It might have felt like you were playing defense with your budget in 2020 as COVID-19 triggered a massive economic fallout. The pandemic has caused job losses, furloughs, a lot of economic anxiety, additional debt, and a recession that’s disproportionately affecting women, and especially women of color. So simply guarding your savings account, as opposed to growing it, should be considered a feat of its own in the last year.
But if you’re looking at 2021 with a goal of building up, or replenishing, your savings account, experts say there are little strategies that can help you move to offense. Here are seven small, but effective, ways you can actually grow your savings this year.
1. Hit “Unsubscribe” on Apps You Don’t Use
Warm up by unsubscribing from store email lists, suggests YouTube creator Aja Dang, who paid off $200,000 in debt in two years and now shares budgeting and financial advice to help others. This may seem counterintuitive: How will you know when your favorite store is having a big sale? But, that’s exactly the point, Dang says.
“Even with our best intentions to save money, if we see an email for 70 percent off at our favorite store, we’re going to click on it,” she says. “If money is tight, you don’t want to risk those temptations.”
Next, unsubscribe from any phone apps and subscription services that you pay for, but are hardly using, Dang suggests. You can look at your monthly bank statements to see which subscriptions you’re paying for, and some apps can help you track your subscriptions. Truebill, for example, syncs to your bank account to help you monitor your spending and identify which subscriptions you might want to cancel. (The app offers a premium version starting at $3 that provides a “cancelation concierge” to make subscription elimination even easier.)
Once you’ve unsubscribed from subscription accounts, it can be helpful to convert that money into savings by setting up an automatic monthly transfer for the same amount, suggests Dylan Houlihan, who runs the personal finance site Swift Salary. You’ve become accustomed to spending it, so why not spend it in a way that benefits you? For example, if you cut a $15 a month streaming service, make a recurring automatic transfer to your savings account for $15 a month, and, by the end of the year, you’ll have an extra $180 in savings.
“Your budget will feel the same, but you’ll be saving money rather than spending it,” Houlihan says.
2. Set aside $2.75 a day
If you’re building a savings account from scratch, make it approachable by setting aside a small amount, such as $2.75 a day, suggests Cynthia Meyer, a Certified Financial Planner with Real Life Planning. She suggests using an app like Acorns or Digit to round up your purchases and add them to a savings account automatically.
“In a year, you’ll have a bit more than $1,000 in savings for your emergency fund, car down payment, or a security deposit on your next apartment,” she says.
3. Give Your Budget the 50-30-20 Makeover
Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert for NerdWallet, suggests applying the 50-30-20 approach to your budget. With this formula, 50 percent of your take-home pay goes towards needs, like housing, food, utilities, transportation and other must-haves. Thirty percent goes towards wants, like monthly subscriptions and meals out. The final 20 percent goes towards savings and debt payments, with a focus on paying off high-interest debt, growing your retirement and building an emergency fund. This won’t always come out as a neat percentage, but it’s a good rule of thumb to shoot for, especially in the beginning of your savings journey.
Whether it’s dish soap, pet food, or toilet paper, stock up on the items you buy frequently, suggests Robert Farmington, the founder and CEO of The College Investor, an investing and personal finance site for millennials. Not only is buying in larger quantities typically cheaper for each unit of product, you’ll save trips to the grocery store or Target, which can help you avoid impulse purchases, and the extra money can go towards your savings goals, he says.
5. Rename Your Savings Categories
Determining the “why” behind your savings goals can help motivate you to save, says Chloe Daniels, a financial coach and bogger at Clo Bare. Many banks allow you to create “nicknames” for your savings categories: For example, you can rename your budget category from savings to “Home Fund” or “Emergency Fund” or even something that’s a bigger reminder of why you’re saving, such as “Peace of Mind.”
“When you put money into these accounts, it feels good because you know you’re not just arbitrarily saving money and depriving yourself,” Daniels says. “Instead, you’re saying yes to what you truly want, and by saving your money in these categories, you’re getting closer to those meaningful long-term goals.”
6. Trim Your Grocery Bill With Ease
“These are typically foods that are quickly expiring or have been marked down massively because they might not look the prettiest, but they are perfectly good to eat,” she says. And, of course, it’s always worth doing the legwork to see which stores will offer you the best price for the same or similar items. (This post at Kitchn, which compares Costco and Trader Joe’s hauls, is a good place to start.)
7. Take Advantage of Sign-Up Bonuses
Many credit cards offer free cash bonuses when you sign up and spend a certain amount in the first few months, says money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. “As long as you’re only spending on planned purchases, it’s an easy way to make some extra cash that can give you savings a quick boost,” Woroch says. In other words, if you do decide to open one of these cards, only use it for purchases you can afford at that moment and immediately pay off the balance every month.
It’s always important to also review card details and terms at sites like CardRates.com and review terms, being cautious of things like costly annual membership fees or low interest rates that are only offered for an introductory period.