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10 Creative Ways to Save Money You Haven’t Thought of Before

A clever way to build your savings account is to pretend you never had some of your money in the first place. Use these painless strategies to increase your cash stash.

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Find your hidden savings accounts

Take your savings wherever you find them, even if they aren’t in the bank. “You can definitely start with the change in the middle console of your car,” said Sheldon Crow, branch manager at Bellco Credit Union in Arvada, Colorado. “If it works for you, that is a savings account.” Guys who toss their pocket change each night into a jar or drawer may be astonished at how much they’ve piled up in quarters and dimes. Do you have gift cards lingering in your wallet, a pile of tips you haven’t bothered to deposit, store credit, a cash-back account you’re ignoring, or a reloadable charge card you forgot you reloaded? Maybe you let your PayPal or Venmo account balance increase whenever you sell something on eBay or a friend pays you back for a night out. Honor your cash-stashing habits as creative ways to save money, whatever they are.

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Pick an inconvenient bank

It’s great to do all your banking in one place, especially if you bank online. But when the money you saved is just a few keystrokes away, even determined savers can give in to the temptation to make a quick transfer to cover a bill, or withdraw savings from the ATM “just this once.” So make it a challenge to access that money. Deposit savings in a different institution from your everyday accounts. Shred the ATM card so you have to bank in person. Pick one that’s far away from your home or work, with inconvenient hours. Choose a bank that charges big fees for withdrawals or a brokerage that makes you wait 48 hours for a transfer. Better yet, let the IRS play the bad cop, and open a tax-advantaged 401(k) retirement plan or Individual Retirement Account, where withdrawals before age 59 1/2 carry steep penalties. (Watch out for these 10 phone scams that want your money.)

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Pay it off—but keep paying in

If you’re finally making your last car payment, or paying off a credit card or a student loan, avoid the temptation to bump up your spending or accrue new debt. Instead, divert into savings the same amount you’ve been paying all these months. Such money-saving tips don’t change your standard of living, so you won’t notice any difference in your budget, but you’ll be paying yourself instead of a creditor.

Next, check out more genius ways to save money at home.

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Set aside a portion of every windfall

Congrats, you got a bonus (or a big tax refund or a check from a relative). Good for you! Use this rule of thirds: Put one-third into savings, one-third to reduce debt, and the final third to spend on something wonderful for yourself. Don’t save the whole amount, which will make you feel virtuous, but deprived. This plan gives you balance—you allocate some of your unexpected cash to the past (paying off debt), some to the future (saving), and the rest on a present for yourself. Here’s how to save money during a home remodel.

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Open a roundup savings account

Understanding that people need encouragement to save, the financial industry came up with a clever and painless way to do it: automatic savings. Every time you use your debit card to make a purchase or pay a bill, these accounts round up the purchase amount to the nearest dollar, transfer the difference from checking to savings, and keep track of how much you’re putting away. It’s just like your change jar, only virtual. Bank of America calls their product the “Keep the Change” Savings Program, and many banks and credit unions offer something like it, including online banks like Chime. Chime takes the automatic savings concept a step further, encouraging members to set up direct payroll deposit, with up to 10 percent of each paycheck transferred automatically to savings.

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Use an app as a digital piggy bank

The app Acorns works like a roundup account, but with a twist, sending a percentage of each transaction, up to a dollar, into an investment account. The good part: You’re giving your cash extra chances to grow, in one of five portfolios of exchange-traded funds. Acorns offer a mix of equities or bonds, depending on how aggressive or conservative you want to be. The tricky part: Because it’s an investment account, money saved with Acorns isn’t federally insured, as it would be with a bank or credit union. Another app, Digit, analyzes your bank account balances and spending habits, with the goal of sneaking a little money from checking to savings every day. Both apps charge fees, so check the user agreement carefully.

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Turn it into a game

Here’s a fun project to do with kids: Put a nickel in a jar today. Tomorrow, put in a dime, then 15 cents the next day, 20 the day after that… you get the idea. If you carry on for a full year, the most you’ll have to deposit in the jar on a single day, on Day 365, is $18.25, and you’ll have stashed away $3,339.75. A less regimented, but more lucrative, money-saving tip goes like this: Every time you get a $5 bill, put it aside. College professor Marie Franklin says she’s banked $40,000 in 13 years, one five-spot at a time. Talk about creative ways to save money!

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Gamble with your smartphone

If you enjoy buying lottery tickets or playing slot machines, a couple of new apps combine round-up savings with online gaming. Long Game works like the other round-up apps, but lets you play online games for cash and prizes with credits that you accrue based on the money you’ve deposited. Although the prizes are real, your deposited money is never at risk—the larger your real balance, the more game credits you receive. Another free banking app, Qapital, encourages its users to set up goals to save toward, so you put your round-up savings into your “Mexico trip” goal, rather than just into savings. You can also set up applets on Qapital that automatically move a little money into savings as a reward (every time you go to the gym), a penalty (every time you don’t), or just for grins (every time your favorite team scores).

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Don’t get shortchanged at the coin-counting machine

Some banks still count coins for free, and almost all provide paper coin wrappers. The ubiquitous CoinStar kiosks do a speedy job of transforming your pile of quarters and pennies into cash, donations, or gift vouchers, but be careful—the machines in grocery stores charge an 11.9 percent fee (which may vary by location) for cash redemption. The fee is waived if you take your coins’ value in eGift Cards from national brands, including Starbucks, Amazon, iTunes, Lowe’s, and Southwest Airlines. CoinStar also waives the fee if you donate the value of your change to one of their selected charities, which include the Children’s Miracle Network, World Wildlife Fund, or American Red Cross. Your credit union may have a no-fee CoinStar kiosk available for customers.

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Reduce your recurring expenses to save money

Skip the search beneath your couch cushions, and instead cut dollars from your budget by examining your monthly bank and credit card statements for recurring charges that you don’t want or need anymore. A quick review will unearth the gym membership you never use, monthly charitable deductions, and subscriptions to magazines or music streaming services you can do without. Then take a few hours to call your insurance, cable, Internet, and mobile-phone providers. If you’ve been a longtime customer, your rates may have crept up without you noticing. Communications companies and insurers know it costs much more to lure a new customer than to keep an old one, so a few minutes on the phone asking—nicely—for discounts can reset your rates and save hundreds. Here’s what you need to do to save money during a bathroom remodel.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest

Lisa Greim
Based in Denver, Lisa Greim specializes in clear and readable copy about business and workplace, consumer finance, home and garden, and travel. As a content marketer, she has crafted brand stories for payment processor CSG Systems, Colorado School of Mines, the Denver Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, JE Dunn Construction, and Emerald Fields, a Colorado  cannabis dispensary chain.

Her B2B experience includes covering workplace strategies for B the Change, technology for the Rocky Mountain News, mutual funds for Institutional Investor Newsletters, commercial real estate for the San Francisco Business Times, and retail for CBS Marketwatch and Natural Foods Merchandiser. On the B2C side, she has written for Parenting, Brides, PCWorld, ShopSmart (Consumers Union), The Denver Post, and many more.