Increasing your savings becomes a game with these easy challenges
As I parked last week I noticed a dime and a penny on the ground near some teenagers. I asked the kids if they had dropped it and one girl explained to me as we got in the car that the change wasn’t hers.
“You don’t want it?”
“No,” she said casually, “it’s just 11 cents.”
They were gone before she could hear me say that a lot of money is a long chore.
If a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then the journey to $1,000 or even lifetime wealth begins with a single penny or dollar.
I would complain that kids don’t know the value of a dollar these days, but the truth is, we’re all a little confused about the value of a dollar right now. Inflation reaching 40-year highs and wildly changing prices at the pump and supermarket will do that.
Complaining about how the costs add up doesn’t help; ensure that our savings and spending go further.
Last week, I detailed five of my favorite saving and spending challenges to make basic financial tasks more fun, more like a game. This week, I’m bringing you five more options.
Each of these efforts can help restore balance and order and a sense of progress in your financial life. Customize these challenges, make them your own, turn them into a game, involve your family members, follow them as best you can, but know that there is no downside to failing them because the more you know about your financial habits and feelings, the better off you will be.
Progressive Savings Challenge: There are lots of ways to do this, but I prefer variations that don’t feel like a burden and raise some cash quickly, whether it’s to create an emergency fund, replace a spending account for vacations or find the money to pay for a folly.
For the short and quick version, set aside a dollar for each date in the month. You save a dollar on the first of the month, two dollars on the second, 15 on the 15thand And so on.
If successful, you end the month with $465 saved, even if you never saved more than $30 at a time.
This exercise helps with budgeting because it’s easy to save the first five days of the month – when the layaway is only $15 – but the struggle can be real when the numbers go up and you need to find 140 $ over the last five days.
A longer version of this challenge takes a year, and starts with $1 a week, and adds a dollar each week. You’ll only save $10 in the first four weeks, but you’ll save over $200 in the last four weeks, and your tally for an entire year will be around $1,375.
Free Animation Challenge: Spending on entertainment is a guilty pleasure and indulgence for many people, it’s clearly on the ‘wanted’ side of the ledger, even though it’s often treated as a ‘need’. This is also where a lot of people splurge.
This is not a specialized “no-spend challenge”. It starts with answering “What can I do that’s free for me?”
This doesn’t just mean going to the public library, it means finding out if the library has free passes to take you to the regional zoo or aquarium or historic site or museum. It doesn’t just relegate you to a hike or a bike ride: you can host a game night, invite friends over for brunch, or host a potluck dinner.
Use gift cards, redeem loyalty/rewards points and get big savings with coupon offers. These things have real value, but Americans have billions of dollars in gift certificates and loyalty rewards that they haven’t redeemed. You get the most out of these credits by cashing them out; consider them “free entertainment” for the purposes of this challenge.
A weekend of free/low-cost fun every two weeks can help you splurge on the things you want most the rest of the time.
The $5 Bill Challenge: There are many variations of this, but it boils down to saving every $5 bill you receive. I’ve been doing this since 2020 and have saved about $1325 since then.
Whether it’s “play money” or the start of a savings goal, it adds up pretty quickly, especially if you force yourself to pay cash for low-value transactions.
Personally, I save anything less than $10 bills, so I save fives, singles, and coins; the smallest money came in at an additional $1,075 since the start of 2020.
Spring cleaning challenge: There are many ways to do this, but my favorite is to go through your house and find an item every day for a month that you no longer want or need that you can try to sell. If you find lots of extra items along the way – and get rid of things that have no resale value – that’s fine, but the idea is to keep it simple and manageable.
Surveys have shown that the average homeowner has somewhere north of $3,000 worth of items that they don’t use but could easily sell. For those wondering if the juice is worth it, this is the challenge where you will find out.
Appreciate it through the pound challenge: It’s a twist on spring cleaning, but it’s a great way to organize your home for the long term.
One day, if you leave your current home and take your belongings to your next location, a moving company will come to assess the cost of helping you make the move. Once they get through the big nitty-gritty – moving the piano or the big sofa – they’ll end up charging you by the pound.
In this challenge, examine the elements of your life – even the most organized people have clutter – and ask yourself if you would pay to move it; if it’s not worth 50 cents to a dollar a pound to move him, maybe he can leave now.
If there’s value in selling this stuff now, do it. If the value comes simply from eliminating clutter, that’s a win, too.