by The Ascent Staff | April 29, 2019
Saving money often feels like it involves nothing but sacrifice. After all, if you're going to save money, you can't spend it on things that would be fun to buy right now.
But even though putting cash aside sometimes requires you to act like a responsible adult and delay gratification, that doesn't mean saving money always has to be a drag. In fact, we found three ways to save money that turn the task into a game or challenge.
Could some of these fun and silly techniques for saving money help you to boost your own savings rate? Read on to find out.
Christy Bieber: One of the most fun ways my husband and I have ever saved money was with a cheap meal challenge. We eat mostly organic foods, so our grocery bills can get pretty high. To help cut costs, we decided to challenge each other to see who could come up with the most delicious meal at the lowest cost. Using veggies from our garden was allowed, and coupons from the grocery store were OK, too -- but we had to account for the cost of all the ingredients we paid for.
This challenge encouraged us to try new meals we otherwise wouldn't have considered. It prompted us to be resourceful and use up stuff we'd had sitting in our cabinets for months. And it forced us to shop based on sales flyers and discounts available to us. We substantially reduced our grocery bill while our challenge was ongoing, and we still eat some of the great inexpensive meals we came up with to this day.
Maurie Backman: At one point last year, I realized I was spending way too much money on what was essentially nonsense. The problem was that I was constantly tempted to buy things I hadn't planned on -- a new shirt here, a fun but unnecessary kitchen gadget there. After seeing the impact all of that extra spending had on my budget, I decided to get creative about saving money by instituting a no-spend month.
The rules were simple: Other than basic life essentials like food, fuel for my car, and medications, I wasn't allowed to buy anything that wasn't an absolute need. This meant no ordering in food, no shopping online for fun, and only pursuing free entertainment.
It wasn't easy, but it worked -- and I even had fun in the process. For example, banning takeout food and restaurants meant getting more adventurous in my own kitchen. Not being allowed to spend money on movie theaters or even museums meant finding free activities I may not have otherwise discovered. I learned that there's a local outdoors club that offers free nature walks where you can learn about the local wildlife while getting exercise. It may not be everyone's idea of a good time, but I sure liked it. And now I have lots of tricks up my sleeve for the next time I need to curb my spending.
Lyle Daly: I was a big fan of video games growing up, especially games where your character levels up and gets better stats and abilities. Although I'm not a gamer anymore, I like to look at personal finance as a video game where I "level up" by reaching different financial milestones.
Personally, I like to plan out a series of smaller, incremental levels that lead to one big goal. For example, I've been focusing on increasing my net worth lately. So level one for me would consist of boosting my net worth by $2,500, and then the goal for level two would be to add another $2,500 to get to $5,000, and so on. Those level-ups would ultimately lead to a bigger goal of increasing my net worth by $25,000 within one year.
You can use this method to gamify any financial goal you have. Here are a few examples of financial milestones where you can level up:
You won't exactly be unlocking any crazy new abilities this way, but you will end up with more financial freedom and less stress about money.
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