Not Really Saving? Use These Tips to Get Started.

Financial pros share their suggestions for setting smart money habits and growing your savings.
by Kat Tretina |February 5, 2024

Reasons for a lack of savings can vary — employment challenges, unmanageable expenses, overspending habits and more — but one thing is clear: Regularly putting aside funds for your future can be a daunting challenge. (According to a recent report, 32% of U.S. households couldn't cover a $500 emergency expense using only their savings.)

But just because you haven’t saved much yet doesn’t mean you can’t start now. By making a few habit changes, you can build a safety net and get closer to your financial goals.

Be a strategic shopper

Online retail sites and delivery apps make impulse buys easy (especially when they allow you to save your credit card information so it will instantly populate) — and as a result, you've likely spent money on things you regret or rarely use. An easy way to curb this can be deleting your information so the next time you add to cart, you’ll have to manually type it in. That brief pause could be just enough to get you to rethink the purchase.

Another good move is to make a deal with yourself: If you want to buy something big, you’ll wait 24 hours and then come back to it, suggests Madison Block, a spokesperson for Consumer Credit Counseling, a national nonprofit that helps people regain control of their finances. “If you still want it, see if you can rearrange your budget to be able to buy it, or you may find that you’re no longer interested in it.”

Flipping your perspective can help too. Instead of focusing on the price of an item or how deeply it’s been discounted, how about calculating how many hours you'd have to work to pay for it? For example, if you make $20 per hour and the jeans you want to buy are $120, you'd have to put in at least six hours on the job to pay for them. It’s a tactic that can help you make better decisions on which purchases are worth it. 

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Use a money-management app

Creating a budget can be a smart way to get a handle on your finances and free up cash, but traditional budgeting requires you to manually track your income and spending, which can be time-consuming. Instead, consider using an app you trust to simplify the process. 

Once you sync your bank accounts and credit cards with the app, it will automatically track and categorize your income and spending so you can see where you may be able to make cuts to free up some cash to save.

Automate your savings

Consider setting up recurring withdrawals, such as $25 every pay period, to go straight into a savings account through direct deposit rather than into your checking account, suggests Block. “That way, you never see the money in your checking account in the first place, so you're sort of tricking yourself into saving because you don't even have to think about it."

Another option is to use an app that will save your spare change; every time you complete a transaction (paying for groceries with a debit card or paying a utility bill online, for example), the app will round up the transaction to the nearest full dollar amount and deposit the difference into your savings account. The little extra deposits can add up over time.

Sock away any windfalls

Over the course of the year, you might find yourself with some unexpected funds — a bonus from work or a gift from a relative, for instance, or perhaps your tax refund.  (According to the IRS, the average tax refund in 2023 was $3,167 — a significant lump sum.)

Think of this as a jump-starter for your savings. Since you didn’t account for the sudden influx of cash in your budget, you may be able to stash it away without affecting your normal spending habits.

Trim your services and subscriptions

Chances are, you’re signed up for at least a few you don’t really use — and cutting those unnecessary charges means more funds for your automated savings deposits. A quick way to do it is to use a cancellation app you trust. It can scan your bank or credit card statements, flag recurring subscriptions for you and even cancel the ones you no longer want on your behalf. Instead of charging a fee, these apps typically take a percentage of your savings.

And keep in mind: Cable packages and phone bills might not be set in stone. Some common services like these can be negotiable if you contact the provider and ask, especially if you’re able to cite examples of lower-price options from other providers in your area.

Keep an eye on your progress

One reason people struggle with saving is that it can be hard to envision the future and how you’re getting there. That’s why Sandra Matz, PhD, an associate professor of business at Columbia Business School who studies decision making and consumer behavior, recommends people working toward financial goals track their progress with some kind of visual. It can be as simple as “a nice calendar,” she says, where, every week or month that you manage to save, say, $50, you mark it off. “It's fun, and it's something you can see every day,” which can be a big motivator.

The content reflects the view of the author of the article and does not necessarily reflect the views of Citi or its employees, and we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in the article.