Saving

5 saving strategies help me bank hundreds of dollars every year, says shopping expert

"The best time to start saving is right now, even if it means starting small."

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Trae Bodge is a shopping expert with nearly a decade of experience.
Courtesy Trae Bodge

For the last 10 years, my job has been to help people shop smarter and find the best tips and tricks to help them save. Those strategies have helped me bank hundreds of dollars every year. 

What's most helpful is not just to use the odd promo code but to figure out what you do next with the money you have saved. Imagine what your rainy day fund could look like if you socked away that 25% or 30% or 50% off every time you bought something on sale. 

I feel like I'm in a good place with my approach to my savings now, but that wasn't always the case. In my 20s, saving often fell by the wayside. The idea of saving a sizable amount felt unattainable and intimidating. There were years where I didn't save at all. But over time, as I began earning more, I realized I needed to make a change.  

What I know now is the best time to start saving is right now, even if it means starting small and setting aside just a few dollars each month. 

Over the last year, if you have been focusing on more immediate expenses, it's understandable that saving might have been put on the backburner. Still, if you want to build an emergency fund or work towards another big financial goal and don't know where to begin, these are some of my favorite tips to boost your savings, one small step at a time. 

1. Use online tools when you shop

Getting into the habit of using online savings tools, like deals sites and apps, can be an effective way to build a rainy day fund, especially with large purchases. For example, I work with a platform called Slickdeals.net, and I used one of their deal alert features for a refrigerator that I had my eye on.

A few weeks later, I received the alert that the fridge was on sale. I made the purchase, saving myself a few hundred dollars that I promptly deposited into my savings account. I highly recommend implementing this kind of practice for any discount you score.

Timing your purchases can also help. That fridge was discounted because it was Labor Day, when large appliances are often on sale. If you can, wait until a holiday or three-day weekend to buy an appliance or for an end-of-season sale, or to stock up on slightly out of season items like winter jackets for next year. 

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2. Send cash back to yourself

Every time I receive change under $5, I put the money in a savings jar at home. That's one of my favorite general savings strategies. Then, at the end of every month, I deposit the contents of the jar into my savings account. My husband and I have used this tool to help us set aside money for purchases like the big scuba trip we took before we got married. 

While we saved for that scuba adventure and other big purchases, it made a difference to do little things like bringing our lunches from home every day, and then taking the money we would have spent on our usual take out and putting into the savings jar. 

Another one of my favorite strategies is finding a chore or service that you typically outsource, anything ranging from a manicure to a car wash, and do it on your own for a stretch. Calculate what you would have spent and then set that money aside

Imagine what your rainy day fund could look like if you socked away that 25% or 30% or 50% off every time you bought something on sale. 

You can apply this mindset to any activity. If your friend covers dinner or coffee, or someone pays you back for concert tickets for example, bank that amount. 

You don't have to deprive yourself of the small things and outings you enjoy if you are working toward a savings goal. It's just a matter of reframing where you are directing those funds

3. Take advantage of automation 

Today, no matter how much I'm earning, I automatically deposit a portion of my paycheck into my savings account. At the beginning of each month I sit down and calculate my anticipated expenses, and then put the rest in the bank. During times when I am bringing in more, I increase the auto withdrawals accordingly. 

This is something I always suggest to my readers, because I've found that if the money is automatically withdrawn, I'm not tempted to use it for other things. I think this approach is worth considering whenever you get an influx of cash.

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When you receive a raise, Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez, host of Real Simple's "Money Confidential" podcast, suggests automatically saving at least a portion of it, if you can: "If your pay goes up by 5%, maybe you can save 3% of it." 

You might also consider saving a portion of your tax refunds as well, provided that you aren't using them for bills or more immediate expenses. 

4. Slowly increase your contributions

If you're struggling to save, start with just 1% of your paycheck. See how far you get over the course of a few months, and then increase your savings by another 1%. 

"Slow progression helps modify your behaviors in a way that doesn't make you feel like you're experiencing deprivation," says "Broke Millennial Talks Money" author Erin Lowry.

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I have personally found this approach to be helpful in less financially bountiful times. In 2009 after I left a company I had founded, I needed to shift my approach. I was in my early 40s and had to find my footing as a freelancer, and I saved in those sparing percentages. 

I freelanced for about a year and a half until I took a full-time job. And once my income began to grow again, I started saving more aggressively to make up the difference.

5. Make saving more personal 

When you get really specific, I've found that it is easier to stick to your goals. One way to do this is to create a savings account for individual financial objectives, whether it's a trip or a house down payment or a fund to cover expenses for a pet adoption. 

"Dedicating an account to a specific purpose will make it easier to see how it's growing over time, and will help you avoid accidentally spending that money on something else," says Colleen McCreary, chief people officer and a financial advocate at Credit Karma.

And the next time you make a bigger purchase, if you can and you feel comfortable doing so, McCreary suggests matching the amount and depositing it into your savings. "It'll beef up your savings account," she says, while encouraging you to be "extra mindful about the things you spend your hard-earned money on." 

Trae Bodge is a lifestyle journalist and TV commentator who specializes in personal finance, saving money, and shopping smart. Trae has been named a Top Voice in Retail by LinkedIn and a top personal finance expert by GoBankingRates and FlexJobs. Her work has been featured in Newsweek, Woman's Day, Forbes, USNews.com, Kiplinger, MarketWatch, Yahoo Finance, and she has also appeared on Good Morning America's "GMA3: What You Need to Know," "NBC Nightly News," and "Inside Edition." You can find her money-saving tips at truetrae.com and at @truetrae on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 

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