20 Ways To Stop Wasting Money & Start Saving Now

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
While I realize that resolutions are kind of bogus, as a new year rolls around I STILL can’t help but think about all of the ways I want to improve in 2016. That's going to include wearing high heels, going to Pilates, and trying new recipes. And there's one more project I really want to accomplish in 2016: Getting my finances organized. You would think since I write about money for a living, I’d have my act together, but like so many of us, I'm far from perfect. I’m determined to make a change this year, and with Priya Malani of Stash Wealth in my corner (yes!), we developed a plan that will help everyone manage their money better in 2016.

A major focus of this challenge is mindfulness. I can’t be the only one who breezes through the checkout line at the grocery store and swipes my credit card without even taking a look at the total. And we wonder where our money goes each month. In January, we’re providing you with a money diary, so you can write down what you spend each day. I tried it out for a week while prepping for this story, and while I didn’t make sweeping changes to my daily habits, it did make me think twice before paying $3-plus for a latte every afternoon. It’s not much money, but it’s more than I realized I was spending. And it adds up quickly: That’s $60 a month and $720 for the year! I like my lattes, but maybe I could be using that money for something better?

Speaking of wanting something better, the other piece of the challenge involves saving for something you want. We talk so much about setting up an emergency fund — and that’s so important — but this month, we want to focus on something more instantly gratifying. Saving isn’t all terrible when you’re setting aside money for something you really want, whether it’s a new sofa or an exotic vacation (both sounds pretty good to me right now). And instead of urging you to save $500 or another flat amount, we want to encourage you to stash away 5% of your net income (that’s after taxes). You could use that to save for something bigger or to put a dent in your emergency fund. It’s up to you!

So if you make $50,000 a year, you’re setting aside around $166 in January. It won’t buy you a ticket to Bora Bora, but if you keep up that savings goal through 2016, you’ll end the year with nearly $2,000, and that’s probably enough to ring in 2017 on a tropical island in the South Pacific.

One quick note: Some of you are probably thinking there's NO WAY I can afford a trip to the South Pacific; I only make $28,000 or $12,000 or whatever. This isn't really about how much money you make, it's about feeling more confident with managing your money. Priya and I hope that's what you take away from this story: A better sense of how you spend your money and small changes you can make so you can achieve your dreams, whatever they might be.

Ready to get started? I thought so. Ahead, a four-week plan for getting your finances in order. Happy New Year! Here’s to a year when wealth is a priority and making those big dreams real life.

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Designed by Abbie Winters.
Week 1:

Before doing a deep dive into your financial situation, you need to get organized. Spend the next five days throwing away old documents, organizing the clutter, and getting a clearer picture of where you stand. These aren’t huge changes, but they are small tweaks that will set you up for big success in 2016.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
My wallet is an embarrassment. It’s overflowing with receipts, crumpled twenties, old ticket stubs, and a bunch of gift cards I never use. I’m always annoyed when people say “a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind,” (you don’t want to see my desk), but the adage “a messy wallet is a sign of a messy financial life” might be kind of true.

Today, clear out your wallet (and also your handbags). Spend those old gift cards (take advantage of the after-Christmas sales) or turn them in for cash at Cardpool. Organize your receipts and throw away anything unnecessary. It will probably only take you 10 minutes, but you’ll really appreciate the difference right away. Who knew paper could be so heavy?

And make a pact with yourself that you’ll start regularly clearing out your wallet in 2016. In week 4, we talk about making a weekly money date with yourself. This can be the perfect time to organize your wallet and make sure it doesn’t get back to such a state of disarray.

Bonus: Turn in your loose change for cash. Nearly everyone has a jar overflowing with pennies and nickels just sitting around collecting dust. Time to turn it in for quick cash. TD Bank and PNC both offer free coin counter machines at some locations for customers (and charge non-customers a nominal fee). You can also use CoinStar, which has locations all over the country. It charges a fee as well, unless you choose to turn your change into gift cards — or donate to a charity. Take this money and deposit it into your savings account. It’s a little bump to start the month!
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
Really, you should have done this years ago. Who gets paper statements anymore? (Yes, shaming you a bit here.) If you’re still getting mail from your electric or cable company, it’s time to make the switch. It’s much easier to track bills when they’re not piling up on your coffee table. It takes about five minutes to login into your account and click the button that says “Paperless” or “Electronic Billing.”

While you’re at it, set up automatic payments for bills that are always the same amount each month. If you’ve got a set rate for cable, or your water bill rarely surprises you, go ahead and have them automatically deducted from your bank account each month. You’ll still want to manually pay credit cards, phone bills, and anything else that has a tendency to fluctuate from month-to-month, so you can make sure the charges are correct.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
I have tax returns dating back to 2003. My parents, until recently, had tax returns dating back to their first year of marriage — in 1969. My dad used to joke that the Smithsonian might want them one day. Sorry, dad, the Smithsonian doesn’t want those old forms and neither should you.

If you’re still holding onto these old documents, it’s time to shred them. Priya (and the IRS) suggest that you only need to keep the past two returns. The rest can go. Grab your shredder and get going. I’m sure you can use the extra closet space for something more interesting than old paperwork.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
I feel about budgeting apps the way I used to feel about new notebooks: I love them. (Actually, I still love notebooks, but that’s a different story.) Want a clearer picture of your finances? There are about a billion different apps for that. Priya recommends Level Money (which focuses on your day-to-day budget) or Mint (which gives you an overall picture). If they’re not quite right, you can also try Mvelopes or You Need A Budget. Or, go old-school and use an excel sheet to track everything. (Hell, use one of those shiny new notebooks.) It’s not what system you use, but how you use the system to your advantage. The point here is financial clarity, and these apps can help you achieve those goals.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
This comes up again and again, because it’s one of the money-suckers we all fall victim to. If you don’t have a useless subscription hanging over your head: BRAVO! But if you’re like me, spend some time today canceling anything that’s unnecessary. Do you really need Netflix AND Hulu AND HBO Now AND Amazon Prime? Are you truly taking advantage of your Spotify Premium membership? Sure, you might think fitness is an important goal in 2016, but if you haven’t used your ClassPass membership in six months, it’s time to cancel it.

Then take that extra money and deposit it directly into your savings account. Nice to see that account grow a little bigger without doing much work.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
Week 2:

Okay, now that you’ve cleared away the clutter, it’s time to spend some time thinking about what you want to do with your money. It can be really overwhelming to imagine long-term goals — like saving for a house or retirement — but it can also be super empowering. And that’s how we want you to feel this week: EMPOWERED. You are a badass woman making her way in the world. You’re doing great things! And with some financial planning, you can have the money you need to make your craziest dreams a reality. Sure, you might have some debt right now, but don’t let that hold you back. Spend this week thinking about the future and how much it will cost to make your wildest dreams come true.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
How much does it cost to keep your world running for a week? What do you spend on transportation, rent, groceries, your phone, and cable, not to mention those impulse buys? After just a week of keeping tabs of your day-to-day spending in your Money Diary, you’ll already have a better sense of your habits. Take things a step further and look at past bank and credit card statements: Figure out your monthly average and divide by four to find your weekly total.
Take a closer look and see if there’s any areas where you can trim. Are you spending a huge percentage of your monthly income on dining out? Maybe it’s time to cut back on the takeout orders. Do you start the month out strong, but wind up overspending every time you get paid? This is the time to figure out your bad habits — and then make strides to break them.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
Sure, right now you are 28, making a decent salary, paying down some student loans and credit card debt. You can’t even imagine a time in your life when you have kids and a mortgage, let alone can afford to buy a $500 handbag without going into debt. But why can’t you imagine that? When you were a kid, you had big crazy dreams. Why don’t you still aim that high? So that’s what we’re doing to today: Writing down our long-term financial goals. We’re talking more than 10 years from now. What do you want? A house? A Tesla? A growing retirement fund? Write that down and then estimate what it will cost. Don’t freak out. You’ve got more than 10 years (or more) to save that money. You don’t need it tomorrow. Today, we’re just focusing on dreams, not the work needed to make them a reality.

If you’re in a relationship, these are important conversations to have with your partner. If he/she dreams of exploring the Caribbean by sea and you get motion sickness, you might not want to make buying a boat a top priority. Yeah, talking about money — and your long-term financial goals — can be awkward, but it’s absolutely necessary. Plus, it can be fun. Make a date out of it and have a few drinks while you dream.

Click here to download the financial goals worksheet.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
Okay, you’ve got the big goals out of the way. Let’s think about your mid-term goals: dreams you want to achieve in the next two to 10 years. Do you want to take a year off and live in a foreign country? Take a luxury safari in Africa? Pay down all your student loans? It doesn’t matter how far-fetched, write it down and then estimate how much it might cost.

One thing to note: Priya and I want to encourage you to actually WRITE THIS DOWN. Just don’t say it out loud. The physical act of writing will make it seem even more important. Same goes for all the goals we’re tackling this week. And again, you’ll want to discuss these ideas with your partner to make sure you’re both on the same page.

Click here to download the financial goals worksheet.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
It’s been fun spending the last two days thinking about the future, but today let’s focus on goals you can achieve in the next two years. Do you want to save enough so you can afford to live without roommates? Do you dream of taking your first trip to Paris? Maybe you’re considering marriage and want to pay for some or all of the festivities on your own. Dream them up, write them down, and estimate a cost. Articulating these plans is the first step to achieving them.

Click here to download the financial goals worksheet.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
I love thinking about the future, but it’s important to make some financial goals you can achieve in the short term, so it doesn’t always feel like you’re chasing something that’s far off. We all need some instant gratification from time to time. While saving is a slow process that’s hard to speed up, you can set goals that are possible to achieve in the next six months. Choosing a goal you can accomplish this year and then working toward it — whether it’s saving for a plane ticket to visit your best friend on the opposite coast or to buy an expensive pair of heels — can be extremely satisfying.

So pick one thing you want this year and map a plan to making it a reality. I’m dreaming of a new sofa, so I’ll be working on setting aside an extra $1,000 this year. It’s no small amount, so I might truly have to give up those afternoon lattes for good, along with a few other perks. But I’m willing to make some (not-so-big) sacrifices to see that cozy, comfy beauty in my living room.

Click here to download the financial goals worksheet.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
You made it through the first half of the month! How’s your money diary doing? Did you splurge on the weekends? Are you buying breakfast and lunch every day? As you look over the past two weeks, consider the following questions:

Where are you overspending?
What can you give up?
What is a necessity you can’t live without?
Where are the pain points?

If you get paid twice a month, take a moment to transfer 5% of your income after taxes into your savings account that's earmarked for the goal you want to achieve in the next month. No savings account? Keep clicking — we've got info on how to open one.

Feeling good? Let’s move on to week three!
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
Week 3:

Your wallet is clear of receipts. You’ve written down your dreams for the future. Now it’s time to actually make those goals a reality. For the next week, you’ll be taking the necessary steps to take full control of your finances in a way that will make saving each month easier. You’ll be doing more heavy lifting this week: setting up accounts, consolidating debt, and getting real about how much you need to make your dreams a reality. It might not always be fun (who really likes dealing with their bank?), but give yourself a reward at the end of the week, whether that’s a cocktail with your closest friends to tell them about your exciting new goals or a quiet evening at home with Netflix and a glass (or two) of wine. By the time you get through the next five days of the challenge, you’ll fully deserve it.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
Okay, so you have a number written down for each goal you want to achieve. Now you need to calculate how much it’s going to cost to hit that goal. Yeah, these numbers are BIG — you have BIG dreams! But let’s break it down to a daily savings. If you want to save $10,000 in five years so you can have take an incredible vacation to Asia, you’ll need to be saving $5.80 a day. That’s practically nothing! You just spent that on a snack at Starbucks! Sure, bigger goals, like buying a house, might take longer or require more sacrifices, but they can still be broken down into manageable amounts that you can achieve daily.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
The Federal Reserve recently raised interest rates. Hopefully, that means banks will begin offering better interest rates on savings accounts down the line. (Right now, the hike don't seem to affect retail banks, but with two-to-three hikes in the next year, better rates are more likely.) For now, you can typically get a better deal from an online bank than you do from a brick-and-mortar bank. Priya recommends Capital One 360. As of writing, it was offering at .75% APY for savings accounts. Yes, it’s a drag to switch over your accounts, but it will be worth it (in terms of actual dollars of interest earned) in the long run.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
This is the fun part — at least I think so. Capital One will let you organize your goals into sub-savings accounts. Open one for each of your goals and set up an auto-deposit from your checking account so you are transferring money every month or pay period.

Want to feel the satisfaction of seeing the money move from one account to the other? Many banks offer mobile apps that let you make the transfer whenever you want, so you could do it daily if that’s what motivates you. Keeping track of your savings account and watching it grow daily, weekly, or monthly, can be a big motivator, especially on those crummy days when all you want to do is spend the extra $20 for the 10-minute massage at your local nail salon. Take a minute to think before you buy and maybe consider putting that twenty to a bigger goal.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
Okay, today is a big day, and it might take you more than a day to get through this challenge. You want to make sure you’re not spending money on unnecessary things. That includes big-ticket items like your student loans or your credit card debts. It’s time to consolidate and refinance.

For credit cards, look for deals that offer 0% APR on balances and new purchases. Of course, you want to make sure you’re serious about paying down the entire debt within a reasonable window of time — usually 12 to 15 months — because many of these cards will raise interest rates significantly once the introductory period is over.

For your student loans, there are several online financial institutions that are looking to shake up traditional banking and offer really good deals for twentysomethings looking to consolidate their loans. Clients of Earnest save an average of $17,936 over the course of their loans — that’s not chump change. SoFi and Upstart are two more examples of online financials institutions that are shaking up the student loan market. Need advice on where you should go to refinance your loan? Student Loan Hero offers personalized advice on the best student loan refinancing option for your needs.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
Yes, short-term goals (trips, shoes, a new car) are way sexier than saving for your retirement, but even putting aside a little bit each month toward retirement will make a huge difference in the long run. You should be contributing to your company’s 401(k) if they offer one (and taking full advantage of any matching!) but you should also consider opening a Roth IRA as well.

For more information on the ins and outs of retirement accounts, click here. You have until April 15, 2016 to contribute to a Roth IRA to count toward your 2015 return, so you’re not too late to enjoy the benefits.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
Week 4:

We’re almost to the end of the month — and you’ve made huge strides. Now, it’s time to try out some new good money habits that will help you hit your savings goals in 2016 and beyond. After all the over-spending that happens around the holidays, this is your chance to wipe the slate clean, so you can go into the new year feeling financially fit.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
Takeout is the biggest money waster. In New York, it’s easy to spend $15 a day on a Seamless lunch order. That’s $75 a week, $300 a month, $3,600 a year. Imagine all the things you could do with that extra three grand?

Today’s challenge: Make lunch for the week, so you have no excuse when you’re fumbling to get out the door in the morning. You can make the Ken Partridge special: peanut butter and banana sandwiches, or my personal favorite, just plain peanut butter. Want to take the challenge even further? Try out our Food Team’s no-takeout challenge for the WHOLE month! Not quite that ambitious? Here’s some easy lunch hacks that will inspire you to pack more in 2016.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
December can be a brutal month, between all the gift-buying, holiday parties (new dresses!), and traveling (plane tickets are crazy expensive this time of year). At the end of the month, you might feel as tired of swiping your credit card as you are of gingerbread cookies and eggnog.

You could go to extreme lengths and try cutting your budget in half, or you could just take a full day off from spending. You’ve already packed your lunch, so you won’t need to worry about that. Make sure your gas tank or Metro card is full, that you’ve got enough groceries for breakfast and dinner, and then stop all other unnecessary spending. After three weeks of keeping a money diary, you should have a good idea of how much you're spending on a daily basis and how much you’ll save by taking a day off. Take that estimate and transfer it directly to your savings account.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
Do you find yourself falling victim to daily and weekly shopping emails that offer amazing deals? It can be so hard, especially this time of year, when it seems like everything is on sale. Cut yourself off from any temptation by unsubscribing from all the emails. If you don’t want to take the time to go newsletter by newsletter, login to Unroll.me, which will do all the hard work for you. When you’re not tempted by a dozen different 20% off sales, you’ll be less likely to shop just because you think you’re getting a good deal.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
Did you know Priya has a newsletter that she regularly sends out filled with fantastic financial advice? She does, and you should subscribe. After you’ve just unsubscribed from 20+ shopping sites, her awesome email won’t get lost in your inbox and you can take full advantage of her amazing advice!
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
Priya suggests taking one day a week to review your financial situation. Check on your bank account, review credit card statements, clean out your wallet, organize receipts, and take care of any bigger issues that require you to call your bank or other service provider. Make it official by adding the date on your Google calendar and setting up a reminder. Play some good music while you work to make it seem like less of a chore.
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Designed by Abbie Winters.
You made it! How did it go tracking your spending for the past month? Did you make it through the week of packed lunches? Did you save a bunch of money unenrolling from unnecessary memberships and subscriptions? Are you excited and motivated to make your financial dreams a reality?

Revisit the questions we asked during the mid-month check-in:

Where you overspending?
What can you give up?
What is a necessity you can’t live without?
Where are the pain points?

And think about a few more:
What did you learn during the challenge?
What habits are you going to keep?
What changes aren’t working for you?

Now take a minute to move 5% from your last paycheck into one of your sub-savings accounts.

We hope you learned more about managing your money as well as yourself. Anyone can become financially literate — it’s not something that’s unique to old white men with millions in their bank accounts. And you can achieve big goals. At the end of the day, money mindfulness isn’t really about dollars and cents. It’s about identifying what you want in life and then taking steps to make it a reality. After this month, you’ve laid a great foundation. Now it’s time to start building up, up, up!

Resolutions were made to be broken. This year, want to help you do you — the best you can. Check out more right here.
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