Pick a Money Saving Challenge That Tricks Your Brain (So You’ll Actually Save Money!)

You’ve seen the stats about how little Americans have in their savings accounts. Well, it turns out that humans are terrible at saving money for a reason – we just aren’t wired that way! This internal struggle may help explain why 64% of Americans feel stressed out about money, so don’t beat yourself up! 

You might have heard of a money-saving challenge or two and perhaps rolled your eyes at them, but less than 20% of people are naturally good at saving money, so they exist for a real reason.

Whether you’re looking to save money to pay off debt, increase your emergency fund, want to buy a house, save for college, a wedding, retirement, or a vacation, give one of these money saving challenge ideas a try!

Why Do We Need a Money Saving Challenge Anyway?

Did you know that humans actually aren’t built to save more than we need? According to financial psychologist Ted Klontz, it goes against our survival instincts. When humans lived in tribes, survival depended on sharing what you had with your group, not saving for your own future. We’re trying to approach modern personal finance with that same 100,000-year-old brain.

That’s why Klontz says that in order to save money successfully, you need to “trick” your subconscious brain – where 90% of your decisions are made. A money saving challenge isn’t trying to be cute; they are trying to engage the senses, build in excitement, dictate exactly what to do, or bypass the brain altogether with automation. Take that, caveman brain!

7 Popular Money Saving Challenges

The best day to start a savings plan was yesterday; the second-best day to start saving money is today! So, we’ll review a handful of money-saving challenge ideas to get you going.

Pick one that seems the easiest to you and that will get you one step closer to your goal. Personally, I like to set up a savings account at a different institution than my bank account, so it’s a little bit more difficult to access this extra money.

1. The 100 Envelope Challenge

This money saving challenge is designed to add a little bit of excitement to the dreaded task of saving your money and take the guesswork out of how much to add to your savings. 

Grab a box of 100 envelopes from the dollar store, write a number from 1-100 on each envelope and then put them into a large container. Each day pick an envelope out and either put that set amount of cash into the envelope or transfer that amount of money from your checking into your savings account. At the end of this challenge, you’ll have saved $5,050 in a little over 3 months!

2. The Five Dollar Bill Challenge

This $5 savings challenge not only takes the decision-making away from your brain but is great for people who use cash regularly. It’s a pretty simple challenge, as all you do is save every $5 bill you get as a change.

You know yourself best, so set up a system where you won’t be tempted to dip into the cash. Want to get it into the bank and out of your house? Deposit them every week or every 30 days.  Know you won’t touch it? Wait until the end of the year to deposit them and see how one small, repeated action can lead to big savings! 

3. The Spare Change Money Challenge

This spare change challenge is similar to the $5 one but could be an easier money-saving challenge for those on a tighter budget. Or if you really want to smash your financial goals this year, you could do it in addition to others!

Grab a large container to act as a piggy bank and throw all the coins you get from purchases into it! There are no decisions to be made. You just dump your change and go!

For those who are primarily cashless, you can still save with automated programs like Tip Yourself, Qapital, or ones within Bank of America or Wells Fargo accounts. Set it and forget it!

4. The 52 Week Savings Challenge

This popular challenge lets you start slow to gradually adjust your savings habits over the next 12 months. At the end of the year, you will have saved $1,378! 

In the first week of the year you save $1, in week two you save $2, until the very last week of the year, you save $52.  Since you don’t need to decide how much to save every week, you don’t need to involve your brain. You just put the cash into an envelope or do an electronic transfer into your savings account. 

If you want to avoid having to put aside $200 in holiday-filled December, you could do this money challenge backwards and count down the amount that you save every week. Either way, you’ll save $1,378 in one year with this money saving challenge. 

5. The Savings Competition

At first glance, it may seem odd to challenge a friend or family member to a money saving competition, but it does trick our brain into thinking of saving money as something exciting!

If you’re game, decide a time frame, lay some ground rules, and get saving! A little healthy competition can go a long way in helping you and your opponent reach your savings goals. 

6. The Thermometer Challenge

It might seem elementary to make a visual thermometer or color chart to track your savings progress, but this savings challenge engages our senses so we can boss our Neanderthal brain around! This challenge allows you to visually keep track of how you’re doing towards a specific savings goal.

Pick a visual that will resonate with you and perhaps your family, print it out, hang it up, and have fun tracking your savings account growth.

7. The Take Out Challenge

Did you know that, on average, each American household spends over $3,000 on food outside of the house? Listen, I totally get it! Cooking every single meal can be a real chore, especially on those super busy days. And, in the middle of your workday, it’s a lot easier to grab lunch from the cafeteria. If you make some new habits, you can really cut down on this spending and free up some serious cash! 

A meal planning system that has worked for us and led to a lot less ordering is a combination of batch cooking and freezer meals.  I will double or triple a recipe or make crockpot meals as they produce a lot of food. I’ve found that it’s not two times the effort to double a taco or spaghetti sauce recipe. I try to pick a meal to batch cook and separate the leftovers in multiple freezer bags twice a month. Over time, you’ll have a variety of freezer meals to lean on instead of calling and ordering in take-out!  

Tips to Free up Cash for a Money Savings Challenge Without Depriving Yourself

If you’re wondering what activities, entertainment, or vacations you’ll be able to afford if you have no fun money, I got ya! Check out some ideas on areas you can cut back on so you can reach your savings goals and still enjoy life!

Tip #1: Use Grocery Pick-up or Delivery to Eliminate Impulse Purchases

Now, almost every grocery store offers free curbside pick-up. This is not only super convenient, but it cuts out any impulse purchases! Between my husband and the kids, there are a lot of in-store impulse purchases that increase our grocery bill. If you’re shopping every week like us, that’s 52 grocery bills to decrease!

Check out places like DoorDash, Instacart and PostMates.

Tip #2: Reduce Recurring Expenses

Speaking of repeat expenses, pick one (or more!) recurring expense to cut out during your money saving challenge.

While we don’t have a cable subscription at our house, we do have Hulu, Disney+, Netflix, Spotify, and Satellite Radio. We share some of these subscriptions with others to cut costs, but we could revisit them to increase our savings. 

When was the last time you looked at all of your recurring expenses? Go through your credit card and checking account to see what you’re subscribed to and what you could cut without feeling too much pain. 

Tip #3: Fill Your Weekends with Free Adventures and Activities

Most county and state parks are free and are a great way to fill your calendar while trying to save. Make a list of the ones in your area, and when you’re looking for something to do on a nice day, pick one and go! Pack a picnic, enjoy the weather and take in the scenery.

Speaking of free, does your library offer museum passes you can check out like books? We regularly use our library’s free museum passes for family adventures and special outings like Father’s Day. If you haven’t checked out your local library in a while, you might be surprised to see that they offer various items to check out, from board games to video games to even baking supplies. That’s a lot of free entertainment!

Tip #4: Consider Buying Items Second Hand

I know that this weirds a lot of people out, but buying items second-hand is a great way to save money! I buy almost all my kid’s clothes and gear second-hand. Between losing, staining, and outgrowing, I see these items as temporary ones I don’t want to spend money on. We have a couple of children’s consignment chains in our region, and you can score high-quality “cool” clothes for under $5. They even have a $1 sale rack!

I also buy furniture, home decor, and toys in our town Facebook group. Whether you’re looking for items for a new place or replacing broken things in your house, check out what people in your town are selling first! I don’t know about you, but people in my town sell really amazing stuff.  Just this week, I got 6 dining room chairs made in Italy for $175 from a family in our town. Until our kids are older (and neater), I don’t want to spend money on things they will stain and break.

Tip #5: Be a Savvy Traveler

Just because you are doing a money saving challenge for the year doesn’t mean you can’t go on vacation. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars for it to be a great trip!

For example, if you go to a driveable destination, you don’t need a rental car. We personally love staying in accommodations with a kitchen so that we can make 1-2 meals there a day. It’s great for our picky eaters and lazy vacation mornings that keeps our vacation costs low.

If you’re looking for vacation deals, check out how to score Resort Rentals at 79% off Hotel Deals sites. With these secrets, that “expensive” Hawaii vacation you might be saving for is a lot more in reach!

What money saving challenge are you going to try?

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Monica Fish

Monica writes about timeshare vacation tips & tricks, NYC Metro Area trips & activities, and frugal, yet rich, living at PlannerAtHeart.com. With over $10 billion spent on U.S. timeshare purchases every year and 20 million worldwide owners of timeshares, she's on a mission to help people save money and make the most of their timeshare ownership. She thinks of herself as your Timeshare Fairy Godmother!

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