How I Tricked Myself Into Being a Better Saver This Summer

Photo credit: Kristina Zuidima, CC BY 2.0.

Like many young(-ish) adults, I’ve never been that great at saving. Raised in a consumer-driven world, the opportunity to spend has never been easier than it is now, with ever-faster payment methods and new technology popping up every day.

To make matters worse, my day job is in the fashion industry, constantly exposing me to messaging like “New Arrivals,” “Get it before it’s GONE,” “The things you NEED to buy now,” and a rotating surplus of influencer images, designed to push a particular aesthetic or product. I’m even guilty of writing some of these attention-grabbing lines myself, the ones that tempt us to “just take a quick look,” coercing us into buying yet another thing we don’t really need before we even realize what we’ve done.

These habits are unsustainable in the long run, though, especially for those of us saddled with both student loan debt and long-term desires, wants, and wishes for our financial futures and personal lives.

When I first moved to NYC just shy of five years ago, I had a little savings padding thanks to a settlement from a car accident. I also had no job lined up. Between signing a lease, getting necessities (like a bed and dresser for my new room), higher-priced groceries (really, higher-priced everything), and a handful of irresponsible financial decisions, I’d run through nearly all of that money—and added some credit card debt along the way—by the time I moved from the odd jobs that had been keeping me afloat to my first full-time position in the city.

In the years since, things improved only marginally, and it was often one step forward (hi, big deposit into my savings when I felt particularly zealous) and two steps back (oops, sorry, I just took a few hundred out to cover me until my next paycheck).

Until recently, that is. I’d slowly been working on ways to improve my financial health over the last few years, from paying more attention to my accounts to figuring out a budgeting and bill payment system—I get paid every two weeks, and immediately pay all my bills that come up over those two weeks before I have a chance to spend the money; whatever is left over is divided by 14, giving me an average dollar amount I can spend each day of the pay period.

Despite all this, my savings was still stagnant. One thing I’d gotten semi-decent at, though, was hiding money from myself, usually stashing small amounts of cash at a time in a envelope in my apartment—I’d just never considered it a viable long-term savings plan. Most of this money originally went to things like picking up milk at the deli on the corner, cashing it in for laundry quarters, or the occasional brunch, and it rarely got above $20.

When my partner and I booked a last-minute trip to an all-inclusive resort in February, I started stashing away any and all $1 and $5 bills I got, so we’d have cash for tips while there. In a matter of weeks, I had about $75 tucked away, and the best—and most surprising—part was that I didn’t even really notice it was gone.

I’d also downloaded two apps, Digit and Acorns, a few weeks prior, and the slow trickle of money from my checking into these accounts was starting to add up. Digit takes small sums of money out of your checking a few days a week, and Acorns rounds up to the next dollar on purchases with a linked card or account. Between the two, I had about $200 more that had been slowly siphoned off and “hidden” from me. Instead of freaking out about the “missing” money, I had just gotten better at checking my account balance more often and adjusting my spending and daily allotted spend accordingly.

I know some people take issue with apps like Digit and Acorns, due to either fee structure (Acorns takes out $1/month if you’ve graduated college and/or are over the age of 24) or lack of interest. My experiences with both have been positive so far; with Acorns, even after fees, I’ve earned a few bucks in dividends and my total investments are up about 5.5 percent as of mid-July. Once my balance hits more than $1,000 and I know I can comfortably deposit $100/month or more, I plan to cash out my Acorns account and put it in an ETF fund with lower potential fees.

With Digit, they pay savings “bonuses” every three months based on your average Digit balance, paying 5 cents for every $100 (since I’ve withdrawn from my account a few times, this has totaled about $0.15 for me—still more than I earn from my bank’s savings account in a year). Another reason I appreciate Digit for saving small sums over time is that, due to FDIC rules, my bank charges me a fee if I have more than six total transfers in/out of my savings account each month. With Digit, once I hit a sizable balance, I can do a lump-sum transfer over to my bank and avoid getting hit with a fee for wanting to save $10 here, $10 there.

So, when my partner and I started planning for another trip to Los Angeles for this summer, I decided to try the same money-stashing trick but exaggerate it even further, pushing myself to save about $650 of spending money, not including the plane ticket that I’d already paid for; nothing would be allowed to be put on a credit card while we were there.

In May, I received $50 from two different people for my birthday; this cash went straight into the envelope. The occasional $1 and $5 made their way in there, too (my spare change has long been put into a glass half-gallon jug, which I deposit into my savings once full). I pushed myself to sell more old clothes that had been piling up on Poshmark, where you can usually make a bit more per piece than the average used clothing store. Every time I redeemed my money from the app, I transferred it straight into my Digit account, pretending I didn’t even have it. I also took the time to finally sell my old iPhone 5, pocketing a cool $125 (into my Digit account) when all was said and done.

How did I do, you might wonder? I surpassed my goal—$545 stashed in Digit the week before we left, and another $120 in my cash envelope. I also had about $150 of spending money specifically for this trip in my checking account from my most recent paycheck. I transferred the money I’d need once we got back into my savings account so I wouldn’t accidentally spend it.

Once we got there, it was wonderful to be able to spend a bit extra without thinking about whether it fit in my budget or if I was overspending, which really translated to buying a LOT of rosé and champagne for the friends we visited, and the ones who were kind enough to save us a big hotel bill and let us crash in their spare bedroom instead.

I didn’t come back with much leftover, but I also didn’t come back with any new debt (the only thing that went on a credit card was a $58 car rental for a day, which I’ve already paid off). The mental break I got from being able to let go of money worries for a week and just enjoy my vacation was more than worth any stress I put on myself beforehand.

While this method is most certainly not new, it has helped me both slowly grow my savings and avoid more credit card debt, and has also re-shaped the way I look at my money. Now, I’m excited to look for ways to stash $5 here and $5 there away from myself, giving me that much more to add to my net worth or travel funds in the long run. Instead of looking for reasons to spend, I’m looking for reasons to save. It’s also helped me diversify, something I had long thought silly for someone like me with little savings to my name. Now, when I have money stashed in so many different places, it adds an extra step for me to get to it, and seeing the physical cash I tuck away add up over time is its own incentive. My partner and I have already started saving for our next trip!

This article is part of our ‘Summer Series’ collection. Read more stories here.

Rose works in marketing in the fashion industry in NYC and occasionally writes on the side. She thinks summer is the best season and her guilty pleasures include buying too many books and eating a lot of croissants.

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