost any sort of purchase, and you can use each of them to bring you closer to your goals. Ebates is great if you shop mostly online, and ev’reward is like the ultimate tool for fast comparisons of how to get the best deal at a specific store. Remember that all of these sites also have referral programs that give you tidy sums just for getting others to use them, and you might even find ways to earn passively through them with affiliate options.
- Earn passively whenever you can. I just mentioned passive income via affiliate programs and referrals, but you can also use a large number of apps and tools that let you earn for doing little more than your usual Internet browsing. Drop, for example, is an app that you can link to your preferred debit and credit cards. Once you do, and use it to make qualified purchases, you get points that are then converted into cash cards at some of the most popular retailers. There is also Paribus that does all of the legwork of price matching for you. All you do is give it access to your email account and then always ask for receipts from major retailers to be emailed rather than printed. The app then reviews all emails and finds receipts. It reviews them and automatically refunds you any money you are due when prices drop or you qualify for a price match refund.
Don’t overlook passive income from low-effort apps like Swagbucks and InboxDollars. Both pay you for taking surveys, giving customer feedback and other similar steps. If you spend time playing AngryBirds or other games, why not switch gears and use these apps to earn money when just killing time.
- Declutter and earn big time. Do you have a bunch of unused and unwanted DVDs, CDs, video games, books, devices, game consoles, BlueRays and other similar items you no longer need? If so, the decluttr website wants them and will pay you cash for them. In the course of an afternoon, you might accumulate hundreds of dollars in hidden cash around your home. They even buy LEGO; allowing you to avoid the agony of even one more “bare foot meets LEGO incident” again. Sites like letgo also help you get rid of your unwanted goods, but unlike Craigslist and eBay, the emphasis is on local buying and selling. It lets you upload an image, name your price and get it picked up and removed. You net the cash for the sale and just transfer it to your payment account of choice.
- Get a library card. Seriously, one of the biggest and best ways you can cut costs this year is to turn to your local library’s online tools and resources. Not only can you request the latest bestsellers instead of adding them to your Kindle or e-reader for a hefty sum, but you can also find many ways to stream movies, music, magazines and lessons entirely for free. For example, my library has Hoopla, OverDrive, and an array of other options that helped me put close to $100 in my pocket each month.
- Use Groupon for more than personal deals. One of the nicest tips that most of us do not know about or follow, but which can help anyone build savings this year is to use Groupon for more than just personal deals and bargains. For example, over the previous holiday season, the site offered a wide array of date night packages with values of over $125 and sold them for less than $40. That can easily allow you to purchase them as gifts for couples or friends, but also to snag a few of the deals for yourself, too – allowing you a night out for a deep discount.
- Monetize your car. If you have a car and some free time, it is likely you can monetize it. You might do as we have suggested in a recent article about ways to make money with your car and pick up a few hours of food delivery, Uber or Lyft driving or even running errands for others. You can earn the car payment, insurance payment and gas money fairly quickly with just a few hours each week!
You now have a long list of ways to cut costs this year and start to build savings this year, too. I don’t want to gloss over one of my personal favorite techniques in beginning to save money, and that is to supplement your income with a side gig. One of the easiest is to create a blog around your passion. It doesn’t matter what that passion might be – if there are others with an interest in the subject, it can become a major source of passive income.
How? Affiliate marketing. Sites like Amazon, Avangate, ClickBank, Commission Junction, aka CJ Affiliate, eBay, Rakuten, and Shareasale make an array of products available for affiliate marketing. You simply become a “publisher” who talks about your passion and recommends or suggests affiliate products to those interested in your subject matter. Are you a baker and love to make sourdough bread? Blog about it in your spare time, insert your affiliate URLs from Amazon or Rakuten into the blogs and watch as you earn money just by sharing the information with others.
Not only can you cut costs this year and start to build savings this year, but you can actually shift away from the 9-5 job if you would like and enjoy financial freedom in the coming years, too.