citi logo

The Secret Habits of Super Savers

by Polly Brewster |May 21, 2019

They keep their rainy-day funds funded. Their bring-lunch-to-work game couldn't be stronger. And retirement savings? Their IRAs deserve A+'s.

It's tempting to think of great savers as unicorns. And with good reason: A 2018 GOBankingRates survey found that 16% of Americans have $300,000 or more in retirement savings, while 42% have stashed away $10,000 or less.

What do people say holds them back from saving more? A 2018 Bankrate poll indicated that expenses, underpaying jobs and debt are among the most common challenges. Life gets in the way, too: Roughly one in six respondents reported that they simply haven't gotten around to saving.

Whatever your reason, know that it is possible to start saving and make a dent in debt — just take it from other people who have adopted some smart money tactics and joined the ranks of super savers.

woman taking notes as she refers to her mobile device

2. Make a money journal

In Gertsley's book, The 30-Day Money Cleanse, she suggests documenting every penny you spend and how it makes you feel in a journal. This can help you identify the things you really care about spending money on and expenses you can cut.

"Like a food cleanse, if you quit dairy and sugar and coffee, you might realize that you don't miss them." Gerstley informs. This all leads up to Gerstley's main lesson: Change your money mindset. "Successful money cleansers always experience this shift where personal finance is not 'a have to,' they realize it is a gift and an act of self-love," Gerstley says.

3. Put savings out of sight

Many people have linked checking and savings accounts. It's convenient, allowing you to access your savings balance by transferring funds to checking. But some may find it helpful, in the spirit of better savings habits, to create at least one savings account that is not connected to your checking account, Gerstley suggests.

You can still set up deposits to it through your checking account or deposit straight into it each month like any savings account — but making it separate can click something in the brain so it doesn't seem as accessible. Consider assigning this "lock box" a purpose — to cover emergencies or a home down payment.

Likewise, Gerstley says, "View the money in a 401(k) or IRA accounts as untouchable until you retire." They're not intended to fund a car purchase or a wedding.

4. Don't delay

Many people, believing that a bigger paycheck — and therefore a more forgiving budget — is always on the horizon, and put off saving till they get older. Gerstley flags this thinking as a huge problem. If you happen to lose your job or face medical issues, savings will be a crucial cushion. The time to start saving was yesterday.

two women cooking

The young saver

When Haley Evans graduated from college and moved to Dallas, TX, she had very little student debt and earned a healthy paycheck. "But I spent it all on Dallas nightlife," Evans says. By age 24, she says, "I was kind of trapped in this cycle" — unfulfilled in her job, and compensating through happy hour, brunch and shopping. Evans was taking advantage of all that Dallas had to offer, but that lifestyle quickly went beyond her financial limits.

Now, five years on, Evans has remade herself as the model of a buckled-down saver. Her husband's pay covers daily expenses, and she puts her income toward business school and savings — both investments in her future. Here is her top advice:

1. Create frugal joys

A profound moment helped end her cycle of wasteful spending. "One night I was out drinking and just realized I wasn't getting any joy out of it," she says. "I felt like I wasn't really getting to have deep talks with friends since it was always so loud and it just didn't seem worth it anymore."

The next time a friend suggested a big night out, she countered with a nice long walk and home-cooked dinner. "I got to have real one-on-one time with her," Evans explained. "I call it finding frugal joys." Five years later, she and her friend are still doing those walks and joined a discount wine club to enhance those dinners.

2. Get more out of your bank accounts

One concrete piece of advice Evans offered: Find checking and savings accounts that offer high-interest rates. Evans and her husband did a lot of research to discover a savings account that offered much higher interest rates on their balance. "We put our wedding fund in there and the down payment for a house," she says. "It's awesome to see that [additional] money each month."

3. Find healthy splurges

"There was a period of time after [my] money cleanse where I was crazy thrifty because I am so competitive," Evans says. "But when you go too extreme, you feel deprived and then you binge." So, she figured out what regular splurges would bring her the most rewards. The top one was her gym. "I pay $105 a month — which is a lot for a gym here — but it brings me so much joy. It's community and women-based, and I go at least three to four times a week."

Polly Brewster

is a freelance editor and writer based in Brooklyn. Her best savings tip is to cut the costly cable cord. She has written for O, The Oprah Magazine, InStyle and Entrepreneur.

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.