Saving money is hard work. Americans struggle to set aside enough money to cover emergencies. Only 41% of adults have $500 or more in an emergency savings account, according to a recent Bankrate survey.
Fortunately, there are ways to make saving a lot easier. It's possible to "trick" yourself into saving money without depriving yourself of the comforts that money could buy you. Here are five tactics to try now.
1. Review your service plans
How long has it been since you reviewed your cellphone plan? If it's been a while, you might be surprised by how much of what you're paying for goes to waste every month. If you're paying for way more service than you actually use, check with your provider and see if there's a less expensive plan that would be perfectly adequate for your needs.
Next, take a look at other service providers with regular monthly charges -- this could include your internet provider, your gym, Netflix, your landline phone service, etc. See if these providers also offer less expensive plans that would work just as well for you, and make the switch. Then write down how much you'll be saving each month by switching to cheaper plans (we'll get to how you use this number in a moment).
2. Review your insurance policies
Looking at your insurance policies annually is a good idea for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that you can easily cut costs by either cutting out features you don't need or switching to a provider who offers the same features at a lower price. One way to get a better deal is by getting multiple insurance policies through the same company: Many insurance providers will give you a "package deal" if you buy, say, both your homeowners insurance and your car insurance through the provider. If you're not sure what features you really need, call your insurance agent and ask for advice.
Going over your insurance policies is a bit of a headache, but it can help you identify places where you're flat-out wasting your money. For example, if you're a AAA member, you don't need to pay extra for towing coverage on your car insurance. Once you've finished optimizing your various insurance policies, write down how much you'll be saving every month.
3. Review your financial services
The financial industry is highly competitive, so a lot of banks and brokerages offer extraordinarily good deals to lure you away from your current provider. For bank accounts, look for the highest possible interest rates paired with low or no fees. For brokerage accounts, consider switching to an online discount broker -- or, if you already work with a discount broker, shop around and see if you can find one that will give you an even deeper discount.
If you really like your current bank or brokerage but find a better deal elsewhere, call up or visit your current provider and tell them about the great deal you could get elsewhere -- then ask if they can do anything for you to keep your business. Odds are, your provider will be willing to waive some fees or otherwise incentivize you to stay. Once again, write down how much you will be saving each month with your improved financial accounts.
4. Automate your savings
It's time to look at the numbers you wrote down in the previous three steps. Freeing up this money is a great first step, but unless you intervene, that extra money is likely to vanish right out of your pockets. To keep that from happening, set up an automatic transfer for the exact amount of the money you've managed to trim off your various expenses so that the funds will go directly into your savings account.
Nearly all banks will allow you to set up automatic transfers in a variety of forms. For example, rather than doing a once-a-month automatic transfer, you may find it easier to divide the total amount you'll be saving by 30 and do small transfers every day. That keeps your checking account from taking a sudden, large hit every month -- which could be a disaster if you forget it's coming.
5. There's an app for that
Want to do even more of that painless saving? Quite a few companies are now offering free savings apps that use algorithms to find the fat in your budget and transfer it away to safety. One of the most popular savings apps is Digit, a program that analyzes your checking account history to determine how much extra money you have and then automatically transfers the excess into a special savings account every two or three days. Digit's savings account does not pay interest, so plan to move the money into a different savings account on a regular basis.
If you want to get a bit more aggressive about saving, consider Acorns, an app that rounds up all your purchases to the nearest dollar and invests the change in low-cost index funds. (The app is free, but this company charges an investment fee of $1 per month; savers under the age of 24 and students can get this fee waived).
What to do with your savings
Once you've gotten into the habit of tucking away money on a regular basis, you'll soon have a respectable balance in your savings accounts. After a certain point, leaving all the money in a bank savings account may not be the wisest idea. You should definitely hang on to a minimum of three to six months' worth of expenses in savings in case of emergency. Beyond that, consider moving any excess savings to an investment account, particularly a tax-advantaged retirement account. These accounts give you the chance to earn much more than the low interest rates offered by bank savings accounts, because you can invest the funds in high-growth assets like stocks. After all this hard work, you might as well get a little extra bang for your buck.