The U.S. does entertainment, higher education and hamburgers better than just about anybody. However, most Americans do an abysmally poor job of saving money.
About 40% say they have no retirement savings, according to a 2018 survey from the investing app Stash. They say student loans, credit card debt and monthly expenses eat up a big part of every paycheck, leaving no room for saving.
Work around your debts, and invest in your future. Here are 15 creative money-saving tips for getting your nest egg started.
1. Let your employer help
If your company matches your contributions to a retirement plan, such as a 401(k), milk the arrangement for all it’s worth. Employer contributions are sometimes more valuable than raises or bonuses.
Let’s say you earn $100,000 and make an annual contribution of 10% to your 401(k). And let's say your employer kicks in 50 cents for every dollar you contribute up to 6% of your annual salary.
In that scenario, you’d save $13,000 annually, because your company would pile $3,000 on top of your 10% contribution of $10,000.
Best of all, savings in 401(k)s are tax-deferred until you withdraw the money.
2. Save money by saving your change
The best mindset for saving is to respect every single dollar. Even coins represent value.
Whenever you pay cash for something, save the change. Pay for a bottle of water with a $10 bill. Pay for an oil change with a C-note. Throw refunds and rebates into the mix as well.
Some personal finance apps, like Qapital and Acorns, will save the change for you. Qapital rounds up every purchase and deposits the difference in your savings account. Acorns invests the difference.
3. Before spending, think of hours worked
It’s easy to spend impulsively if you only consider cost in terms of dollars. Think also of how long it takes you to make that money.
Eating out once or twice a week doesn’t seem like such a big deal until you calculate how many hours you worked to pay for the luxury.
A $50 purse doesn’t seem like such a bargain if it took you three hours to earn the money.
4. Reduce credit card debt by $1,000
Shaving $1,000 off your credit card balances may not seem like much if you’ve maxed out a card or two, but it’s a great starting place. Just $1,000 could reduce your interest by anywhere from $150 to $200 per year.
It also might improve your credit score by lowering your credit utilization ratio. That’s the amount of credit you use compared to how much is available.
Needless to say, it’s hard to save money when you rack up outrageous late-payment fees. Play it safe. Set up recurring payments.
5. Track down movie discounts
Many movie theaters have special discounts that they don’t mention unless you do.
Seniors, students, military personnel and AAA members enjoy perks at some theaters. Call to ask about unadvertised discounts.
Sign up for email notifications, and follow your favorite theaters on social media. Look for limited-time promos and coupons for snacks. Buy your tickets in person at the theater to save on service fees.
6. Refinance your mortgage
You may be able to refinance your mortgage at a lower interest rate, and that will add up to significant savings over the life of the loan.
Paying even 1 percentage point of lower interest could save you thousands of dollars, and a bigger chunk of each payment would go toward building home equity.
Another strategy is to pay a little extra each month or make an extra mortgage payment each year. That could shave years off the life of the mortgage — and sharply reduce your interest costs.
7. Weatherproof your home
Energy is expensive enough as it is without warm and cool air seeping through the cracks and hiking up your bills.
The average American household can save about 10% to 20% on their overall energy bill with some of the proper insulation techniques recommended by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Ask your favorite hardware clerk about caulk, weather-stripping tape and other materials for sealing your home tight. The salesperson can probably give some pointers, and there are numerous online tutorials.
Also, make sure your window coverings are adequate for blocking out the sunlight on hot summer days.
8. Stretch laundry detergent and dryer sheets
Clothes come out of the laundry surprisingly clean and fragrant even when you use far less than the recommended amount of detergent. Generally speaking, people just don’t get that dirty.
Every time you buy detergent, split the new bottle into an old detergent bottle and dilute them both with water. You'll get more value for your money this way.
Furthermore, soap buildup on your clothing is bad for your skin. Adding a dash of distilled white vinegar to the rinse cycle will help remove soap and eliminate odor.
Dryer sheets have gotten increasingly expensive, but half a sheet usually does the trick. Cut your dryer sheets in half and save!
9. Get a better APY
The point of socking away money in a savings account is to earn even more money in interest. That’s known as the annual percentage yield, or APY.
With APYs at traditional banks hovering around 0.09%, you’re earning a measly dollar on a $1,000 balance.
You could earn more than 20 times that amount by moving your money to a high-yield savings account at a low-cost online bank. Most are free to open, and APYs are closer to 2%.
10. Cancel subscriptions
If you want to know how to save more money, think about how you spend the bulk of your time.
How many streaming services do you really need? If you have HBO Go, ESPN Plus, Netflix, Hulu, Birchbox and Blue Apron, you’re an addict. You need to detox.
Just canceling Spotify and opting for the free version will save you $120.
Find creative ways to entertain yourself without spending money. The library is a good place to start.
11. Sell to Amazon
The giant online retailer wants all the stuff that’s cluttering up your life — and is even willing to pay you for it.
Frequently check the Amazon Trade-In store. If something you have is listed there, print a free shipping label. Send your item to Amazon for cash or a gift card.
One man’s (or woman's) old video games, record albums, road maps and textbooks are Amazon’s treasure.
12. Get retroactive refunds
If an item goes on sale shortly after you buy it, the retailer might refund the difference.
You could get a $20 refund on a dress or a $200 refund on a laptop, so it pays to keep track. You can save your receipts and watch prices yourself, but apps like Earny will do it for you.
The "Price Rewind" perk offered by Citi credit cards monitors prices for 60 days after you make a purchase and gives you the savings when an item comes down in price.
13. Eliminate temptation to spend online
Online retailers aren’t stupid. They’ve made it incredibly easy to store credit card numbers on their sites and buy items with a single click.
Think about deleting all your saved information and registering as a guest when you shop.
Having to fetch your credit card and reenter all that information may give you time to reconsider your purchase.
14. Rent out your unused space
More and more travelers are snubbing hotels and gravitating to homey, more affordable accommodations.
If you have an unused bedroom or vacant mother-in-law suite, you could make a killing by renting it out using Airbnb.
The Airbnb site thoroughly explains the requirements and offers tips for getting the best prices. Airbnb runs checks on potential guests, but maintaining a rental property is never without risks. Be sure you understand what’s involved.
15. Double your cooking
Save money, time, and prevent waste by doubling up when you cook.
When you make your favorite soups and casseroles, prepare double portions. Simply freeze the extra food for another day.
You can wash cheap foil pans and use them many times. Save freezer space by pouring soups into tightly sealed food-storage bags. Lay them flat. They’ll freeze that way for convenient stacking.
Knowing how to save more money is a matter of finding more money to save. Take a look around. You probably have more to work with than you realize.