Since 1980, we’ve traded the Walkman for streaming apps, the floppy disk for cloud storage, and M*A*S*H for NCIS. Another key shift? Between 1980 and 2017, the U.S. personal saving rate dropped from 12.9 percent to just 2.4 percent.
If you’ve seen a steep decline in your own savings, you’re not alone. Almost of small-business owners say cash flow concerns keep them up at night, according to a recent Square report. But if you’re looking to launch your own business — or build up funds for another significant goal — here are four actionable tips for amping up savings.
1. Figure out where your money is going — and where you can cut back.
The first step to shoring up more money for your goal: figuring out exactly where your current earnings are going, dollar-by-dollar. Apps such as Mint and Clarity Money can help here, as they both connect to your accounts and automatically categorize each of your purchases under sections including food and travel. If you prefer a more hands-on approach — or you’re more Type-A in terms of exactly how everything is categorized — you can try the old pen-and-paper approach or go with Expense, a simple expense tracker app that allows you to input categorized expenses line by line.
Once you get a read on what your monthly spending looks like, you’ll be able to gauge the areas in which you may be able to reign it in. For example, if you’re spending $100 more a month than you’d like on dining out, try cutting back on one dinner a week — or bringing a lunch three times a week — and put the difference toward your business.
2. Try lowering your “fixed expenses.”
The phrase “fixed expenses” implies they’re just that: fixed. On the contrary, items such as utility bills and credit card interest rates are often negotiable. First, make a list of your regular recurring expenses (usually charged monthly). You can do this by highlighting them on a printed account statement or downloading an app such as Trim or Truebill, which alert you to your current subscriptions. If there are any you’ve forgotten about or could do without — a group or club membership, a streaming service you rarely use, a box of new products delivered monthly — give them the boot. Trim and Truebill also negotiate lower rates on monthly bills (think cell phone, cable and internet) on a customer’s behalf, but the cost is usually a percentage of those savings.
If you’d rather DIY lowering your bills and keep all the profits, set a calendar reminder for once a year to call the companies and negotiate better rates. Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need, and do something else — such as returning low-priority emails — while you’re on hold. Be kind (if you were a representative, would you go out of your way to help someone who wasn’t?). Clearly lay out what you want (a lower monthly rate) from the beginning. Bring up competitor rates and say you’d rather not leave but are deciding based on price. Ask nicely to speak with a supervisor if you’re not getting the answer you want (sometimes, the person you’re speaking with doesn’t have the autority to make a significant change). And don’t take the first offer without thanking the representative genuinely and then asking if they can go any lower.
3. Separate — and automate — your savings
Create a dedicated savings accounts for your samll business, and de-link it from your checking and other accounts so you’re not tempted to dip in. You can set up automatic transfers to the new account for every time you’re paid (for example, your chosen amount of money will be moved from checking to savings on the 15th and 30th of each month).
Since saving isn’t intrinsic to human nature, you can use smart apps to supercharge your stash. For eample, Digit is a tool that connects to your financial accounts, analyzes your spending patterns and subtly saves small amounts of money on your behalf, only alerting you when you’ve reached certain savings milestones. The app, which costs $2.99 a month, only socks away what it thinks you won’t notice and has a no-overdraft guarantee. Users can also create specific goals — for example, $3,000 in four months for a patent — and Digit will spread out savings accordingly.
Another option is Qapital, which allows users to set savings “rules” based on their spending habits. For example, every time you make a purchase, the app can round it up to the nearest dollar and deposit the spare change into savings. If you denote something as a “guilty pleasure,” you can set the app to save a certain amount every time you buy it (for example, saving X amount for your business every time you order Chinese takeout). If you spend less than budgeted for one monthly category, you can set Qapital to automatically move the difference into savings.
4. Make your money work for you.
When you do build up a savings stash, it’s important to make sure you’re storing it in the right place. Typical savings accounts are viable options, but many of the largest financial institutions –including Bank of America and Well Fargo — offer just 0.01 percent interest for most savings accounts. It can be more lucrative to go with a high-interest savings account, which are often available online and FDIC-insured. DepositAccounts.com has a search tool for the highest savings account interest rates for any deposit amount (for example, we found a 2 percent annual percentage yield for a $5,000 deposit).
If you know you won’t need your savings stash for at least one year, you can store it in a certificate deposit (CD) — a savings certificate with a fixed maturity date, on which you can withdraw your deposit and the interest it’s accrued. For a $5,000 deposit in a one-year CD, we found interest rates as high as 2.25 percent. (For a five-year CD, that jumped to 3 percent.) Another option is a target-date investment fund, through any investment management company. These funds put your money to work in the markets and decrease the amount of risk as they near your target date.