Saving money isn’t easy. Otherwise, everyone would be doing it. But the reality is: Most of us aren’t saving.
The latest numbers show that Americans’ savings have plummeted, factoring in the hardship of the pandemic and compared to recent years. An estimated 40 percent of people have $300 or less in their savings. And half of Americans have less than $600 saved. This doesn’t come close to meeting the baseline recommendation of having three to six months’ income set aside to cover emergencies.
If that sounds like you and your bank account, there’s no need to panic. Saving money is something tackled step-by-step, one week at a time.
The CHL 52 Week Money Challenge: Here’s how it’s done
You’ve probably seen the Money Challenge circulated online. In the most classic version, you’ll find a basic money-saving chart that guides you into saving $1 per week. In the first week, you put $1 into your savings account. By the time you hit week 52, you’ll have saved $52 per week for a grand total of $1,378 in savings for the year.
While you can’t go wrong with starting a weekly money-saving habit, what we, and so many online users of the classic Money Challenge, noticed is that this standard challenge is lacking in flair. Many people are still looking for creative ways to reduce how much they spend each day and put that money to better use. For example, toward a vacation fund or a down payment on a house.
Already saving for that down payment? Chat with a loan officer to see exactly how much — or how little — you need to save.
That’s where our 52-Week Money Challenge comes in. We’ve collected our favorite ideas from financial experts and real people just like you to come up with a weekly money-saving guide that will leave you $4,606 richer at the end of the year. Use one tip to put away some extra cash. Or, use them all to reach your larger financial goals.
Begin making small changes to your money-saving habits each week — kicking off this month, in November:
- Week 1: Eat one less meal out per week. Or choose a more affordable option.
- Week 2: Cut out one daily luxury, i.e., your morning latte.
- Week 3: Eliminate one streaming service you no longer need. Choose Netflix or Hulu, not both.
- Week 4: Ask for a raise or performance review. Then save your pay increase.
Total savings: $398 per month*
- Week 1: Start using Deal of the Day websites, like Groupon or Living Social, allowing you to save up to 50 percent (or more) on everyday purchases, like restaurants, groceries, and travel.
- Week 2: Automatically save a $5 bill whenever you’re given one as change. It’s quirky, but it adds up.
- Week 3: Relax and DIY your beauty treatments at home, instead of splurging for a spa mani/pedi.
- Week 4: Grow your own food; start with anything. Even a single tomato plant will supply you with fresh (and free) produce.
Total savings: $185 per month*
- Week 1: Start a club. Join forces with friends and save a set amount every month. For example, if six friends each pay $20 per month, this adds up to $120. Person A takes the $120 in month one. All six friends save another $20 each for the next month. Person B takes this round of $120 and so on. This requires trust among friends so that everyone gets their turn in receiving.
- Week 2: Create (and stick to!) to a weekly meal plan. It’ll keep you organized and avoid money being spent at the drive-through.
- Week 3: Clip coupons and save in-store coupon receipts — and actually use them.
- Week 4: Go the old-fashioned route and store your spare change in a change jar or a coffee can. Cash it all in to add to your savings at the end of the month.
- Week 5: Sign up for local VIP clubs to receive alerts for free or cheap tickets to art shows, theater productions, or the symphony.
Total savings: $328 per month*
- Week 1: Quit those extra classes. If you’ve been paying for dance classes for years for one of your kids, and they’re no longer interested, continue to set aside that amount of money as savings.
- Week 2: Check your credit and debit card statements each month and call to clear up any errors.
- Week 3: Purchase generics. For an item like paper products, there’s really no difference in quality. Even for many food items, the difference is negligible.
- Week 4: Have a date night out on the cheap — or for free. Picnic at a local park, check out a low-cost museum, or take a leisurely stroll through a nearby city.
Total savings: $250 per month*
- Week 1: Consider quitting an expensive habit or cutting back — like smoking or drinking sodas.
- Week 2: Switch insurance providers. Start shopping around for deals through comparison sites just before your annual insurance is due to expire; your current insurer will typically increase their premium after 12 months.
- Week 3: Bring your own dry-food snacks next time you travel, instead of buying a meal at the airport.
- Week 4: Downgrade your phone plan. If you’re not using all of your data, stop paying for it.
Total savings: $110 per month*
- Week 1: Use an app to scout out the cheapest gas prices on your next road trip.
- Week 2: Change your own oil, while you’re at it. You can find how-to guides for virtually everything online. Visit car forums or YouTube for walk-throughs on simple tasks, like oil changes, replacing light fixtures, or even waxing.
- Week 3: Practice the 30-day rule. Wait at least 30 days before making a major purchase (to make sure you really want it).
- Week 4: Sew a cute patch on your jeans or mend a shirt instead of buying new clothes.
Total savings: $450 per month*
- Week 1: Sell those unwanted items of value that you no longer need on Craigslist or VarageSale.
- Week 2: Opt out of those offers that keep hitting your inbox. Just clicking “unsubscribe” from marketing emails can save you money.
- Week 3: Use a health savings account. Any time you can utilize pre-tax income, you should. Set up an HSA to pay with pre-tax dollars for health-related expenses, ranging from prescriptions to contact lenses to doctor bills and more. Just note that HSAs come with higher deductibles, so they make sense for people who tend to have very low medical bills.
- Week 4: Practice at least one spend-free day a week. To take it further, try to see how many days you can go without spending a penny.
- Week 5: Buy in bulk. Stock up on the household goods you know you’re going to use a lot of: like toilet paper, toiletries, paper towels, etc.
Total savings: $410 per month*
- Week 1: As Warren Buffett so famously said, “Never give up searching for the job that you are passionate about.” Keep sending out resumes and looking for opportunities. You might find a better fit with a better paygrade to match.
- Week 2: Bring lunch to work — and catch up on some reading while coworkers are eating out.
- Week 3: Buy quality and not quantity, when you can. Cheap shoes or a cheap purse will cost you more in the long run.
- Week 4: Get your kids in on it. Pay your children for doing chores and ask them to save the money in their bank account, which they can spend later on their big-ticket or splurge purchases.
- Week 5: Ask local businesses, like restaurants and repair companies, for discounts — or check on their website for special offers before you buy.
Total savings: $430 per month*
- Week 1: Make a shopping list before you go to the grocery store (and stick to it!).
- Week 2: Sign up for a credit card — with rewards. When used responsibly, credit can be an excellent vehicle to boost savings. With credit card companies becoming more and more competitive, you can get up to 5 percent cash back on certain purchases. Over time, this amount can really add up. With the option to apply it to the balance of your statement, that’s free money.
- Week 3: Save the amount you spend. When you buy an entertainment or hobby item, like a video game, put the same amount away and forget about it.
- Week 4: Share a babysitter the next time you go out for drinks or dinner with friends.
Total savings: $300 per month*
- Week 1: Divert money into your savings account. The most effective strategy for sustained savings is to set a savings rate goal, then work backward toward it. If your savings rate goal is 15 percent of your after-tax income, you can set 15 percent of your paycheck to automatically go into savings. (We also love saving with Mint, if you’d rather go techie.)
- Week 2: Refill water bottles with filtered water and reuse, benefiting your bank account and the environment.
- Week 3: Plan ahead when you need cash. Using an out-of-network ATM at a bar or festival could cost you upwards of $5 a pop.
- Week 4: Stay in and host a potluck with friends instead of going out for a weekend dinner.
Total savings: $880 per month*
- Week 1: Ask to work some overtime to prep for the money you’ll spend during the holidays.
- Week 2: Start buying gifts early to take advantage of pre-holiday deals.
- Week 3: Request your free annual credit report that you’re entitled to and fix any errors. Focusing on your credit could save you thousands. Getting a mortgage is a great example. If you have a higher credit score, you may qualify for a lower interest rate, with potential to save you over $3,000 a year on your mortgage.
- Week 4: Automatically save any “found money,” like a rebate or money in a coat pocket, that comes your way.
Total savings: $540 per month*
- Week 1: Try a weekly cash budget. For the hard-core savers, you could go with a cash-only mentality, foregoing the use of all credit cards and only using the money in your wallet. When there’s nothing left, you’re done spending until your next paycheck.
- Week 2: Get crafty and make your own handmade Christmas gifts instead of going the store-bought route.
- Week 3: Host a $50 white elephant exchange, or gift swap, with the adults in your family to reduce the cost of buying individual gifts.
- Week 4: Cut down on the entertainment for your kids. Remember the value of boredom-breeding imagination? Purchase one less on-demand movie or impulse-buy toy at the grocery store. (They’re going to get plenty of goodies at Christmas anyway.)
- Week 5: Put a dollar in a jar every time you accomplish something, like cleaning out the junk drawer in your kitchen or getting a great email from your boss. Cash it out into your savings at the end of the month.
Total savings: $325 per month*
Grand total: $4,606*
Follow this plan to the letter, and you could save more than $4,000 this year. And if you’re wondering what to do with all that money burning a hole in your pocket…
This could be the perfect opportunity to fund your future
When you use your newfound savings to purchase a house, you won’t just have a beautiful place to live. You’ll also have the chance to start rapidly growing equity, building thousands of dollars in additional wealth in a few short years. To find out how much house you can afford, prequalify now.
*Savings numbers are only estimates, and amounts may vary.
For educational purposes only. Please contact your qualified professional for specific guidance.
Sources are deemed reliable but not guaranteed.