6 ways to budget and save more money

By Rebecca Lake

Reviewed by James Heflin

Dec 05, 2023

Read time: 6 min

Young casually clothed man bringing salad to his working pregnant wife, she is sitting on the sofa and using laptop

Key takeaways:

  • Focusing on needs over wants can be challenging, but it’ll help you get ahead.

  • Saving money can be fun if you get creative with it. 

  • Using a budgeting app can make it easier to track your budget and progress.

Your budget can be your best friend. A budget helps you afford the things that really matter to you. It's your ticket to a more relaxed and sustainable financial life. 

Insider secret: you might even find that saving is fun. Seeing money pile up in your bank account is just so… satisfying. 

Check out these budgeting tips that can help make saving easier.

1. Set clear savings goals

Saving money just to save is kind of boring if we're being honest. Saving with specific goals in mind, on the other hand, can really motivate you to stack up those dollars and cents. 

What should you save for? Everyone's financial goals are different, but your list might include:

  • Building an emergency fund

  • Buying new furniture 

  • Taking a vacation

  • Paying for your kids' education

Think about what you want to save for and how much you'll need to reach your goal. Set deadlines so that you can get a sense for how much you need to save each week or month. 

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2. Prioritize needs over wants

Knowing the difference between needs and wants is important so you won't get into hot water when you're budgeting and saving. One of the keys to a good budget is covering your needs first, and then looking to see how much you have left for wants. 

Needs are things you have to spend money on to maintain your basic standard of living. That includes things like housing, groceries, water, and electricity. You could also throw in transportation or childcare here if you need those things to work and bring in a paycheck. 

Wants are things that are nice to have, but not essential. Restaurants and paid housecleaners land in the wants category. The same goes for entertainment and travel. 

If you're looking for places in your budget to save, here's a simple rule: spend money on what you need first, then think about what you want. 

3. Find fun ways to save

If you're struggling to get into the savings habit, turn it into a game. 

Try a challenge to test your saving skills. There are lots of money challenges that can help you save and have some fun while you're doing it. 

In a spare change savings challenge, you round up all your debit card purchases to the next dollar, and transfer the rounded-up amount to a savings account. An app can help you do it automatically. 

Or you can try a 52-week challenge to save your goal amount in weekly chunks over one year. 

Making savings feel like a game can hold your interest and energize you to set bigger goals. 

4. Cut unnecessary expenses

Your budget is your roadmap for spending, and it's a good idea to review it regularly. You might be spending on things you don't need (and honestly aren't all that important to you) when you could be saving that money instead.

What are some things you can cut back on in your budget?

It really depends on your situation, but the list might include:

  • Streaming subscriptions you're not using

  • Recurring memberships for services you don't use (like the gym)

  • Dining out or entertainment

  • Impulse buys

Going over your budget line by line can help you find the hidden money-wasters. And you can also think about ways to reduce expenses you can't get rid of entirely. It all adds up.

For example, downgrading your cell phone or internet plan could save you a few bucks. Shopping around for car insurance could trim your budget a little if you find lower premiums with a different carrier. 

Related: What is the 50/30/20 rule?

5. Use savings tools and apps

People aren't born knowing how to budget. We all have to learn. If you have a hard time keeping up with your budget or savings goals on paper or in a spreadsheet, let an app do the heavy lifting for you. 

The Achieve MoLO app, for example, is a free money management tool that connects to your financial accounts. With MoLO, you can:

  • Sync checking accounts, savings accounts, and credit card accounts

  • Track expenses in one place

  • Categorize spending

  • Challenge yourself to save

It's a hassle-free way to get focused on budgeting and saving so you can improve your financial life. 

6. Celebrate small wins

Saving is more of a marathon than a sprint most of the time. It takes a lot longer to save than to spend. So every time you do it, pat yourself on the back. Celebrate small wins as they happen. Did you leave $20 in the bank instead of having dinner out? Notice that. Let yourself feel the satisfaction of a didn’t-spend every time it happens.

Wins don’t have to be tied to a number, either. Saving $1,000 in a new emergency fund is pretty big, but taking the first step to open a savings account (or switch to a better account) is just as important if you've been putting it off.

By putting the spotlight on what you've accomplished, no matter how small it seems, you can motivate yourself to keep working toward your goals. Remember that in the long run, consistency and perseverance can pay off.

What's next

  • Sign up for the MoLO app and connect your bank accounts and credit card accounts to track your spending. 

  • Consider setting up direct deposit (if you have that option), and automatically send a portion of every paycheck to a high-yield savings account. 

  • If you don't have financial goals yet, brainstorm one to three ideas for things you'd like to do with your money. It could be anything from a new phone to the ability to stop working one day.

Schedule a date on your calendar to review your budget and look for unnecessary expenses you might be able to cut.

Rebecca Lake - Author

Rebecca is a senior contributing writer and debt expert. She's a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a banking expert for Forbes Advisor. In addition to writing for online publications, Rebecca owns a personal finance website dedicated to teaching women how to take control of their money.

James Heflin - Author

James is a financial editor for Achieve. He has been an editor for The Ascent (The Motley Fool) and was the arts editor at The Valley Advocate newspaper in Western Massachusetts for many years. He holds an MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an MA from Hollins University. His book Krakatoa Picnic came out in 2017.

Frequently asked questions

Examples of needs include mortgage or rent payments, utilities, basic food and other grocery items, and basic clothing. Wants are things that aren't necessary to maintain a household, such as new clothing, dining out, entertainment, and travel.

Budgeting with an irregular income can be challenging if you don't bring in the same amount of money from month to month. One way to make it easier is to base your budget only on your needs. That way, if you have extra money left over, you can send some to savings and spend the rest on wants. 

Saving money can help you avoid taking on debt in a financial emergency, so it’s a good idea to always have a modest rainy day fund. Your goal should be somewhere between $1,000 and one month’s expenses. Once that’s set aside, focus on debt.

The interest you pay on most debt is greater than what you could earn in a savings account on the same amount. Paying down debt could help you reduce what you’re spending on interest, especially if you have balances on high-interest credit card accounts. You’ll come out ahead if you prioritize paying off debt.

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