8 Money-Saving Challenges That Can Actually Make Saving Fun

Fortune September 1, 2023

Lifestyle

a coin in a pocket

Need a way to make savings feel like not such a slog? A money-saving challenge could be the ticket. These savings challenges are many in number and simple ways to put cash in the bank for a rainy day.

So, if you’re ready for some financial fun, pull up a chair and dive into the benefits these challenges can bring to your finances. There’s no shame in starting small. In fact, small steps can result in some big rewards.

 

How can savings challenges make savings more fun?

Have you ever looked at a big task and thought, “How in the world am I going to make that happen?” Savings challenges literally make the inconceivable feel doable. By breaking a larger savings goal into a series of bite-sized mini-goals, you’ll have more achievements to celebrate—and celebrating is fun. 

For instance, socking away $2,500 into an emergency fund could feel like an unattainable goal. But a money-saving challenge can break that big goal into five smaller $500 chunks. If you use the 52-week money-saving challenge below, you’ll get the first two $500 chunks knocked out in under a year—cause for celebration—and all it takes is $1 to get started. 

Ryan Derousseau, a certified financial planner at United Financial Planning Group, LLC, says you can participate in these challenges alongside others, making them more fun and engaging. “They create a community, so it’s not just me alone doing it myself,” Derousseau says. He added that having others participate alongside you can be encouraging and motivating. 

 

8 money-saving challenges to supercharge your savings

There are many types of money-saving challenges, from daily and biweekly to those lasting throughout the year. With so many types available, the key to savings success is to find one that fits your budget and feels doable. And hey, if you need to switch to a different challenge, switch away. The key is to keep saving. 

 

1. 52-week money-saving challenge 

The 52-week money-saving challenge is one of the simplest yet most effective ways to boost your savings. With this challenge, you move $1 into savings the first week and up your savings rate by $1 weekly throughout the year.

Here’s how it looks in action:

  • Week 1: $1
  • Week 2: $2
  • Week 3: $3
  • Week 4: $4
  • [all the weeks in between]
  • Week 52: $52

As you can see, your savings goal for the week is the week number. And at week 52, your savings will have a healthy balance of $1,378, plus interest. 

 

2. Biweekly money-saving challenge

This saving challenge is a variation of the 52-week challenge and could be an ideal fit if you get paid biweekly. Instead of moving money into savings every week, you transfer money to savings on payday every other week. 

Here’s the biweekly money-saving challenge in action:

  • Week 1: $4
  • Week 3: $8
  • Week 5: $12
  • Week 7: $16
  • Week 52: $104

With this challenge, you would contribute $104 in the last week—exactly double the $52 you contribute in the last week of the 52-week challenge. With this challenge, you even save a little more overall: $1,404 versus $1,378.

You can also adjust the numbers to match your income—say, starting the challenge with $2 instead of $4. “Just like different fitness programs cater to individuals at various fitness levels, money-saving challenges can be tailored to meet participants’ unique financial needs and goals,” says Ryan Greiser, a CFP at Opulus, a fee-only financial advisory firm.

 

3. Reverse the 52-week saving challenge

The reverse 52-week saving challenge is the 52-week challenge but in reverse. So with this challenge, you go big at the start—$52 to savings in week one—and decrease your savings throughout the year.

Here’s how this one looks in action:

  • Week 1: $52
  • Week 2: $51
  • Week 3: $50
  • Week 4: $49
  • Week 52: $1

This method could work well if you receive a lump sum, such as a tax return or inheritance, that you can use to jump-start your savings. Then, you can decrease your contribution each week to better align with your income.

 

4. No-spend challenge

If an all-or-nothing approach suits your mindset, a no-spend challenge could be your key to substantial savings. With a no-spend challenge, you pick a timeframe—a month or three months, say—to limit your spending. You can either slash expenses to just your essential daily bills or choose a spending category to cut, like takeout meals or clothing.

At the end of the month, you can move the money you saved into your savings account—all thanks to a bit of self-restraint. Well done.

 
5. Round-up challenge

Certain banks, credit unions, and fintech companies offer a “round-up” feature that turns your everyday spending into savings. With the feature enabled, your financial institution will round up your purchases—generally those made using your debit card—to the nearest dollar and transfer the “round-up” amount into your savings account. 

Places that offer round-ups include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Acorns
  • Bank of America
  • Chime
  • SoFi

 

6. Money mistake challenge

Money mistakes happen, whether it’s buying a new smartphone that isn’t in the budget or booking a luxury vacation on credit when money is tight. But instead of beating yourself up over a financial whoops, add $1 to your “money mistake” jar every time you make one of these mistakes.

Those individual $1 savings may not offset the cost of a mistake, but each one can remind you that you’ve gone astray. Sometimes the biggest boost to your savings can come from recognizing a habit and then making wiser spending decisions over time. 

 

7. Financial vices challenge

A fancy cup of coffee before work and happy hour at the end of the day—everyone has a “vice” that offers a little reward during the workday. But those vices can add up over a year. For instance, a daily $5 coffee or a twice-a-week $10 martini could cost you $1,300 or $1,040, respectively.  

Using a financial vice challenge isn’t about making life less enjoyable. Rather, you can use it as a periodic way to slow spending and build your savings. Even cutting your consumption of the two vices mentioned above in half could save you more than $500 per year.

 

8. 1% retirement challenge

Want to boost your retirement savings—and in what could be a pretty painless way? The 1% retirement challenge could help you reach your goals. If you have an employer-sponsored retirement plan like a 401(k) or 403(b), simply bump up your contributions by 1%.

While 1% might not seem like much right now, it can have a massive impact. For example, say you’re 25 and have a $5,000 balance in your 401(k). You’re deferring 3% of your $70,000 salary to get your employer’s full match on the first 3%. Here’s how your 401(k) balance would look at different salary deferral percentages assuming a 3% annual raise and 6% return on your investments:

How your 401(k) could grow with the 1% retirement savings challenge
Contribution percentage Your potential 401(k) balance at 67
3% $1,225,277
4% $1,419,859
5% $1,614,441
6% $1,809,023

As you can see, the 1% bumps add up—potentially to the tune of $600,000. That’s a whole lot of trips to Europe in your second act. 

 

The takeaway

Money-saving challenges come in all shapes and sizes. And while they each might work differently, they all help you achieve the same goal: a healthy savings account. If you’re ready to start saving and want to earn more for your money, check out these top savings and money market accounts:

These top 9 savings accounts have APYs of 5% or more

These money market accounts have low minimums and high APYs


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