As vexing as the task can seem, saving money amounts to one simple thing: spending less than you earn. But while the premise is simple, the execution is often anything but. If you have struggled with the traditional methods of keeping a budget and paying yourself first, the slightly eccentric strategies that follow may help you finally build your emergency fund or retirement nest egg into what it should be. While these tactics are not for everyone, if you find motivation in taking an unusual approach to a new challenge, they may give you the jump-start you need to prioritize your savings.
1. Save your fives
The premise: Saving every $5 bill you encounter may seem like an odd way to build savings, but devotees of the so-called $5 plan say the method is fun and easy-to-follow. The upside: If you can manage to save a single $5 bill each day, your saving account will be $1,825 richer one year from now. The downside: If you're a habitual credit or debit card user, you may encounter too little currency for this strategy to make an impact.
2. Keep your cards on lock-down
The premise: Do you really want to ensure your credit card won't tempt you as you pass your favorite retailer? Then consider leaving it at home on most of your trips, along with your debit card. If you know you'll need some money on your trip or you'd like to have a small emergency stash, carry the smallest amount possible in cash. The upside: The hassle of going home to retrieve your cards may be enough of a deterrent to eliminate the vast majority of your impulse purchases. The downside: If you are an online shopping addict, you may have to go further to keep your cards out of harm's way -- such as the time-honored method of storing them in a block of ice in your freezer.
3. Round up to save
The premise: By rounding up to the nearest dollar every time you note a withdrawal in your checkbook, you will build some cushion into your checking account, which should leave you with some extra cash at the end of the month. You can then transfer that "found" money to your savings. The upside: Bank of America's Keep the Change program will even do the administrative work for you, as it rounds up your checking-account purchases to the next dollar automatically and transfers that amount to your savings. The current promotion will even match your savings contributions up to $250 for the three months after you enroll. The downside: If you struggle to record your purchases accurately to begin with, you're not likely to end up with much to save at the end of the month.
4. Become a habitual negotiator
The premise: In today's retail society, negotiating prices on everyday purchases is a lost art. But if you get in the habit of talking your way to lower prices, you can use those savings to boost your reserves quickly. The upside: Negotiating better deals on your regular bills, such as your phone and cable service, can save you money every month - and you'll likely only have to do it once a year. The downside: If you neglect to immediately put away the money you save from negotiating, it may dissolve into random lattes and lunches with friends before you know it.
5. Embrace minimalism
The premise: Stuff costs money, so if you make a conscious effort to buy less of it - and perhaps even sell some of the things you already have - it's easy to see how your savings could benefit. The upside: In addition to saving money, minimalists claim that having fewer items can help eliminate distraction and clutter from your life, and allow you to better identify the things that matter to you. The downside: For pack-rats, this strategy is a non-starter. Read more financial strategies from MoneyRates.com