Saving money isn’t always easy, so why not try to make a game out of it? There are lots of simple techniques to ramp up your saving habits or simply get them back on track. If you’re having a tough time committing to a budget, let alone a savings plan, try some of these ways to gamify your savings.
1. Save Your Raise
You’ve received a raise at work; congrats! But let’s pretend that you didn’t get one. Consider this: You’ve been living within your means so far, so why not continue living your current lifestyle and instead save the money you get from your raise. Let’s say you get an extra $200/month with your raise. You could go out and get a more expensive car, or you could put that $200 away and have $2,400 saved by the end of the year. This is a simple way to start building your emergency savings or even start building up for a down payment on a home.
2. Laundromat Game
This game only works if you have access to a home washer and dryer, but if you participate, it can help you easily save some money. Think back to your laundromat days when one cycle of washing and drying cost two dollars.
Instead of popping those coins into the machine, simply put your money you’d pay for laundry into a jar for every load of laundry. You’re not going to save thousands this way, but if you do three loads of laundry per week and saved two dollars each time, by the end of the year, you’d have an extra $312 saved up.
3. Save the Difference
This is a straightforward saving method that will also make you pay close attention to where your money is going. At the end of every day or week, sit down and go through what you’ve purchased, then round up the amount to the nearest dollar and save the difference.
For example, if you spent $3.50 on a coffee and later spent $5.25 on a sandwich, rounding up would account for $1.25 in savings. Depending on how much you transact, change can accumulate quickly, and also make you more aware of your spending habits.
4. Collect Spare Change Daily
Some people only go through their pockets when it’s time to throw clothes into the wash, but why wait until then to find your spare change? Make an effort to go through your pockets daily along with your wallet and purse to find all of your spare change, then put it in a jar or container of some sort. Instead of putting that change back into your wallet to use at a later time, it’s tucked away, waiting to be deposited into a savings account.
This is also a fun game if you have kids who are learning to save, since coins will likely seem more rewarding to them than they are to you. But don’t be fooled, though; that change adds up.
5. Find $5, Save $5
The $5 method is a tried-and-true way to quickly save money. It’s simple: When you have a $5 bill, save it. Over time, all of those $5 bills add up much faster than coins will, and since it’s only a small amount of money, you likely won’t even miss it. However, if you are a meticulous record keeper, then be sure to notate that you put it into savings. After awhile, if you feel like there’s a sufficient number of $5 bills in your stash, consider taking them to a bank and putting them into a Certificate of Deposit (CD), money market or a simple savings account so that your money is at least earning some kind of interest, no matter how small.
6. Eat at Home and Save the Difference
It’s no secret that eating out often can get pricey, so make an effort to eat at home and save the difference. If you know that you usually go out for dinner four nights a week and spend $50 each time, resolve to stay in three of those nights and save the difference to cook the meal. A $10 pasta dinner at home will quickly net $40 in your savings account. Using this example, by the end of the year, you’d have saved over $6,000.
Even if you use a meal delivery service like Blue Apron, that can frequently come in less than going out to dinner. Bonus: You’ll improve your cooking skills and may even enjoy staying in as opposed to footing a larger bill.
7. Try to Beat Your Own Record
This is a savings game where it’s just you against yourself, seeing how much you can save. Pick a bill, like your electricity or your groceries, and try to spend less on the following bill. You can start with a large bill like your electricity bill during a time when it’s high, like the summer or the holidays, and then try to stay under that the following months.
If you’re trying to reduce grocery spending, try making lists and looking for coupons before going to the store. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to best yourself with a little bit of planning.
8. Live Paycheck to Paycheck
Living paycheck to paycheck is never easy, but if you’re in a position to make more than your bills require, consider this as a savings method. After receiving every paycheck, move the remaining amount from your checking into your savings account. This way, you’re only using the money you have available to you for bills and other expenses, and the rest is tucked away for a rainy day or a large, future purchase.
For example, if you’re paid $1,000 every two weeks, but have $100 left in your checking account on payday, move most of it over into savings. By doing this one simple thing, you’ll have $2,400 in savings by the end of the year.
9. Save Anything
Maybe all of these methods are too much for you. That’s okay. Saving is really hard for some people, especially when they already got a basic emergency savings account. This is where the Save Anything method comes into play.
It’s simple: Save some kind of money every day. You put the amount in a jar or container, but keep a ledger where you mark down the amount that’s saved daily for 30 days. By the end of this time, you’ll be able to see how much was saved and hopefully feel compelled to do it for another 30 days and keep the progress going.
10. 52-Week Challenge
This is a classic saving method, though there are a couple of schools of thought on how to accomplish it. The first is simple: Save $1 a week, adding $1 more every following week week, until the 52nd week when you put away $52. Or, you can reverse this if you’d rather put the biggest chunk of cash away right at the beginning, working your way down.
Another way to do this is a daily challenge for a month, starting with $1 on the first day, and working your way up to $30 on the last day of the month.
11. The “No Spend” Challenge
Are you ready to take your saving methods to the next level? Then the No Spend challenge might be exactly what you’re looking for. It’s as simple as it sounds: Challenge yourself not to spend any money that isn’t necessary. Rent, bills and food are obviously things you need to survive, but other discretionary expenses like clothing, games, travel, entertainment, etc. are not. During this month-long challenge, you’ll forego these activities, and save the money you would have spent on them.
People who take on this challenge can get intense, and even modify the rules to last for a whole year. For example, one modification is to simply cut out buying new clothes for a year, and wear only what is already in your closet, or buy them secondhand if you must.
If this sounds like something you want to try – but you don’t know if you can last a month or a year – start out with a one week challenge and work your way up to the month to see how much you’ll be able to save.
12. One Percent Challenge
This challenge was founded by Paula Pant of Afford Anything. Basically, you start out by saving one percent of your paycheck, and then raise that by one percent every month. At the end of the year, you’ll be putting away 12 percent of your check. If you currently save a portion of your check, this doesn’t mean that you have to drop down to one percent, just start wherever you’re at and build up your savings one percent at a time.
13. Pay Yourself First
Conventional budget wisdom tells you to pay your bills, and then use what’s left to figure out how much to contribute to your savings. This method reverses that. The “pay yourself” first method puts away whatever your savings goal is for the month, and then pays your bills with what’s left. If there is not enough money to pay your bills, then you need to take a long look at them and see what you can cut out.
Instead of putting your bills first, this method puts your financial goals first, and helps you build your budget around those goals.
14. Tip Yourself
It’s rare to go anywhere without seeing a tip jar next to a cashier. This method takes that concept and applies it to every aspect of your spending. Make a rule for yourself that every time you buy a certain kind of item, you’ll tip yourself a specified amount. For example, when you buy your coffee in the morning, tip yourself $1, which goes into your savings. Or every time you eat out, tip yourself 20% and put that amount into savings.
The main lesson from this method is to keep savings in the forefront; so, if you can’t afford to go out for dinner and drinks, and to tip yourself (and the server, of course), then you can’t afford to go out.
15. Use an App Like SaveUp
No matter what your current goal is, chances are that there’s an app for that, and that includes savings. There are a lot of different programs for specific goals, like saving up for a trip or a home, but SaveUp seems to stand out from the crowd. It works by rewarding you for saving with points for dollars put toward everything from your 401(k) to student loans to credit cards. Whether you are just saving money or trying to build up your credit, SaveUp will reward you similarly to a credit card that has reward points. These points can be used for instant-win games, and even opportunities to win a car and a vacation.
Natalie has her BA from University of California, Riverside and has worked in digital media for over a decade. She has been a Bleacher Report featured columnist for Bleacher Report and created content for some of the leading companies in the financial space.