Updated February 20, 2017

23 Really Creative Ways to Save Money


You know you need to save money more but struggle to do it. You need some fresh ideas - 23 creative ways to get yourself to sock away more dough.

What you need is a new way of thinking. A lot of what's holding us back from saving smartly and spending wisely is our brain is telling us one thing while our gut (the part of us that wants instant gratification and lots of STUFF) is telling us another.

Take control of your spending - and save more money - by focusing on your brain. These creative ways of changing your spending habits will set you on a path for reaching your savings goals. For real this time.

© CreditDonkey

1. Tell yourself you're in control

Believe it or not, the number one reason people have trouble saving money is psychological. They simply think that they can't do it. And if that's what you tell yourself, then you're already setting yourself up for failure. So the first thing we have to work on is changing your mindset. Change that inner voice to "I CAN do it".

Just feeling in control makes a big impact on your financial decisions. In a university study, researchers found that people who merely felt powerful (didn't matter if they actually were or not) saved a lot more compared to those who didn't.

2. Picture yourself saving more

We'll tell you a simple secret of highly successful people: they visualize their success. If you're having trouble saving for a particular goal (such as retirement), spend a little bit of time daily imagining your future self achieving it. This can motivate you to change your behavior so that it becomes reality. That's right - daydream your way to success!

3. Use inertia to your advantage

In some instances, doing nothing can work in your favor if you're trying to increase your savings. When researchers at UCLA decided to test a new 401(k) strategy that automatically increased annual contributions, they found that 80% of the participants stuck with the plan for more than 3 years because they didn't need to put in any additional effort to save the extra money. This is one of the only times you'll hear that being lazy works to your advantage!

4. Keep your goals focused

Setting goals is a good thing, but having one too many can actually be counter-productive. A Canadian study found that those who had a single goal in mind were ultimately more successful at hanging on to their money than those who were juggling multiple objectives.

5. Don't forget to write them down

Once you've set your sights on a particular goal, jot it down on paper. The simple act of putting your savings goals in writing makes them more real in your mind, and thus increasing the likelihood that you'll be able to achieve them. In one study, 61% of people who wrote down their goals reached their objectives, compared to 43% of those who only thought about what they wanted to do.

6. Run the numbers

Need something more visual? Sometimes, seeing how much money you could have if you stepped up your savings game can be enough to put you on the right path. In a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, workers were given written projections estimating what their retirement accounts would be worth in the future. After seeing these cold, hard numbers, they increased their contributions by more than $1,100 per year on average.

7. Read up on the benefits of saving

If you're not on the savings bandwagon yet, reading about its advantages can trigger a desire to be more careful with your cash (in the same way that reading about that exotic faraway land can make you want to visit). In one experiment, workers who were asked to review literature about their company's 401(k) plan that highlighted the maximum contribution rate increased their elective deferrals into the plan by 2.9%.

8. Use reminders to stay on track

Using text or email alerts is a good way to remember when your bills are due, and it also proves effective at helping you to save money. A group of researchers from Boston College found that participants who received visual reminders were 3% more likely to hit their savings goal, and they saved 6% more overall.

9. Make a contract with yourself

If you're really struggling to save, you may need some tougher forms of motivation to kick your butt into gear. Try creating a contract with yourself that includes some sort of penalty clause. In one Yale study, smokers were asked to contribute to a savings account over a 6-month period. As long as they were able to give up cigarettes by the end of the study, the money would be theirs. When it was all said and done, those who had signed contracts were 6% more likely to reach both goals.

10. Create obstacles to draining your savings

These days, with ATMs located on just about every street corner and the ease of mobile and online banking, it is easy to pull money out any time you want. While this is a good thing generally, unfortunately it also means that it is all too tempting to take from your savings account.

Research shows that when it's harder to get at the cash, it's possible to save up to 80% more each year. Make it harder to get your hands on the cash by moving your savings to an online bank, putting it into a CD, or leaving your ATM card at home.

11. Rethink your money mindset

Do you think of saving as an impossible-to-attain goal? How you think about money plays a big part in shaping your savings skills. And it all started years ago. The "money scripts" (or attitudes toward money) that persist in your head began with your childhood experiences. It all ties into how you handle your finances as an adult.

If you struggle with saving, here's the good news: it is possible to change the script. Stop telling yourself you'll never be able to save.

12. Use actionable language when describing your goals

It's great that you're talking about your goals (after all, acknowledging it is the first step!), but talking about what you plan to do doesn't guarantee that it'll get done. Try saying "I am saving money" instead of "I will save money". Just this tiny change in language will help you achieve a higher level of success.

13. Be aware of your mood when spending

We've probably all needed "retail therapy" from time to time. This is because buying new things makes us feel good when we're having a particularly bad day or week. But have you ever convinced yourself that this one item will totally cheer you up, only to end up regretting it later?

A study shows that being sad causes people to spend more and make purchases without worrying about the cost. Shopping as a pick-me-up may provide temporary gratification, but you may just end up with an empty wallet and shoes you'll never wear. Best to just grab a friend and have a chat over ice cream!

14. Take a gamble (the savings kind)

Prize-linked savings accounts are a relatively new banking product, but they're catching on in a big way. The idea is simple: each time you make a deposit, you're entered into a lottery of sorts and the winner gets a cash bonus. While there's no guarantee that you will win, research shows that people who open one of these accounts save more of their income each year.

15. Get an accountability partner

There's no shame in confiding in someone that you're trying to save or pay off debt. In fact, having a friend to offer encouragement will even help you in reaching your goal. Boston College researchers found that when people who were struggling with debt asked friends for support and motivation, they were 50% more likely to stay on track.

16. Look at your parents' saving habits

Physical characteristics aren't the only things we inherit from our parents. Scientifically speaking, your DNA accounts for about a third of what influences your spending and saving choices. But don't go blaming your parents and use "it's in my genes" as an excuse! Take a look at what financial missteps your parents might have made, and see if you can avoid repeating them in your own life.

17. Track your spending

Keeping tabs on your spending is not only an essential part of budgeting, it also helps with saving money. The simple act of writing out everything you buy can reduce impulsive spending. Once you're able to start cutting out those unnecessary purchases, you can start focusing on saving.

18. Put a lid on credit card purchases

Paying with a credit card is great if you're trying to earn reward points or cash back, but it can be a savings killer if you're not careful. Psychologically, using credit increases the odds that you'll pay more compared to when you use cash, in otherwise identical shopping situations.

Maybe this is because paying in cash forces you to see how much money you're parting with, while there is no immediate sense of loss with just swiping a credit card. If you're shopping using a credit card, remember this point and imagine it as real money you're handing over. You'll be able to keep your spending more in check.

19. Ask for new bills if you spend cash

Using your debit card is convenient but if you prefer to spend with cash, ask the teller for new bills the next time you're at the bank. The reason? Research shows that you're more likely to spend old, worn bills first and hang on to those crisp tens and twenties longer.

20. Be thankful

Expressing gratitude on a regular basis is a healthy habit to have, and it can also help you make progress towards your savings goals. When you have a thankful attitude, you're less likely to want immediate gratification in the form of money. In one study, participants who demonstrated a thankful attitude when offered two different cash amounts more frequently opted to delay gratification to score the higher payday.

21. Shop with a purpose

We know that shopping when stressed leads to poor purchase choices (see #13), but did you also know that hitting the mall when you're in an extremely relaxed state can actually have the same effect?

Great, so now you're telling us that we can't shop when sad and we can't shop when happy?? What can we do? Luckily, the solution is simple. Whether you're on the hunt for a birthday gift or just making your weekly grocery run, walk into the store with a clear idea of what you want to buy and what you want to spend. This ensures that you get in and out without dropping more cash than you need to.

22. Focus on the "why" instead of the "how"

When you've got your mind set on saving money, it's easy to become super-focused on what steps you're going to take to do it, but don't forget the reasons why you're doing it. Maybe you're saving for the arrival of a new baby or for your dream vacation. Use that goal as your motivation. Focus on the image of you on a safari ride in Africa, rather than focusing on having to cut off those daily Starbucks lattes.

23. Make it part of your financial routine

Building the savings habit takes time and a shift in mindset. Don't think of saving as this thing you are doing for the sole purpose of reaching a fixed goal. Instead, make it a part of your regular money management practice, and it'll be much easier to stick with it. A Rice University study found that when people think of saving money as a repetitive action rather than a task to reach a goal, they sock away 78% more overall.

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Comments about 23 Really Creative Ways to Save Money

  • Doug Johnson
    on October 17, 2016 10:20 AM said:

    in my early 3o's I tallied the interest my wife and I paid out that year and then compared that total to our W2's at tax time.
    I was SHOCKED to realize it interest paid out was close to one W2. I went on a MISSION to reduce my interest we were paying out and never looked back. School loans, mortgages, credit cards - we went to work on. It took about 18 months of total focus to be totally debt free.
    During that process it took extreme will power and focus BUT it was WELL worth it. That was 2003 and it changed our lives for the positive :)

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