Three Ways to Start Saving Money (That Actually Work!)

Whoever said, “easy come, easy go” clearly wasn’t talking about money, because it’s hard to get and ridiculously easy to lose. Swiping a credit card or buying a cart of stuff online sometimes doesn’t even feel real​— ​until you check your bank account. I know there are a lot of people who want to be better with their money​. Maybe you’ve gotten to a point where you can’t pay off your credit card, or maybe you just want to know how to save more effectively. As someone who’s been a penny-pincher since I was a child, I’ll tell you how I saved myself from bad spending habits and how you can help yourself too!        

1. Treat your credit card like a debit card

Credit cards are fun to have. You pull it out of your wallet and swipe it and feel like a real adult​. But you know what makes you even more of an adult? Not getting into credit card debt. I might sound like your preachy dad right now, but I know people who cannot pay off their credit card every month at twenty years old. It’s not a good situation to be in. So you know that monthly limit you have on your credit card? Yeah, forget that limit and focus on the number in your checking account, because that’s the money you actually have. By all means, use your credit card. I use mine all the time. It’s a tool, and if used properly, you can get rewards and raise your credit score. But using your credit card carelessly can result in built-up interest and a bad credit score, which are pools of quicksand you do not want to step in. Would you promise to give your friend a gift that you don’t actually have? No. So don’t spend money you don’t actually have, because the bank is a lot less forgiving than your friends.

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2. Don’t frequent fast food joints

I know, I know, you tell yourself this and then your friends ask you if you want to eat somewhere and somehow you end up at Chipotle with a bag of chips and a burrito you won’t finish (and you even paid extra for guacamole)! But if you really want to save money, this can’t be a regular thing. When you start putting food costs into perspective, you realize how easy it starts adding up. How many times do you go to Starbucks a year? 50? If you buy a $5 drink every time you go, you’re spending $250 a year on mediocre coffee. With that money, you could’ve gone to Disneyland twice, gotten your hair dyed professionally, or bought four pairs of shoes! I used to buy food pretty frequently, but last year I made a point not to, which saved me a lot of money and a lot of empty calories. You ​can​ go out to eat, but try not to frequent fast-food joints, because each individual time doesn’t seem like ​that much money, then all of a sudden there’s a $50 charge on your account. Instead, try to save eating out for special occasions or treat yourself to a nice restaurant once in a while. Your wallet and body will thank you.

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3. Figure out why you’re saving—then cater to that purpose

If you’re saving with a specific goal in mind, keep a list of big things you want to save up for. Maybe you want to go on a vacation, buy a new eyeshadow palette, or get that video game coming out next month. Write up a list and stick it in a visible place in your wallet. This way, every time you see the list, you’ll remember that there’s something better and more important that you can be saving up for. However​, if you’re saving up for the distant future, then start investing ​now​. Investing in stocks and the money market may seem really foreign and scary, but the earlier you start, the better. When you put money into investments, that money should stay until you retire (don’t think about that too much or you might have an existential crisis). If you leave that money in your bank account, it will just sit there and do next to nothing, but putting it into investments will allow it to grow without you having to do much work. Think of how much you’ll end up with in forty years!

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Saving money is hard. There’s always something new and flashy coming out that you’re gonna want. But once you get it, there’s going to be something else you want, and then something else, and then something else. It never really ends. When you can figure out what’s actually necessary and important enough to spend on, and what won’t matter in the long run, it’ll be easier to save. College is about learning and growing so we can become responsible adults, and the adult world has a lot to do with money, so it pays (pun intended) to get smart now. Don’t be a victim of bad spending habits. You have the power to make a change.