5 Ineffective Money Saving Habits (and What You Should Do Instead)
As part of your spring cleaning strategy, why not clean up your finances, too? Some of the money saving habits you've picked up over the years could actually be hurting you. This may be especially true if your financial situation has changed significantly in the last few years, but you haven't updated your savings strategy to account for those events.
Here are five savings habits you'll want to revisit and the changes you can make for more effective financial gains.
1. Savings as Retirement
Having money in a savings account is a start, but savings accounts don't generate enough interest to keep up with inflation — making it hard to grow your money. If you're relying solely on your savings account for retirement, you won't get the returns you need. You still need some liquid cash on-hand for emergencies, upcoming life events, or any other financial needs.
What to Do Instead: The more time compound interest has to add up, the more you stand to gain. For example, if you invest $250 each month starting at age 25 with an average 8 percent annual return, you'll have $878,570 by age 65. If you wait until 35 to start, that amount drops down to $375,075.
If you have enough income to cover your monthly expenses and enough in your savings account for emergencies, consider making direct deposits from your paycheck into a 401(k), IRA, or other retirement account.
2. Getting a Big Tax Return
Sure, it can feel great to get a sudden windfall of cash come springtime, but getting a large tax return means you overpaid the government over the course of the previous year. Even if you plan to invest your tax return, that money could have been invested earlier in the year, adding interest.
What to Do Instead: Look at what tax adjustments you can make now for the coming year. Instead of giving the government an interest-free loan, put that money to work throughout the year. If it's hard for you to save paycheck to paycheck, consider having money taken directly out of your paycheck and put it into a 401(k) or IRA instead. If you still get a tax return, consider investing that, too.
3. Paying the Minimum
Paying the minimum on debts is just that — the minimum. Even if you're paying the minimum and investing your money, too, you may still be losing out. What's your average annual return on investment versus the interest for any debts, such as credit cards or student loans? Your savings may be null.
What to Do Instead: Prioritize your debts and pay them off. With loans, you know exactly what the interest will be the longer you delay paying down the debt. If you pay down the debt sooner, that's money saved. If you have a high-interest debt — like a credit card — focus on paying that off first followed by your lower-interest debts. You can also sign up for a service like KeyBank's EasyUp®, which transfers $1 to your savings every time you use your KeyBank debit card. Those small amounts, combined with your regular debt payments, can make a big impact over time.
Before you make a purchase that will put you in to debt, consider only spending what you can afford based on what's in your bank account. Debit cards are a great tool for regulating spending since, unlike credit cards, they're tied to the money you have in your account. If you want a $1,000 item, wait until you have the money to purchase it in full, otherwise interest can quickly make that item cost $1,500, $2,000, or more.
4. Being Loyal
It's easy to sign up for loyalty programs like those offered by hotels, airlines, and stores. But just because you join a loyalty program doesn't necessarily mean you should stop looking for the best price. Loyalty members spend 5-20 percent more than non-members.
What to Do Instead: If you have to spend more to save more, consider leaving the program. Enroll in programs for brands where you're already making purchases and avoid making additional, unnecessary purchases to receive a reward. If you're planning a trip, don't limit yourself to hotels and airlines whose loyalty programs you belong to. You may find that your credit card rewards are a more effective way to save or earn free perks than a loyalty program.
Don't be fooled by sales — an item that was $150 and is now $100 will still cost you $100. The same goes for buying in bulk and with coupons. If you need ten pounds of meat for a barbecue, buying in bulk may make sense. But buying in bulk, especially perishable items, or clipping coupons to purchase things you don't really need or wouldn't normally buy may cause you to spend more than you need.
What to Do Instead: Determine the maximum price you're willing to pay for items you need before you step into a store. If it's a want, wait a day or week before making the purchase. In the grocery store, check the price per unit and consider meal prepping.
You'll also want to consider why an item is on sale. Is it made well or is it only going to last a year before you have to replace it? Balance short-term needs with long-term goals, and look beyond price to make purchases that offer the most value.
No matter your money saving habits, consider using a Financial Wellness tool to determine whether or not they're effective. Smart saving habits are a lifestyle change, and they require continuous updating based on your financial situation and goals. Budgeting only works if you stick to it. Write your savings goals down and steps to achieve them.