Money Savings Challenges for the New Year
Whether you need to create an emergency fund, starting a new years resolution or stash away some extra cash for Christmas, a money-saving challenge can be your best friend. Money-saving challenges not only help you set a specific financial goal to aim for, but they also give you a plan to reach it.
With the inflation that the United States has seen over the past year, savings have been hugely beneficial to Americans. Between October 2021 and October 2022, food prices rose 10.9%, and energy prices rose 17.6%. There have been increases in other spending categories over that time as well, including medical care, new vehicles and personal care. To help accommodate price fluctuations and achieve other financial goals, consider these smart money-savings challenges.
1. 52-Week Savings Challenge
Of all the saving strategies, this yearly money savings challenge is probably the most well-known. It’s also one of the easiest to follow.
To start, make a chart (or print one from the web) with the numbers 1-52, representing the number of weeks in a year. Beside each number, write your savings goal for the week:
Week 1: $1
Week 2: $2
Week 10: $10
Week 52: $52
If you start in the new year and consistently save the amount that matches your goal each week (never more than $52 at its peak), at the end of a year, you’ll have saved $1,378.
2. 52-Week Money Challenge Backwards
Just like the original 52-week savings challenge, this challenge helps you tuck away an extra $1,378 over the next 12 months. Instead of starting small and working your way up, with this method you start with your largest weekly savings goal the first week ($52) and work your way down the list each week.
Many people prefer this method because you put your heaviest savings efforts at the beginning of the year (instead of during the cash-strapped Christmas season). Plus, by making more progress upfront, you may be better motivated to stick with it.
3. The 26-Week Bi-weekly Savings Plan
One of the best things about the traditional 52-week challenge is its flexibility. You can change the savings amounts (or even the dates you save) based on what works best for you.
Do you get paid every other week? If so, a bi-weekly savings plan might be a better fit. Break your 52-week challenge (regular or backward) into 26 weeks and double up your savings goals. Either way, by the end of the year, you’ll have saved an extra $1,378.
4. 31 Days to Improve Your Financial Life
This isn’t your average savings challenge. Phillip Taylor, personal finance blogger and Founder of Part-Time Money, lays out a 31-day challenge that could put your entire financial life on a better course.
Taylor doesn’t claim to make you rich or debt-free in 31 days. But he does offer daily, actionable steps you can follow to start improving your finances day by day, month by month and year by year.
5. No Eating Out Challenge
Eating out represents a huge area of overspending for many people. Though the COVID-19 pandemic did initially cause a decrease in our ability to spend money on eating out, it certainly did not remove that line from most families' budgets entirely. More recently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average household spent $3,030 on dining out in 2021.
If you want to trim some fat from your budget and free up extra money to save, Ashley Patrick with Budgets Made Easy has a plan that might help. Patrick’s “No Eating Out” challenge comes with a free downloadable tracker so you can set a goal and a reward and check off each day that you stick with your commitment.
6. Save $5,000 in One Year
Here’s another twist on the classic 52-week savings challenge. Sara Trezzi of GatheringDreams.com breaks down how you can add an extra $5,000 to your savings account, little by little over the next year using an easy-to-follow guide.
Trezzi’s best tip? Open a separate online savings account, so you’ll be less tempted to spend the money you’re setting aside.
7. Save $10,000 in One Year
Want to ramp your yearly money savings challenge up to the next level? TriedandTrueMomJobs.com has a supersized plan that could help you save $10,000 over the next 12 months.
The 52-week money challenge comes with a chart to track your progress. Plus, the website offers you some great ideas to slash spending and make extra money so it’s easier to reach your savings goal.
8. 14-Day Money Saving Challenge
“When it comes to saving, the little steps are what make the biggest difference.” That’s what Megan Wells of Money Done Right says when describing the popular website’s 14-day money-saving challenge.
The challenge walks you through 14 tried-and-true ways to improve your finances. At the end of the two weeks, you’ll be encouraged to follow up with a new monthly savings challenge to keep all that great momentum going.
9. Build a $1,000 Emergency Fund in 90 Days or Less
Having an emergency fund is an important part of your financial health. FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) recommends saving around three to six months of living expenses, so you’re prepared if illness, injury or other unexpected events put a strain on your finances in the future.
Ready to get started? Lance Cothern of Money Manifesto gives three simple tips that can help you save $1,000 for your emergency fund in the next 90 days. You can even download a free printable to track your progress.
10. The Pantry Challenge
Do you make a weekly trip to the grocery store (or a weekly grocery delivery order)? The Pantry Challenge will put those shopping trips on hold until you’ve used up all the food that’s currently taking up space in your pantry, freezer and refrigerator.
Naturally, this challenge can help save you money in the short-run (while challenging your recipe creativity at the same). Also, if you force yourself to participate in a pantry challenge every few months, it can lead you to create better buying habits that will reduce waste and keep more money in your wallet in the months and years to come.
11. Five Dollar Bill Savings Challenge
Kristin Stones, Founder of Cents and Purpose, has put together a great challenge to help you put away some extra cash for whatever financial goal you’re trying to reach. With the Five Dollar Bill Challenge, you simply save every five-dollar bill you receive.
Whether the bill comes as a gift, change at the grocery store or from the bank when you cash your paycheck, you commit to tuck each five-dollar bill away. If $5 seems like too much for your budget, try the same challenge with one-dollar bills. On the other hand, if you’re in a good place financially, you could double down and save all the ten-dollar bills you receive instead.
12. Spare Change Challenge
This super easy savings challenge is another way to put away a little extra money without adding extra strain to your budgeting plan. Whenever you make a purchase and receive coins back in change, you can drop those pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters into a jar.
Commit not to touch your savings for a certain period of time (perhaps a year) before you add it up to see how much you’ve saved.
Also, your credit union or bank might have a free coin-counting machine that can save you time when you’re ready to turn your coins into cash. Beware of coin counters at grocery stores and elsewhere. These typically tack on fees for the service.
13. 365-Day Nickel Challenge
This challenge is a fun way to use up your spare change while building up a sizeable savings account. You start on the first day by saving a single nickel. Then, each day you increase the amount you’re setting aside by one nickel. For example, by day three you will be setting aside three nickels, and on day 45 you’ll be setting aside 45 nickels . If you do this throughout an entire year, you will end up with a fund of $3,379.75 on day 365.
14. Round Up Money Saving Challenge
When you buy something, round up the amount to the next dollar. Direct the difference to a savings account.
You can do this the old-school way by recording rounded-up amounts on a piece of paper and then depositing that amount into a savings account, but you can automate it with one of several apps. Check out the pros and cons of these apps with this list from NerdWallet. If you use one, be sure you understand any fees involved and where your money goes. Some apps direct savings to FDIC-insured accounts, but others send your money to investments that involve more risk.
15. Do a Money Throwdown
Challenge a friend, romantic partner or family member to save more than you do in a month. Then, get busy figuring out how to win your savings contest. Start packing your lunch and shopping around for bargains on food, gas and other necessities.
At the end of the month, check in to see who gets to declare victory in this money-saving challenge. You might even want to pick an affordable prize in advance that the winner has to buy the loser.
16. No Soda, No Alcohol, More Money Challenge
Money often leaks away a few dollars at a time. You start buying a soda at the office vending machine daily or going out for a beer most nights after work.
Kick just one of those habits for a month, and you will fatten your bank account. You may even find that you don’t miss what you gave up, providing momentum to keep saving. Keeping Life Sane even offers this handy chart that lets you cross off your no soda challenge days one at a time.
Soda and alcohol are just two ideas, but you could just as easily start making coffee at home to save money or identify some other small source of savings. If you feel deprived, remember that you only need to hold out for a month.
17. The 8-Week Vacation Savings Plan
This plan requires you to take certain steps each week to add money to your vacation fund. It’s simple and very customizable. To start, create a separate bank account that will only be used for your vacation fund. Then, set your goal and decide on the steps you can take to reach it within eight weeks.
For example, if you want to save $1,400 over the next eight weeks, think about ways you can get there. If you spend $100 per week on getting lunch and going to happy hour with coworkers, you could consider cutting that expense out temporarily to put that money toward your spending goals.
The key to success with this plan and many others is to write it all out and get detailed. If you’re cutting out expenses, write out how much you’ll save each week. You may be adding a savings line to your budget as well, in which case you can write out how much is going toward that budget per week or month. Get creative with stickers, markers and whatever else will help you stay motivated.
18. Get the Savings Fever
Draw a thermometer on a piece of paper or a large piece of cardboard. List your savings goal at the top of the thermometer. Proceed to add interim savings goals and start coloring them in as you reach your targets. Studies show that writing down your goals makes you more likely to achieve them. Creating a large thermometer helps to add some fun to the process of tracking your progress towards your savings goal.
19. No Spend Challenge
The No Spend Challenge can be played as a game with your family or as a competition with your friends. The idea is simple: don't spend any money on non-necessities. You can set a goal of one day, one week, one month or any other amount of time that makes sense.
Whether you're hoping to save up for a vacation or pay off a credit card bill, don't be afraid to set a reward for yourself when you finish the challenge. You deserve it.
20. 1% Challenge
If you have a 401(k) account set up with your employer, the 1% challenge can provide an easy way for you to boost it. At the start of the challenge, you’ll increase your contribution to the 401(k) by 1%. A couple of months later, go in and increase it by another 1%. You can keep doing this for as long as you’d like to keep increasing your retirement account.
Alternatively, you could take the same idea and apply it to your paycheck. This is a better option if you don’t have a 401(k) or want to build up savings outside of it. To do this, you’ll calculate 1% of your annual gross pay and divide it by the number of paychecks you receive in a year. This is the 1% that you’ll want to set aside into a separate savings account after your paycheck.
21. The Expense Tracking Challenge
An expense tracking challenge is a good option on its own or alongside other challenges. Tracking your expenses helps you see where your money is going and identify areas where you might be able to cut costs to add more to your savings. All you need to do is commit to putting each of your purchases into a category.
Categories you might consider including are eating out, groceries, entertainment, bills and so on. You can write down each expense and its category after each purchase. Then, at the end of the month, take a look at your expense tracker to get a better idea of where your money is going.
22. Random 52-Week Money Saving Challenge
We’ll finish where we started, with a 52-week saving challenge. However, this version of the challenge offers you more flexibility than any other.
Instead of giving you a specific amount of money to save each week, this challenge gives you 52 amounts to choose from. Each week, you select an amount ($1-$52) to put into your savings account.
Once again, as long as you follow through, this challenge will help you save $1,378 over the next 12 months.
You’ve got this!
Can’t choose where to start? Here’s the good news: there’s no bad option.
Any of the money-saving challenges above can be a useful tool to help you jump-start better budgeting and saving habits. If you’re worried about starting a challenge that’s too difficult to stick with until the end, consider choosing the option that seems easiest to follow and work your way up from there.
Save at any time of year
A money challenge is a great way to make progress toward giving yourself a financial cushion, boosting your savings and obtaining things that matter. Generally, such challenges are also a fun and motivating way to keep you on track.
Whether you're preparing for the holidays or starting the new year with a reset, it's always a good time to start saving. So pick a challenge, ask some friends to do it with you for extra accountability, and start working your way toward your goal. For a healthier financial future, don’t forget to check out other personal finance tools as well.