Saving money isn’t easy. Otherwise, everyone would be doing it. A Pew Charitable Trust report in 2016, confirmed by The New York Times, told us what we already know: Most of us aren’t saving.
Over half of Americans have less than one month of savings. This doesn’t come close to meeting the baseline recommendation of having three to six months’ income in savings to cover emergencies.
Money-saving should be easy, and so should getting prequalified for a new house. Use our free LoanFly app to prequalify fast.
It’s everyone’s favorite Money Challenge — with a twist
If that sounds like you and your bank account, there’s no need to panic yet. Saving money is something you do step-by-step, one week at a time.
You’ve probably seen the Internet’s favorite Money Challenge going around on Pinterest, Facebook, or Twitter. 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 will put $1 into your savings account. By the time you hit week 52, you will save $52 per week for a grand total of $1,378 in savings for the year.
Don’t get us wrong. Starting a weekly money-saving habit is never a bad move. But what we, and so many online users of the classic Money Challenge, have noticed is that this standard challenge is lacking in flair. Simple money-saving guidelines can be effective. And yet, 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 for a down payment on a house.
Already started saving for that down payment? Take a moment to chat with one of our loan officers about getting prequalified for a mortgage.
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 set aside some extra cash. Or, use them all to reach your larger financial goals.
The Cornerstone Home Lending 52 Week Money Challenge: Here’s how it works
Take it from those money-savers who have gone before you.
Start slow. Dip your toes in the water. Begin making some 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 Plus, not both. “Consider options like Hulu and Netflix to cut costs and cancel unnecessary subscriptions you’re not honestly taking advantage of, like that fancy gym, Birchbox, or Dollar Shave Club,” Marianne Ahlmann, content and community manager at Personal Capital, says.
- Week 4: Ask for a raise or performance review. Then save your pay increase.
Total savings: $398 per month*
- Week 1: David Bakke, personal finance expert at Money Crashers, says, “Start using Deal of the Day websites like Groupon or Living Social, which allow you to save 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. One lonely tomato plant. Anything. You don’t need anything fancy… Put the seed in the dirt, stick it in the window, and water that sucker,” Reddit saver historiadracorum says.
Total savings: $185 per month*
- Week 1: Start a club. Deborah Sawyerr, expert money literacy educator at Sawyerrs’ House Ltd., recommends joining forces with a group of likeminded friends and saving a set amount every month. “So that for example, six friends each pay $20 per month. This equals $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 and so forth — this requires an element of trust amongst all six friends so that everyone gets their turn in receiving his or her own $120.”
- Week 2: secretmumblog on Instagram suggests creating and sticking to a weekly meal plan. It keeps you healthy and organized, and you avoid 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 keep 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. “I saved up all the change I had for a year and had about $68.44 at the end of it. All of it went into my travel savings,” argosfan24 posted to Reddit.
- Week 5: As mdg_roberts1 posted to Reddit, “Join VIP clubs for art shows, symphonies, plays, etc. You get offers of really cheap events quite regularly. This weekend I’m going to Beethoven for free.”
Total savings: $328 per month*
- Week 1: Quit those extra classes. “If you have been paying for dance classes for ‘X’ years for a child and dancing stops because the child no longer requires the classes, continue to put aside that amount of money as savings, even though the child no longer dances,” Sawyerr says.
- Week 2: Check your credit and debit card statements each month and call to clear up any errors.
- Week 3: Purchase generics as another lesser-known way to save, says Bakke. “For a thing like paper products, there’s really no difference in quality, and even for food items, the difference is negligible, if at all.”
- Week 4: Have a date night out on the cheap — or for free. Take a picnic to a local park, check out a low-cost museum, or take a leisurely walk through a nearby city at night.
Total savings: $250 per month*
- Week 1: Consider quitting an expensive habit or cutting back — like smoking or drinking five diet sodas a day.
- Week 2: Switch insurance providers. “Just before your insurance is due to expire, shop around for deals on annual insurance payments through comparison websites rather than staying with your current insurer, who will usually increase the premium after 12 months,” Sawyerr says.
- 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: travelher_org on Instagram says you’re better off using an app to find 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 on the Internet. Visit car forums or YouTube for walk-throughs on simple tasks like oil changes, replacing light fixtures, or even waxing. The satisfaction of saving and learning something new will be well worth it,” Ahlmann says.
- 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: Tortoise Happy tweeted, “Just unsubscribing from marketing emails can save you money. Delete those tempting offers from your inbox!”
- Week 3: Use a health savings account. “Any time you can utilize pre-tax income, you should,” Ahlmann advises. “Set up an HSA account to use pre-tax dollars to pay for health-related expenses. These include prescriptions, contact lenses, doctor bills, and more. Many employers offer HSA accounts to their employees, so inquire with your human resources department. Just note that HSAs come with higher deductibles, so they make sense for people who tend to have very low medical bills. For individuals or families who use doctors more often, they are less optimal.”
- Week 4: Practice at least one spend-free day a week. “See how many days you can go without spending a penny,” says FloobLord of Reddit.
- Week 5: “Buy in bulk for things you know you are going to be using a lot of: toilet paper, paper towels, sponges, etc. The savings add up after a while,” Redditor 321racecar123 says.
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 opportunity 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 indirectly is still the parents’ money to spend either on themselves or their children,” Sawyerr says.
- 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,” Ahlmann says. “With credit card companies becoming more and more competitive, you can get up to 5 percent cash back on certain purchases. Over time, that amount can really add up, and with the option to apply it to the balance of your statement in a given month, that’s free money!”
- Week 3: Save the amount you spend. “When I buy entertainment stuff (or hobby things), I put the same amount away and act like it doesn’t exist. That makes video games cost about $120,” ITsPersonalIRL of Reddit says.
- Week 4: Share a babysitter the next time you go out to drinks or dinner with friends.
Total savings: $300 per month*
- Week 1: Divert money into your savings account. “While it may not be as exciting and sexy as using the ‘savings app of the week,’ the most effective strategy for sustained savings is to set a savings rate goal, then working backwards to systematize it. For example, if a person’s savings rate goal is 15 percent of their after-tax income, they should set 15 percent of their biweekly paycheck to automatically go into a savings account. They could have their employer split their direct deposit, or they could set up automatic transfers between their checking account and savings account to happen every payday,” Brian Davis, co-founder and lead real estate and personal finance blogger at SparkRental.com, says. (P.S. We love saving with Mint, if you want to 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. “When you do focus on your credit, it can save you thousands of dollars,” credit coach Jeanne Kelly says. “For example, a home loan. If you have a lower credit score, and the interest rate for 30 years is 4.5 percent instead of 6 percent, that can add up quickly. So, be aware of what is reported on your credit report. You want to make sure all accounts on reporting correctly.” Fixing any errors on your credit report can have a positive impact on your bills, including 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 those hard-core savers among us, Bakke says, “You could go with a cash-only mentality, where you forego the use of all credit cards and only use the money in your wallet for your purchases. When there’s nothing left, you’re done as far as spending goes until the next paycheck comes in.”
- 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 making it to the gym for the day 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. What are you going to do with all that money burning a hole in your pocket? This could be the perfect time to find out how much home loan you prequalify for — and how much you can put toward a new house.
*Please remember that these 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.