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Save more money in 2024 with these 3 strategies

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Much about money is mental.

I’ve worked with people who literally didn’t have an extra dollar in their budget to save.

Then there are the folks who have convinced themselves, who are insistent that they “just don’t have anything left to save.”

But once I get them to really examine their budget — with bank statements to back up their memories — I find they actually suffer from what I call unconscious spending syndrome.

They withdraw money from an ATM but can’t recall how they spent it. They say they don’t eat out much, but their credit card statements show otherwise. Wants have been designated as needs.

If this is you, here are three strategies to overcome the mental block that is keeping you from saving.

The 52-week savings challenge

How does having more than $1,300 in savings by the end of the year sound?

Here’s how this money challenge works. On a weekly basis, you save an amount that corresponds to the week of the year.

Although we are already near the end of January, it will be easy for you to catch up. You’d start by putting away just $1 for the first week of 2024. Then $2 for week two, $3 for week three, and so on.

I like this challenge, which I’ve recommended in past years, because it imposes discipline. People are more likely to pause before they spend if they want to meet their weekly goals.

If you’re paid once a month or every two weeks, stick to the schedule by electronically transferring deposits to a dedicated high-yield checking or savings account.

You don’t want bank fees to erode your savings, so look for a financial institution that doesn’t charge monthly fees. To find a list of banks with no-fee checking accounts, go to Bankrate.com and search for “Best checking accounts for January 2024” and “Best savings accounts for January 2024.” The list is regularly updated.

Credit unions are a good option; NerdWallet ranks the top five of 2024.

Here are a few ways to find extra cash as the weekly goal climbs.

  • Take a coffee and lunch break. Instead of going out, opt for homemade. Depending on your typical expenditure, this could be enough to meet some late-year savings goals.
  • Save your change. Whenever you use cash, deposit the coins and bills you get back.
  • Temporarily suspend streaming services. Your favorite shows will still be there to binge-watch when you rejoin. Need an escape? Spend time reading. An Economist/YouGov poll found that nearly half of Americans read zero books last year. If you can’t make it to a public library, you can download — free — e-books and audiobooks.

Why Does My Latte Cost So Much?

If you make it through the year, you’ll have saved $1,378. That’s a great emergency fund.

For many folks, it’ll get harder as you get closer to the end of the year when your weekly deposits will be much larger. However, don’t give up. Save what you can. If you can’t handle the higher amounts, set your own goal. Maybe you save just $2 every week. What’s important is developing a habit of saving whatever you can afford.

“Each year, the average American family of four loses $1,500 to uneaten food,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In my experience, many people can find savings if they eliminate overspending at the supermarket.

You open the refrigerator or cabinets, and although there’s food in there, you say, “There’s nothing to eat.”

What you mean is, there’s nothing you want to eat.

Try this as part of the 52-week challenge: Eat all the food in your house before you shop again. And I mean everything. Don’t go to the grocery store except to buy perishables such as eggs, milk and bread.

Make an inventory of what you have and then search online for recipes for what’s on your list. Get creative. Got a lot of canned beans and diced tomatoes? I found an incredibly easy vegetarian chili on allrecipes.com.

5 ways to save money cooking at home when the budget is tight

This is a fast I developed as the director of the financial ministry at my church (I even wrote a book by the same name). Here’s how it works.

For three weeks, you cannot buy anything that is not a necessity. You can’t eat out. You can’t go to the movies. You most certainly can’t shop as a form of entertainment. Do not even browse your favorite online shopping sites.

The goal of the 21-day financial fast is to stop spending mindlessly. You also can’t accept spending on your behalf. For instance, a friend may want to treat you to a movie or dinner.

Nope, not allowed on the fast.

Because I want you to develop a habit of looking for ways to entertain yourself without money being spent.

It’s not unusual for folks on the fast to realize they are spending hundreds of dollars eating out every month. A mother and son documented their journey on the fast last year on YouTube (Q & A Intro: Financial Fast Day 1 of 21).

If you want more personal finance advice that’s timeless, order your copy of Michelle Singletary’s Money Milestones.

During the fast, you pay your bills as usual. Of course, you still get your prescriptions and purchase only food you absolutely need.

If you want to cure your unconscious spending syndrome, try all or at least one of these strategies. Let me know how it’s going. Send me a message on X, formerly known as Twitter (@SingletaryM) or to [email protected].

B.O.M. — The best of Michelle Singletary on personal finance

If you have a personal finance question for Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary, please call 1-855-ASK-POST (1-855-275-7678).

My mortgage payoff story: My husband and I paid off the house in the spring of 2023 thanks to making extra payments and taking advantage of a mortgage recast. Even though it lowered my perfect 850 credit score and my column about it sparked some serious debate with readers, it was one of the best financial decisions I’ve made.

Credit card debt: If you’re in the habit of carrying credit card debt, stop. It’s just a myth that it will boost your credit score. For those looking to get out of credit card debt, see if a balance transfer is right for you.

Money moves for life: For a more sweeping overview of my timeless money advice, see Michelle Singletary’s Money Milestones. The interactive package offers guidance for every life stage, whether you’re just starting out in your career or planning for retirement.

Test yourself: Do you know where you stand financially? Take our quiz and read more personal finance advice.

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