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Saving money is hard. But not for you.
You are determined to change your story.
You’re fed up with living paycheck to paycheck and you’ve decided, once and for all, that you are going to get ahead on your savings. You are going to crush The Ultimate Money Saver Challenge.
$2,100…in 21 days.
It’s going to take some crazy discipline, but you got this.
What prompted this intense challenge, you ask? One really scary statistic I read the other day:
Really guys? We have a serious problem.
So how do we fix it?
Well, there isn’t really much debate. There are ultimately just two options for channeling your inner money saver and boosting your savings.
Note: You’ll notice that complaining about your plight is not one of the two options.
Groundbreaking, I know. Don’t make money stuff more complicated than it has to be!
The best approach to improving your bottom line is usually some combination of both.
For now, let’s talk about how to actually start saving more money.
Rather than preach to you about all the things you should be doing with your money, we’re going to break this down easy-to-follow steps that apply to almost everyone.
21 day challenges are popular in the dieting world, and for good reason.
The thinking behind them is pretty simple: if you can commit to sticking with a new way of eating for 21 days, chances are that you will be able to maintain your new lifestyle beyond the end of the challenge. Meaning, you may actually accomplish your goal and lose weight.
The goal of this challenge is to get you to learn the steps necessary to save at least $2,100 over the course of 21 days.
This does not necessarily mean that you will have $2,100 more in your bank account at the end of the challenge. It does, however, mean you will have made changes that will save you at least several thousand dollars over the coming weeks and months.
DollarSprout.com Presents | 21 Days to $2,100: The Ultimate Money Saver Challenge
DollarSprout.com's 21-Day Money Saver Challenge
- a FREE printable worksheet with 21-daily slots to track your progress
- stay organized and keep yourself accountable by hanging somewhere visible for everyone to see
Day 1: Calculate purchases by ‘hours worked’ instead of cost in dollars
About to splurge on a venti peppermint mocha? That’s not very money saver-esque of you. If you make $12 per hour, that drink is worth about a half hour of your labor.
Thirty minutes of your life, poured into a cup.
Thirty minutes that you will never, ever, ever get back.
This is a big mindset shift. And it’s not meant to guilt you — it’s meant to make sure you recognize what you are really giving up whenever you buy something. Money can feel like an abstract number, but time is something clear that we can all grasp.
Also, don’t just do this for the splurges. Do it for everything. You will start thinking about your money in a completely different and new way, which is a good thing.
Day 2: Set up a totally separate bank account that you won’t touch
If you follow along with this challenge and end up actually saving money, you need a place to put that extra cash. A place that is not your checking account!
Otherwise, this will all be for nothing. You’ll end up spending anything that you save. It’s just human nature 🙁
So, instead of passively “saving” money, you need to create a separate “bucket”, per se, where your new savings will go. Somewhere you won’t be tempted to touch.
So, if you don’t already have one, you need to open up a savings account.
We recommend the DollarSprout loved, and money saver approved, high-yield savings account at Discover Bank.
• You can do everything online. No need to leave the couch.
• Their interest rates are insanely good — as in, multiple times the national average for savings accounts
Get all the perks of a regular bank, minus the fees. Crazy high APYs and no minimum opening deposit.Start Saving
Day 3: Start paying yourself
With your new savings account (or your existing one), the next thing to do is to set up an automatic draft to the account with each new paycheck.
Even if you start with just $10 a paycheck, you need to set this up.
It has to be automatic. Otherwise, it won’t get done every pay period– and consistency is what you need in order to accomplish your savings goal.
Whenever you get a paycheck, always tuck some of it away. Always.
December 2017 Update: The DollarSprout squad has recently started testing out a new tool called Rize that links up to our bank accounts and automates our savings. So far we’re digging it … you can read our full review here.
Day 4: Refinance your student debt (if it makes sense)
Something that many young professionals often overlook is the option of refinancing their student loans. This means replacing your current loan (at say, 7% interest), with a lower interest loan (perhaps 3%).
What does that mean for you?
It means less money spent on paying interest. By refinancing, your student debt may go away faster.
The best part is, refinancing does not cost you anything.
One company you may want to look into that specializes in student loan refinancing is SoFi.
According to their website, the average member who refinances their students with them saves an average of $22,359 over the life of their loan. Their refinancing program also includes other perks, such as unemployment protection (so you have some leniency on payments if you become unemployed).
They also have the ability to refinance both private and federal loans, which is somewhat rare among lenders.
According to Sofi, people who refinance with them save an average of $288 a month—and $22,359 total.View Rates
Day 5: Say goodbye to soda
This might be the most painful day of the whole challenge. The average cost of a soda at a fast food restaurant is about $2. If you eat out twice a week and skip the soda, you will save almost $200 per year! And about 8 million empty calories.
Day 6: Start meal prepping
Along the same lines as giving up soda, you can save a TON of money by planning your meals out ahead.
Meal prepping, even for just half the week, is a great way to get back on track with eating healthier. The savings are really just a bonus.
Day 7: Check your investment fees
If you’ve been investing money towards your retirement, chances are you are paying more money in fees than you realize. Personal Capital has a really helpful (and free) tool that can analyze all the expenses in your portfolio, even ones you may not be aware of.
As a general rule of thumb, if any of your investments come with an annual expense ratio above 0.30%, you should look at moving your money elsewhere. A true money saver can keep money pocketed by investing in low cost index funds.
Personal Capital's FREE fee tracker can analyze your investment fees and save you tons of money.Fee Tracker Tool
Day 8: Cancel all those monthly subscriptions
I can hear you gasping already…don’t fret.
I won’t hold it against you if you can’t part ways with Netflix 😉 But check over your latest bank statement and see if there are any subscriptions you can cut out that you just don’t need anymore.
Day 9: Install a programmable thermostat
This was a game changer for me. You can snag a fairly inexpensive one on Amazon for less than $50, and then you get the savings on your utility bill forever.
House Logic has a really helpful article with all the deets on how to use a programmable thermostat to see real savings.
Day 10: Stop using credit cards
And please don’t tell me the only reason you have credit cards is for the points and rewards! I’m not buying it!
I’m going to guess that if you’ve made it to item 10 on a “how to save money” article, credit cards might be part of the problem. Just a hunch.
I’m not a huge fan of cash-only budgeting (for some reason I tend to spend even more freely if it’s just cash, since there is no paper trail). But get in the habit of using a debit card or cash for most of your purchases.
Avoid credit cards.
Pro tip: actually take your credit card out of your wallet or purse, and clear your browser history so you cannot use your credit cards. It hurts, but it’s what has to be done.
Day 11: Master the 10-Second Rule
This one takes some discipline, but I know you can do it.
Whenever you are about to buy something, ask yourself:
“Do I really need this?”
If you can’t truthfully say yes, put the item back. You may think it’s funny, but this little 10-second rule has kept me from making impulse buys on more occasions than I can count.
Day 12: Start volunteering your time
A lot of times we just spend money because we are bored. Or we want to buy stuff that we think will make us happy (hey, I speak from experience).
Focusing time and energy on volunteering, even if just a small amount, can actually do wonders for your wallet. And your community (which is way more important, when it’s all said and done).
Bottom line: Even if volunteering doesn’t directly save you a ton of money, it helps the world. Which is the real reason why you should do it.
Day 13: Find free events in your town
Along the same lines as volunteering — the more time you spend doing things that don’t cost you any money, the more you save!
Participating in the money saver challenge does not mean you have to be a hermit that never leaves the house.
Day 14: Make a plan for your debt
What’s your plan to pay off your debt?
Don’t get stuck in the habit of paying the minimum payments, especially on your credit card debt. If you can start making more than the minimum payments, your debt will obviously disappear much quicker, saving you a ton of money in interest.
If you aren’t familiar, read up a bit on the debt snowball and the debt avalanche methods of paying off debt uber quick.
Day 15: If you are going to shop online, be smart about it
I feel like a parent of a teenager when I say this: I know you’re going to shop online, and I know I can’t stop you from doing it…but if/when you do it, please be sure to use a cash back app to at least get some savings.
From my experience, the three best cash back apps that offer cashback on your online purchases are:
• Ebates ($10 free signup bonus)
• Swagbucks ($5 free signup bonus) and
• MyPoints ($10 free signup bonus)
By using any/all of these sites, you can save upwards of 30% on your online purchases. Over time, the savings really add up.
Take surveys, play games, watch videos and more - all for money. You even get $5 for signing up!Sign Up
Day 16: Take a fresh look at your phone bill
Do you actually use all that data you’re paying for?
Do you have a 24-year-old daughter that needs to finally move to her own plan? (Don’t count on her to remind you she’s on your plan).
Are there fees on there that you have no idea what they even are?
Random Saving Tip: If you have a Costco in your town, get your gas from there!
Day 17: Discover a new personal finance blog
Of course I think DollarSprout is one of the best personal finance blogs in town… but really, you should follow other ones too. We each have different perspectives and different stories to offer (and different writing styles), which is a good thing!
Some of my personal favorites are:
You can learn a lot about money just by following a few good personal finance blogs. Also, be sure to check out Modest Money’s Top Finance Blogs list.
Day 18: Automate all of your bills
No more late fees, ever. Please.
Nowadays, nearly every service offers automatic online payment options for customers. Whether it’s your auto or student loans, your cable bill, insurance, etc., it can most likely be automated!
Jot down all your monthly expenses and spend this day of the challenge visiting each provider’s website to set up automatic payments. Doing this is the most relieving feeling ever!
I used to miss my electric bill and car payment all the time (really, I’d just forget to pay them, even though I had the money). Since setting up automatic bill pay, that hasn’t happened even one time.
Day 19: Max out your employer match
Do you have a 401(k), 403(b), or other retirement plan through your work? If so, make sure you are contributing the maximum that you are allowed to (at least up to the limit that your employer will match your contribution).
Say your employer will match up to 3% of your contributions to your retirement account. By maxing out and contributing the full 3%, you get an additional 3% given to you by your employer for free!
Think of it as getting an instant pay raise – you just can’t spend the extra money until you retire.
Day 20: Turn off the TV
Cable is crazy expensive, and does you no good over the long term.
There. I said it.
Cancel your cable subscription. Or at least trim down your package — you probably don’t need those 847 channels you are paying for each month.
Go outside instead and actually live your life.
Day 21: Remember why you are saving in the first place
The goal isn’t to end your life with a higher score than everyone else.
Whether or not you have a specific purpose for the $2,100 you can save by completing the money saver challenge (and making these habits a way of life), the flexibility and the freedom that money provides is priceless.
What motivates the money saver in you? Everyone has different reasons, so comment below and let us know what you are saving for!
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